Transporting Wall Panels Made of Cold-formed Steel

Transporting wall panels can be difficult without proper information. Panelized construction is becoming increasingly popular because it offers several advantages. These include faster construction times, simpler on-site labor requirements, reduced material waste, and overall higher quality buildings. However, one crucial aspect of this process is the safe and timely transportation of the prefabricated wall panels to the construction site. If these panels aren’t delivered efficiently, the benefits of industrialized construction can be significantly reduced. This article will take you through the entire process of working with panelized products, covering everything from design and packaging to transportation and delivery from the factory to the job site.

What are prefabricated panels? 

Think of panelization like building walls in advance. These prefabricated sections, called panels, can be just the frame itself, or they can come with extras like sheathing, windows, doors, even insulation and electrical wiring already installed.

When a panel stands upright, the distance from the floor to the ceiling defines its height. The panel’s width spans from the right to the left edge when it is in a standing position.

Designing Panels with Logistics in Mind

Before you build your walls in advance (panels), it’s important to consider how you’ll get them to the construction site. There are three main things to think about: how much the panels weigh, how they’ll fit on a truck (upright or flat), and how wide the truck is itself. There are even stricter rules for very large panels, but we’ll focus on standard sizes here (typically under 8 feet 6 inches wide). For more information about each state’s requirements, check out this article.

How you load the panels depends on your building’s ceiling height. If your ceilings are lower than 8’6″, the panels can lie flat on the truck bed without hanging over the edges. This also allows the panels to be much longer, sometimes even up to 20 feet!

For higher ceilings, the panels need to stand upright on the truck. This lets them be wider, but they also require more support to keep them from tipping over during transport. The good news is they’re easier to lift with a crane this way. The height limit for these upright panels depends on two things: the rules of the states you’ll be driving through and the height of the truck itself. Special trailers like hotshots or drop decks can sometimes handle panels up to 10 feet tall, but always double-check the specific regulations for your route.

While wider panels standing upright might seem ideal, they can be trickier to secure for transport. They need a lot of bracing to stay safe on the journey. However, this orientation makes them easier to lift with a crane at the job site since they’re already standing upright.

There are a few different trucks you can use to haul your panels, depending on their size and weight. The most common options are hotshots, step decks, and regular flatbeds. You might also see lowboys used for super-sized panels, but most companies that make wall panels stick with the easier-to-find trucks.

  • Hotshots: These are smaller trucks that can carry between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of panels. Their beds are typically 8 feet wide and 40 feet long, but it’s always a good idea to double-check the size before booking.
  • Step decks: These trucks have a “step” in the bed, with a lower section in the front and a higher section in the back. The step is usually 10 to 12 feet long, and the rest of the trailer can be 40 to 48 feet long.
  • Flatbeds: These are the classic long and flat trailers you see on the highway. They typically come in lengths of 48 or 53 feet.

We have a whole article going into more detail about the different types of trucks you can use, if you’re interested in learning more!

How far your building site is and how many panels you need to haul will also affect how you get them there.

  • For giant projects close to the factory: If you’re building a massive place right next to the company that makes your wall panels, it might be worth getting special trailers with custom racks built just for your panels.
  • For most jobs: But for most construction sites, using regular trucks that are easy to find is the most practical and affordable option. You usually won’t need those fancy custom racks unless your site is super close and you have a ton of panels to justify the extra cost. These special racks are mainly used for standing the panels upright on the truck, which is trickier to secure than laying them flat.

How to Load and Unload Panels

The weight of your wall panels can vary greatly, from a light 20 pounds all the way up to hundreds! This depends on two main things: the size of the panel itself and how you plan to unload and install them.

  • Lighter panels: You can unload and install these by hand, no problem. Think of them like big, light Legos!
  • Heavier panels: These guys are going to need some muscle on the job site. You’ll likely need a forklift or even a crane to get them into place.

The weight is also affected by two other things:

  • The metal’s thickness: Thicker steel means heavier panels.
  • How much “stuff” is in the walls: Panels with plywood or other cladding will weigh more than bare-bones steel panels.

Here’s a quick guide to weight and truck types:

  • Lightweight panels (under 15,000 lbs): These can usually fit on a hotshot truck and might be light enough for hand unloading on smaller jobs.
  • Heavyweight panels (over 20,000 lbs): These will need a bigger truck like a step deck or flatbed, and you’ll definitely need a forklift or crane for unloading.

If you’re planning to lay your panels flat for transport, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Forklift with long forks: Make sure your forklift can reach the wide panels.
  • Blocking underneath: Put some supports under the panels so the forklift can easily slide its forks underneath.
  • Strapping or studs: Secure the sides of the panels with straps or metal studs to keep them safe during transport.

Here’s what you have to keep in mind if you plan to crane the panels:

  • Employ industry-standard panel clips, such as the ClarkDietrich panel clip or the Simpson Strong-Tie® panel hoist clip, to facilitate the installation process. These specialized tools can significantly improve the ease and efficiency of panel placement.
  • Ensure that adequate bracing is applied to the panel groups during transport. This will mitigate the risk of damage or shifting during transit.
  • For wider panels, consider utilizing a spreader bar. This equipment will facilitate a more even distribution of weight during the lifting process, enhancing safety and efficiency.

The sequence of panel stacking and their overall arrangement on the transporting vehicle are paramount for optimized transportation efficiency. However, the loading order itself is equally crucial. For optimal on-site efficiency, it is recommended to load the panels in reverse order of their intended use on the construction site. In simpler terms, the panels that will be installed first should be positioned on the outermost layer of the stack during transport.

What Are The Costs of Shipping Panels?

For the most accurate transportation cost estimates, please contact Stream Modular directly, as rates can fluctuate depending on the specific route. However, to provide a general sense of pricing, here are some helpful benchmarks:

  • Hotshot trailers: These typically incur a per-mile cost of approximately $2.50, with a minimum charge ranging from $250 to $300.
  • Full truckload shipments: For full loads, the per-mile cost generally falls between $3.00 and $4.00, with a minimum charge of approximately $500.

It’s important to factor in the cost of panel packaging, which can often be overlooked. This cost is highly dependent on the final finish of the panels. Panels can range from a basic, unfinished cold-formed steel state to a fully finished exterior, such as those offered by Sto Panels.

For panels featuring plywood or OSB cladding on one side, extensive packaging may not be strictly necessary. However, if the specific wood product employed has a pre-applied protective coating, it becomes crucial to safeguard this coating from potential damage caused by the heads of screws embedded in previously stacked panels. Three primary methods can be implemented to achieve this protection:

For prefinished panels, the packaging is very critical. We recommend foam or cardboard be inserted between layers and corner protects where straps will fall.

This section presents a successful collaboration between US Frame Factory and Stream Logistics in 2023. The project involved the transportation of prefabricated and pre-insulated wall panels to a California destination. These panels featured a delicate prefinished sheet metal surface that necessitated protection with foam padding and a protective wrapping material. Due to the manageable size of the panels (not exceeding four feet in width), the project employed a straightforward and efficient side-loading method for horizontal bundles onto a single truck. Recognizing the vulnerability of the prefinished plywood and insulation components to moisture damage, the driver took the additional precaution of securing the load with a tarp, ensuring a protected journey.

The US Frame Factory project successfully achieved the following key performance indicators:

  • On-Time and in factory condition delivery
  • Efficient loading and unloading
  • Just-in-time logistics
  • Comprehensive packaging and product performance

Learn more about Stream Logistics at and Stream Modular at

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