In the era of engineer-procure-construct (EPC) delivery, competitive techniques are in demand to add project value in terms of safety, quality, schedule and budget. Modularization has risen to the top of innovative solutions by moving construction hours from the field, where access to skilled manpower can be expensive and unpredictable, to the shop, where safety and quality can be more closely regulated. Performing work in the shop can also help reduce weather-related risks on a project.

Modular construction requires thorough and early planning, though. Five high-level key considerations to incorporate into your front-end planning (FEP) include:

  1. Align stakeholders with project objectives and modularization drivers early.
  2. Explore options for modular construction as early as possible in the project life cycle.
  3. Thoroughly investigate logistics and transportation limitations, including international sourcing.
  4. Develop the business case for modularization and the written module plan from conceptual design through procurement, assembly and construction.
  5. Re-evaluate the business case and module plan at each phase through the FEP process to verify continued alignment with project objectives and modularization drivers.

The maximum benefit potential from adopting a modularized execution strategy decreases over a project’s life cycle, beginning early in the FEP phase and continuing through detailed design. A module can include significant process equipment, can be a simple pipe rack, or may be a more unique application, such as modulization of electrical equipment on skids installed in a field-erected building. Therefore, analysis of modular options and usage should be conducted toward the beginning of a project. 

Establishing the optimum or maximum module transportation envelope is critical to the success of modularization projects. Coordination between design, logistics and the site construction team determines the optimum envelope size and establishes a preliminary logistics plan to transport modules from the potential fabricators to the site, as well as within the site boundaries and from the unloading area to the module final location. To develop the logistics plan, specialized equipment must be identified and evaluated for module transport, including potential barriers and options to modify existing infrastructure if required.

If the logistics are achievable and the scope is large enough, international sourcing of modules can provide a competitive cost advantage over domestically sourced modules — a possibility that could prove valuable and should be evaluated for all projects.


Learn how modular construction methods delivered value for a Phillips 66 export terminal expansion. 

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Greg Welch is an associate project engineer at Burns & McDonnell. He has 30 years of experience in project management, engineering, design and construction. In his current role he leads technical design and project execution to help clients achieve their goal and be successful.