There are actually many differences between the various office partition systems available on the market. Let's take a look at some factors that “separate" them.
Monolithic, Tile, and Stackable Office Partition Systems
A monolithic cubicle system is comprised of solid panels that are of a certain width and height, usually with power and data accommodation running along a bottom raceway, though some monolithic panels have data raceways along the top of the partition and there are even those which can have data and power installed at the belt line, though this is much more common in tile systems. Basically, monolithic is usually the most affordable of the types of office partition systems and is generally not as flexible, with the least accommodation for data and power.
A tile cubicle system generally consists of an open frame partition with flat, removable tiles that snap into the frame. This design usually allows for the entire inside of the partition to be utilized as the cable and power raceway, thus increasing the data cable capacity of the office panel enormously, especially when paired with beltline access ( desk height). Also, depending on the design of the system, the power and data cable access on tile systems makes it easier to perform changes or maintenance on the power and data lines. Also there is more flexibility with the appearance of the tile system. The individual tiles can have different fabrics or other surface materials applied to them, to allow for a more refined, designer look.
A stackable tile system is actually a term used for a few different types of office partition systems. The qualifying feature of a stackable system is that sections of partition can be added on top of other sections, increasing the height of the partition. This flexibility of changing the height of panels without dismantling entire sections of cubicles can make for less maintenance cost and less product cost when adding or reconfiguring areas within your office. Therefore, if you currently own stackable telemarketing low wall cubicles and wish to switch that space to 60"+ high administrative cubicles, it is possible to used the existing panels and add additional height to make them taller, instead of purchasing entirely different partitions for your new application. The stackable feature is available with some monolithic systems and some tile systems. There is also the application of freestanding modular desks with stackable privacy screens that actually mount on top of the furniture, though this product typically is less effective with power and data housing.
Creep, what is it and does it matter?
Creep is a term used in the space planning aspect of office partition systems. Generally defined, creep is the resulting space occupied by a partition ( its thickness ) when attached to another partition in a 90 degree or perpendicular condition. Thus said, when a large open office area is being fitted for office cubicles, the partition creep ( typically 2" to 4" per intersection depending on the manufacturer and model) adds up to a sizeable number which can actually affect the possible sizes of the cubicles while keeping the aisles at both legal and comfortable dimensions. Typically, the thicker a panel is the more data lines it will hold, although given the capacity of tile systems, there is usually no real reason for the panel to be made thicker, except in relation to appearance.
Okay, now we want to reconfigure. How in the heck does this stuff come apart?
Ease of assembly and disassembly of office partition systems can vary a great deal due to the design and number of parts involved. Usually, monolithic partition systems are the most cost effective when it comes to the labor involved when reconfiguring your space. The less parts involved, the faster the system comes apart and goes together. Think of it this way. A monolithic panel typically consists of connectors, power jumpers, trim pieces and a single panel. However, a typical tile system consists of connectors, power jumpers, trim pieces, a partition frame and several tiles. Add the stackable option to this equation and you are dealing with an even more complex puzzle. Now, multiply that puzzle by the number of partitions you are dealing with in a single reconfiguration and it becomes obvious that simpler is better when it comes to labor costs.
Quality, quality, and yes, quality!
There is a wide range of office partition systems available on the market when it comes to, you guessed it, quality. Whether or not you receive the lifetime warranty of If it breaks, we'll fix it, no questions asked, the best scenario is that of no component failures. Lesser partition systems can have “affordable" base trim pieces that fall off or crack when struck lightly by a foot or vacuum. Task lighting, especially some imports (but not all) can be plagued with bulb and ballast failures. Whether or not you are charged for the maintenance and repair visits, simply processing the work order, greeting the service crew, showing them the problem, checking that the problem is now fixed and doing the whole process over again for the next issue can be a costly task, time-wise. Try to find out about maintenance issues before you purchase.
So, what does all of this mean?
Simply put, not all cubicles and office partition systems are created equal. To find the system that will accommodate your data cabling and power needs, be aesthetically pleasing, maximize your available square footage, not cost an excessive amount when reconfiguring, and not break down on a regular basis, can be a rather involved task. Always ask for references (and actually contact them ), do your research, and get quotes from at least three vendors.
Ed Slattery is the owner and editor of Office Furniture Links . With eighteen years of experience in most facets of the office furniture industry, his articles and features are targeted to simplify the office furniture market for both buyers and sellers.