Front-end planning is fundamental to realizing the full cost benefits of off-site modular construction


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Modularization has taken center stage as a highly efficient, productive, cost effective and safe solution for building green and brown factories around the world. This strategy allows modules to be built off-site in open, non-hazardous environments, which are then transported as complete structures by ship and road to the final factory site.

With extensive global engineering capabilities, professional know-how and experience in module construction, thyssenkrupp Uhde has provided many successful modularization solutions for a wide range of industries, from petrochemicals to mining, in the whole world. The South African office was responsible for all engineering and design work as well as project management of the modules required for the expansion/upgrade of two local refineries and a fertilizer plant . “Modularization is suitable for virtually all industries and applications. We are seeing more and more customers making real estate available to thyssenkrupp Uhde for off-site modular construction,” notes Mira Krid, Civil & Structural Manager at thyssenkrupp Uhde.

However, in order to achieve the full cost benefits, Mira advises that it is essential that the customer’s decision to opt for modularity is made at an early stage in the project, ideally at the start of the design. Appropriate initial investment, carrying out essential cost-benefit analyses, and defining the most effective and affordable strategies will ensure far less escalation at the back end. “When one of our customers made the late decision to upgrade from stick-built to modular construction, we had to make numerous engineering and design changes, with subsequent financial implications. ” Mira explains that structural engineering for modular construction requires more effort at the design stage compared to designing a “stick-built” structure. “For example, lifting and transport methods should be decided in advance so that factors such as dimensional restrictions, with input from transport and rigging contractors, are taken into account during 3D modeling. So the fact that we can still show a cost advantage to the customer after adapting the ‘built stick’ to off-site modular construction illustrates thyssenkrupp’s competence as well as the tremendous value of modularization. »

On-site construction can be hampered by physical and environmental restrictions leading to costly delays, reduced productivity and increased risk to personnel safety. Space limitations may impede contractor access, forcing on-site construction to be phased; the structure team must wait for the civilians before building the structures until they can provide a certificate of conformity to allow the mechanics to start loading the equipment. Environmental factors to consider can include anything from harmful emissions to temperature extremes.

In contrast, building modules offsite in an open, easily accessible area and in a non-hazardous environment facilitates efficient, productive and safe work. “We can, for example, build scaffolding around the module without restricting the people working inside,” says Ranka Sofijanic, plant layout and piping manager at thyssenkrupp Uhde. “Civil, structural and mechanical teams can work in tandem, installing all disciplines in the module, leaving only a few functions such as interconnectivity work once the module has been lifted into its final position on site. We have an interface file for each module that shows us exactly where to build each grid and pipe point, cable end and rack etc. which must be connected to neighboring modules or structures of the plant. Leaving minimal work on site, especially in a hazardous environment, is a huge advantage of offsite construction. Plant sites where there are deadly emissions or high noise levels expose personnel to extremely high risks. The essential wearing of Personal Protective Equipment limits movement and slows down productivity. Flammable environments also present a hazard as welding sparks can ignite fuel/gas systems.

A good example of how modularization can provide an ideal solution when extreme temperatures make on-site construction nearly impossible is the successful off-site modular construction of a diamond mine in a sub-zero region in Canada. In addition to putting staff at great risk, the freezing conditions would have severely limited work outside, causing costly delays. The answer was to build the entire mining plant in modules off-site, in effect, in a completely different country. Once completed, the modules, some weighing up to 580 t, were shipped to their final destination. As off-site construction was completed in Saudi Arabia where temperatures exceed 50°C, a great deal of engineering was required to ensure optimal functionality at the final site in below freezing conditions. Despite this, the efficiencies of modularization still outweighed the transportation logistics as well as the costs of on-site construction.

thyssenkrupp Uhde is uniquely positioned to provide its customers with the best modularization solutions, leveraging its holistic in-house capabilities that include state-of-the-art custom software programs, laser scanning, 3D design, engineering and control tools integrated and quality control. Ranka unpacks some of these skills: “Our Piping Integrated Program System (IRP/ERM) is designed to process and control piping information from P&ID through construction/commissioning and provides maximum quality assurance. We also use E3D which is a customized multi-user and multi-disciplinary 3D intelligent modeling design software package. Multidisciplinary design is executed in-house according to the standard work steps and modularization design method produced for a specific project. » The modules go through a thorough rigorous inspection and are subject to quality control in the field on which they are built.

These capabilities enable thyssenkrupp Uhde to build modules, which vary in size and complexity, from equipment skids and pipe rack modules to complete process buildings, on a significant scale to meet individual customer requirements. thyssenkrupp’s expertise also extends to modular skid-mounted solutions, the Tanzanian chlorine plant being a good example. The company is able to design modules suitable for use which can be containerized in 20 or 40 foot containers. “We completely customize the modules so that no two structures are identical; we build what the customer wants,” conclude Ranka and Mira.


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