Modular Plant Construction: When & Why Modular Makes Sense

April 5, 2024
Safety & Quality
Fabrication & Construction
Detail Engineering & Design

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Modular plant construction is increasingly considered an alternative to conventional stick-built construction, providing several benefits in safety and quality, schedule efficiency, and reduced onsite disruptions.

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Modular plant construction is increasingly considered an alternative to conventional stick-built construction, providing several benefits in safety and quality, schedule efficiency, and reduced on-site disruptions. However, any advertised benefits of modular construction must be carefully evaluated against specific project requirements.

Modular and traditional stick-build methods each have their place across several industries, offering distinct advantages that should be considered in the context of project specifics. Understanding when and why each approach makes sense is essential to matching the right approach with project goals, budget, and timeline. 

What Is Modular Plant Construction?

Modular plant construction is an offsite process in which modular units are built in a controlled environment or fabrication shop and then shipped back to the plant, where they can be used as a standalone system or connected to other modular units. Pre-assembled modular units are constructed in sturdy steel frameworks, built to ensure they are structurally sound enough to withstand transport and installation.

The Benefits of Modular Construction

Modular construction can be a strategic choice for many projects, offering a range of benefits over traditional construction methods, particularly for specific project scales and requirements. 

The benefits of modular construction include:

  • Flexibility: Modular plants can be easily expanded or reconfigured to respond to changing market demands or production requirements.
  • Safety and Quality: Fabrication in a controlled setting that reduces the risk of accidents and defects.
  • Reduced Dependence on On-Site Labor:  Modular fabrication is ideal for locations that are geographically remote or have a need for reduced on-site labor hours.  Reasons may include safety, lack of site-supervision, or labor availability in the region of the site.
  • Time Savings: Project timelines can be shortened by completing onsite work and modular construction simultaneously. 
  • Less Onsite Disruptions: With much of the construction moved offsite, the impact on plant operations and the surrounding area is reduced.
  • Predictability: Modular construction can offer better cost predictability, with fewer surprises due to weather delays or onsite complications.

When to Choose Modular Construction

Modular construction can be advantageous for projects in remote and hard-to-access locations or where speed and cost predictability are critical. It can also be a preferred approach when dealing with labor shortages or if the project requires reduced onsite labor. 

Alternatively, stick-built, traditional construction is largely preferred for projects that require extensive onsite customization or where the scale of the project justifies onsite labor and significant time investment. Deciding on either approach should be based on a comprehensive analysis and understanding of project requirements. 

Modular Plant Construction vs. Stick-Built 

 

Modular

Traditional

Construction Time

Shorter due to parallel processes

Longer, sequential construction phases

Cost Control

Higher, with reduced risk of overruns

Can be lower due to potential onsite challenges

Flexibility

High, easy to expand or modify

Low modifications can be costly and time-consuming

Quality and Safety

Enhanced, due to controlled environment

Variable, dependent on site conditions

Site Impact

Minimal, less onsite work

Extensive onsite activity

Consider the following questions:

  • Is onsite construction a major safety concern?
  • Does your project have specific environmental/regulatory constraints?
  • Do you have concerns about limited or expensive labor?
  • Are you concerned about completion timeframes or working under strict timelines?
  • Does the parallel progression of site and module construction offer specific benefits for your project?
  • How important is it to minimize site disruptions or manage limited space?
  • Is high-quality construction and assembly necessary for your project?
  • Will your company need additional process equipment or expansion to accommodate growth in the future?

Choosing the Right Contractor for Modular Plant Construction

If you've decided on modular plant construction, selecting a modular fabricator will be one of the most important considerations. Choosing the right contractor for your project will result in outcomes that meet high safety, quality, and efficiency standards.

When choosing a contractor, also consider the following critical factors:

  • Ensure your contractor has extensive knowledge of the specific project location and type of work.
  • Understand the contractor's track record of industry-specific expertise and strong, proven work processes.
  • Contractors should communicate clearly, ideally providing weekly reports throughout the project lifecycle.
  • The best contractors will demonstrate effective integration of project management and control capabilities.
  • Understand the importance of a contractor who offers comprehensive in-house services for all project phases
  • A dedication to quality underscores the contractor's commitment to delivering high-standard results.

Partner with H+M Modular for Custom Fabricated Equipment, Modules, and Skids

Partnering with a module fabricator with strong engineering capabilities who can provide in-house support for all project phases, including front-end planning, detailed engineering and design, procurement, fabrication, and construction, is critical for achieving the best project outcomes. 

While modular construction is not typically the chosen method for large-scale projects requiring extensive onsite work, it can be a strategic and recommended option for smaller-scale plants with specific project requirements. If you have any additional questions about modular plant construction or whether the approach is right for your project, we encourage you to reach out to H+M Modular today.

H+M Modular specializes in providing exceptional capital project execution from concept to start-up. For over three decades, we have provided end-to-end solutions for all project sizes within the energy, chemical, terminals, and logistics industries. 

We are dedicated to providing trust, experience, and efficiency through all stages of traditional and modular construction projects using our proven strategic EPC approach. Our extensive industry experience and comprehensive service offerings allow us to provide cutting-edge solutions to meet our client's specific requirements.

About the Author

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To find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of turnkey projects and how H+M Industrial EPC can meet your capital project needs, contact us through our website today.

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For over three decades, we have provided best-in-class capital project management services to Energy and Chemical industries through our proven EPC approach. We are dedicated to providing trust, experience, and efficiency through all stages of engineering, procurement, and construction--on budget and on time.

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