How to Make On-site Material Fabrication a Reality.

A Case Study of the Howick Frama 3200:

In my role as President of Central Ceilings, Inc. ( I evaluate a lot of new technologies that cross my desk as suggestions, recommendations, and client requirements. I’m always open to new methods, technologies, and ideas that can make our business more efficient, profitable or safer.  However we are not interested in ideas that only make us look good in a presentation, marketing brochure, or at industry events.  If a technology makes us a leaner, more effective company, then let’s do it.

On a project in Boston, Central recently utilized the Howick ( automated framing machine, which produces metal framing on-site cut to fit based off the BIM.

Video by Emily Sheedy

Howick provided use of the machine in conjunction with Autodesk’s Build Space to be used in the build out.  Far from a gimmick, this technology has game-changing potential. Here’s a quick look at how the project played out.

Using the Howick Frama 3200

We took the leap after Kevin Estano, our VDC Manager, assured the project team that he understood the software and technology involved. Howick’s Frama 3200 is a programmable framing roller which manufacturers metal framing components that work like a steel stud.  Beyond the straightforward concept of manufacturing our own materials, the Frama’s output is designed to fit together like a puzzle.  The Howick floor track has a flange similar to a traditional stud, however the flange is notched at each vertical stud location to allow a precision fit.  This contrasts with traditional applications our carpenters determine the stud layout by working with a set of architectural drawings on site. Here we had to determine the locations before setting foot on the job site.

Fortunately for us, Turner Construction ( led a collaborative project team that understood the requirements.  The team worked together to rearrange the pre-construction process so that our framing could be designed alongside the mechanical systems. Our early involvement enabled us to have every aspect of the walls predetermined and easy to manufacture.  Kevin was able to design the framing in panels that incorporated door frames, duct openings, and all the other design elements.panels on floor.JPG

Normally this process entails each trade laying out its own work on the floor using sharpies and chalk lines to notify all the craftworkers of what is needed.

By incorporating all the planning into the digital preconstruction process, more production occurred on site once the area was ready. The design was conducted using Structsoft MWF software which takes the user-defined design and translates the information into custom panels and custom framing members.

This information was processed by the Howick machine and transformed into metal framing that was produced in a specific order.  Central’s carpenters received the pieces as they were produced and assembled each panel on site. Then craftspeople positioned each panel and installed it into clips that were previously attached to the roof deck above.wall panels

This has been a tremendous opportunity for Central to see what is possible by harnessing the power of technology and pre-construction planning. We are certainly excited about this technology.  Turner elevated us into a tier of subcontractors usually restricted to the mechanical trades and encouraged us to share our input early in the process.  This digital design process was a tremendous success for us. The change in construction work flow was a great experience, hopefully one we have an opportunity to continue and refine. MEP coord

The final question is will this type of on-site, jointly coordinated, manufactured product become commonplace in the future? If driven by the owner or GC, then the answer is yes. Unfortunately, the drywall contractor is currently treated as a commodity, not a design partner. Generally speaking, it is a rare situation where a GC is not in search of the lowest price (as typically requested by the owner). If things were to change so the drywaller was brought on early enough to coordinate the framing in conjunction with the mechanical trades then this is certainly a reality.  At this point it is not the technology or the equipment that impedes this from becoming a reality, rather it’s a mindset within the industry that the framing comes in after and works around the coordinated mechanical trades. Additionally, many projects have continuous design changes and/or quick starts which prevent a job from being able to harvest the benefits of the Howick, but the possibilities for safe and expedient building are growing exponentially.  We’re excited to see it happen and, as a drywaller with a full-time, in-house VDC manger, we look forward to opportunity.

What are your thoughts about technology changing the way we work?  Reach me at, and let’s connect on linkedin.


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