Tips for Modular Construction: Better Planning for Better Results

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Modular Construction can reduce costs and timelines, but smart planning is required to avoid mistakes or delay schedules. We recently spoke with Bill Bullock, Vice President – MEP Engineered Solutions at Environmental Air Systems (EAS) in High Point, North Carolina, to learn how he helps customers manage complicated projects efficiently and effectively. 

EAS manufactures fully integrated, modular solutions designed to serve mission-critical pharmaceutical and high-tech manufacturing industries. It provides CUPs, mechanical rooms, and air system solutions for large-scale and industrial infrastructure with specialization in commercial cooling, heating, utilities, and electrical distribution.

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“EAS provides a full end-to-end solution,” says Bullock. “It can engineer, manufacture, and even install. We have very robust engineering and design departments that help our customers plan and implement their projects.”

After working with hundreds of customers in a variety of industries and builds, Bullock has found that by getting a few things right, EAS can consistently help end users, engineers, architects, and contractors plan and build more successfully. In this interview, he shares his top tips for success with EAS modular solutions.

Tip 1: Make EAS a Part of the Team Early in the Process

“As an experienced modular integrator, our team knows how to help customers get the most value, spend efficiently, and avoid risk,” Bullock notes. “We can do this most effectively for customers that engage very early in the process, in the conceptual stage. When there is not a preconceived notion about the design or the layout, as an integrator, we can bring in the most value.”

When you engage your modular construction partner early, they can positively affect the project. EAS often sits in on meetings and communications with the owner, architect, engineer, and construction manager. “As team members, the architect and engineer both contribute all their experience. The construction manager contributes their knowledge. And the same happens when you include your modular integrator into that core team,” says Bullock. “We offer specialization and knowledge in our part of the project, and the resulting contributions can positively impact every other part of the build.”

EAS also assigns a core team to each project. “We create a team consisting of a project manager, assistant project manager, lead engineer, lead designer, and BIM coordinators.” Bullock emphasizes, “Every project gets that same level of participation from EAS. We’re thinking about the whole building, and at the same time, we are considering how our solutions affect every little piece of it.”

“We often perform a virtual ‘fly through’ of the model to show a project team what the design looks like,” he adds. “This shows the team the overall layout, the components, and how it can be maintained. We can show the build in a 3-D virtual environment so the owner, architect, engineer, and contractor can weigh in before we start. After all, it’s much easier and faster to change the 3-D model than changing it once it’s in production or, even worse, on-site.”

Tip 2: Engage Early

The current supply chain presents challenges. While many aspects have normalized, unexpected delays are still common. “Engaging early buffers the effects of delayed parts,” Bullock notes. “We know which equipment has a long lead time, so we can prioritize the selection of those items, get them ordered, and avoid unnecessary delays.”

EAS will identify the long lead time and critical path items at the onset of engagement in the project. “Conventionally, this process takes months and involves long planning and spec bidding processes, which costs the project schedule dearly,” Bullock says.  “We work with the project team early on to identify and release the critical path items to reduce project risk and optimize the schedule. EAS procures these types of major components on a regular basis, so we have a pulse on the items that are most critical to the infrastructure of the project.”

Tip 3: Think Through Site Prep

Once you’ve agreed on a CUP design and ordered it, it’s time to think about delivery and site prep. “There’s actually very little needed in the way of infrastructure,” says Bullock. “While the end user will eventually have to run basic utilities such as power, plumbing, and water, we can rough them in if they’re not ready to go. The distribution piping or power wiring can be run ahead of the actual power or water being brought to the site.”

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But the most efficient solution is to deliver the CUP and utilities at the same time, in parallel. “Ideally, around the time the CUP or mechanical room arrives, the power and water are also being brought to the site,” Bullock explains. “But the CUP can absolutely be delivered before the arrival of permanent power and permanent water to the site.”

In either situation, planning and site prep help everything go smoother. “On average, we can get a CUP set in in two weeks, and then it takes another two weeks to get everything reconnected and bolted up. Then there are a few weeks of testing, and then we go into startup,” Bullock adds. “It’s typically six to eight weeks, from the time it arrives on site to energizing everything and starting everything up.”

Tip 4: Provide an Optimal Delivery Setup

While CUPs can be delivered before utilities are laid, they still require some delivery considerations. “Every one of these modules is an oversized load,” states Bullock. “And we often find that the last mile is the most complex. Sometimes, we make wide turns on narrow streets, dealing with security gates, high curbs, or parking lots. So it’s smart to think about delivery well in advance of the date.”

Bullock also emphasizes that the site’s surface should be stable. “If the site is still a construction site, it’s important to have gravel laid around the CUP installation area,” he notes. “We recommend having a dry walkway to the area and gravel around the perimeter. A clean perimeter helps keep our CUPs cleaner.”

Tip 5: Think About Maintenance Before Construction

Building a CUP is just the beginning. Once it’s built, maintenance is critical. While many facilities have skilled staff ready to go, EAS also offers best-in-class training to ensure site personnel understand the operation and maintenance requirements of the new mechanical rooms or CUPs.

“We offer training, but in some cases, EAS also provides service and maintenance,” says Bullock. “We customize our offerings to meet our customers’ needs, but it’s best to think through how this will work well in advance of delivery.”

Want to Learn More About EAS?

Coward Environmental Systems, Inc. proudly represents Environmental Air Systems in the Philadelphia region, Central PA, Delaware, and Maryland. Contact us today to discover how EAS customized, modular CUPs and mechanical rooms can be a part of your next project.