Volume 6 | Issue 4 | Year 2003

When you walk into any of the home improvement retailers the walls are the last things you see but next time, take a second look. The companies that are supplying America with construction materials are themselves bent upon achieving greater efficiencies within their own structures.

And this is where Fabcon Inc. currently is doing its best business. As retailers continue to post gains in the do-it-yourself, home improvement market, Fabcon is making sure these stores are erected quickly and safely.

Fabcon manufactures and erects precast concrete wall panels for every type of structure, from home center stores to schools and movie theaters. Projects range from a 10,000-square-foot machine shop to a million-square-foot distribution center, and from a single-story bakery to a 16-story housing facility. (Interesting tidbit: Home Depots typically measure 113,000 square feet and contain 42,000 square feet of precast; Lowes is taller, at 125,000 square feet, with 56,000 square feet of precast. Generally, construction time varies but a typical building has an eight to 10-week lead-time and can be erected in 10 to 15 days.

With a full spectrum of finishes, aggregates, patterns and decorative banding available, the design possibilities offered by Fabcon are limitless. And with manufacturing plants in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the company is positioned to serve a wide segment of the country.

From flooring to walls
Says Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jim Houtman, the production of precast concrete (the process by which concrete slabs are cast and finished before being placed into position) wasn’t routinely used when the company was founded. Founder, David Hanson established Fabcon in 1970 to develop the potential of Spandeck technology, then used to produce concrete flooring. Because builders were not thrilled with the wall options being touted on the market, he decided he could modify Spandeck for wall panels. The upshot was that Fabcon became the first company to develop sandwich panels that are produced on a moving bed and contain continuous insulation throughout the wall.

Fabcon’s first plant began operations in 1971, producing slabs for use in apartment buildings and industrial projects. As the business grew, the company refined its engineering and enhanced equipment to expand its capabilities into new markets. With the acquisition of The American Precast Company in 1995, Fabcon gained plants in Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio. The eastward expansion continued in 2000 with the addition of a fourth Fabcon facility in Allentown, Pa.

“There are many benefits to the use of precast concrete”, says Houtman. For example, precast concrete panels are manufactured in a controlled environment, to ensure uniform quality before they are shipped to the construction site. This expedites installation, saves on construction costs and helps owners achieve early occupancy. In addition, the exterior surface of precast is virtually maintenance free. The inside surface requires only minor finishing for either paint or wallpaper. Also, precast is not prone to mold, which will grow under porous conditions. Precast, explains Houtman, is a denser, smoother product, which starves out mold searching for a food supply. “Typical concrete block has a density of 2500 psi; our panels are 8,000 psi while other site cast and precast is 4,500 psi,” points out Houtman. “Our panels stop any water and air from coming through, reducing heat and energy costs.”

Fabcon manufactures and erects wall panels at heights of over 50 feet. The panels are available with a wide range of aggregates, patterns, and decorative banding options to create a distinctive statement or to coordinate with nearby buildings that utilize other construction styles and features. One product that has performed well for the company is its recent innovation, VersaCore. Measuring eight inches or 12 inches thick by eight feet wide, VersaCore has cores filled with insulation, which Houtman describes as a “big step forward for this industry.” With VersaCore, the company essentially has developed a way to replace air with foam to produce panels that are more energy efficient, lighter, and easier to install.

Helping the home improvers
In recent years, Fabcon has been erecting many buildings for the likes of Target, Home Depot, Lowes and Menards, Houtman says. “We’ve developed a national accounts program for retailers building warehouse type buildings,” he says. “Retail continues to be strong, with more focus on energy efficiency.” As energy efficient and more stringent environmental regulations come into play, Fabcon’s proven success in the manufacture of insulated panels has garnered it a substantial reputation in the industry.

The company also does sizable business in the erection of MFL (maximum foreseeable loss) walls – panels that run down the middle of a building that, in the event of fire, won’t break apart like brick or block can under the weight of roof failure. Fabcon panels remain firmly anchored to the foundation beneath the ground, and because they are manufactured as a continuous panel, remain in place. “The MFL wall is a critical element of construction and needs to be built and installed under stringent requirements – it has a huge impact on insurance,” Houtman says.

Other areas of growth for Fabcon include school construction, such as the erection of gymnasiums and field houses. The company also has done quite a bit of movie theater construction. “A while back we asked ourselves where else we could apply our products,” Houtman says. Because precast concrete has mass, it blocks out the low frequency sound between theaters so you don’t hear, for example, The Matrix in the middle of Bruce Almighty.

“We’re always looking to grow,” Houtman adds. With this in mind, the company has designed and developed an eight-foot-wide panel, and will soon produce a 12-foot-wide panel. Through the sale of these products the company predicts growth by 50 percent because of the higher volume. Prior to the economic downturn, says Houtman, Fabcon had been growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year.

But Houtman remains optimistic for the future and doesn’t see a slow down any time soon in the retail sector. And with at least one big retailer, Home Depot, posting admirable first quarter gains, it seems that Fabcon will remain a large producer for the retail giants of precast concrete wall systems. “We are continually looking to grow and improve our technologies,” says Houtman. “Since our inception we’ve said here’s the value of what we manufacture and here’s how we can transfer that value to our customers.”

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