Five innovations for the modular fabrication industry

Didier Lhuillier believes the module industry is at a crossroads.

The chief executive officer of modular construction company Cofely Fabricom Canada has seen project costs over the past 15 years double world-wide while tripling in Alberta. Declining productivity levels may have been masked by oil prices that topped $100 per barrel in the past, but the province’s capital costs look much different in the harsh light of $30 oil. Now is the time for Alberta to prove it can offer high rates of return and low risk in a capital-constrained environment, and modularization will be a key tool in facing that challenge.

As part of France’s GDF Suez Group, Cofely Fabricom is active on the world stage, and Lhuillier is eager to bring new ideas from the global market to Alberta. After launching the company in the province over two years ago, he is finally getting his chance to locally apply Cofely Fabricom’s plug-and-play approach to modularization. Last fall, the company landed its first oilsands project when it won a contract to provide Suncor Energy with 80 modules for the Fort Hills mine.

Lhuillier will also have an opportunity to push for innovation as chair of the 5th annual Modular Construction and Prefabrication Canada Summit. Held in Calgary in March, the event’s theme this year is “Mitigating the effect of the market on capital projects through modular implementation.”

Below, Lhuillier highlights some of the ways industry can boost productivity and cut costs with the help of modular fabricators.

1. Modularize more...and more and more

“Lots of parts of projects are still being stick built, and with the proper design they could be modularized. That’s a direct saving. By adapting more plug-and-play modules, you can also go deeper into modularization—similar to what is done in the offshore industry, where you do all your cabling and electrical and instrumentation testing at the module yard, and then you just have to connect the modules when they’re delivered on site. This removes man-hours and risk from site.”

2. Keep everyone working towards the same goal with an alliance contract

“At the engineering stage, integrating the module assembly company into the design process can make modules that will be easier to build, easier to fabricate and easier to maintain. One way to do this is through the contractual arrangement.

“The principle behind alliance contracts is that the owner, the engineer, the fabricator and the site construction company all share the same goals in terms of cost to build and time to build. Their goals are aligned, and they share all of their information on an open-book basis. They run the project openly by sharing the same goal and sharing the same incentive on the results.”

3. Automate the prefabrication process

“Lots of the prefabrication in terms of pipe spooling in Alberta is done manually. Automatic welding is something that can be brought to Alberta quite easily because it has been used in other parts of the world, including eastern Canada, which has used automatic welding for quite a while.”

4. Track the module assembly process through software

“I’m ringing my own bell on this, but Cofely Fabricom is bringing software to the Alberta market that has been audited by Suncor, Devon and Cenovus. We have been using this software in Europe for 20 years and have never paid liquidated damages for being late.

“The software tracks for each module what engineering documents and materials are necessary. The client can know the progress for each module at any time, and it allows us to easily track deviations that can come from many fronts, like engineering modifications, material delay and lack of productivity. By assessing this situation in real-time we are able to find the root cause of the problem and provide solutions to the client to actually meet his targets of finishing safely on time and on budget.

“Most of the yard companies manage module assembly on several systems that are updated at different times. At best, the information from this approach is a couple of weeks old when it’s presented to the client, and the solutions might not be adapted to the root cause when everything has been analyzed.”

5. Drones, digitization and laser scanning can prevent rework

“The principle is you do your laser scanning of the module when it is completed in the yard. Then you compare it to the design and trial fit the modules virtually using information from 3-D scanning of the foundation piles and other installed modules. In data management, there is also a lot to be done, especially using drones on site. You can do a 3-D assessment of your site on a regular basis to make sure that the construction is according to engineering and to make sure that what you send to site is going to fit. We don’t like to see the modules travelling south to be modified.”

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