You've chosen Americas as your location.

To clear your location selection and return to IPS Global, click below.

Return to IPS Global

You've chosen Americas as your location.

Thank you for choosing a location. This will help us show you the information that matters the most to you.

Continue Change Selection

Modular Technologies

Feb 01, 2014


Modular Technologies

Feb 01, 2014

Every industry moves through a life cycle, starting with the seed of an idea, experiencing rapid growth periods, and ultimately settling into a mature phase. The Pharmaceutical industry has reached maturity, and with this maturity has come aggressive competition, reducing margins and ratcheting up pressure on cost and product development timelines. In addition to market share, Pharmaceutical companies compete for investor capital, and this competition drives industry leaders to demonstrate greater and greater control over their deployment of these scarce dollars.


There are numerous factors that must be controlled to optimize capital deployment. Overall outlay must be controlled. Time from decision to delivery must be minimized. And the quality of the delivered asset must meet, but not exceed, all requirements.

To achieve these objectives for the Pharmaceutical industry, capital project delivery practitioners have developed and refined numerous specialized techniques. One of the techniques that has dramatically improved the capital deployment process in recent years is modularization. In the Pharmaceutical Engineering context, modularization is the design, construction, and qualification of facility elements in discrete units at a location distant from the ultimate facility, and the integration of those elements, or modules, into the final facility at the site.

Modularization can be and has been applied in many ways. Prefabrication of piping spools is a method that has been applied in the process industries for many years and is one of the earliest examples of modularization. For years, engineers and constructors have organized process system designs to allow for detailed design and fabrication off-site. These process modules can be partially tested and qualified, broken down if required, shipped, and reassembled at the site.

Similarly, modular wall systems represent the outcome of a process of design and construction of facility elements in discrete units away from the ultimate facility. These systems have evolved from prefabricated PVC sheathed aluminum frame wall and ceiling panels. They now include “walkable” ceiling systems, prefabricated airwalls, and even integrated electrical lighting and receptacles and HVAC ductwork, HEPA filters, and controls. Modular wall systems also provide added benefit of vastly superior quality to any means and methods available for constructing on-site.

Also employed for many years like process and wall systems, modular Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) systems have undergone an evolution recently. Penthouse air handling units and modular chilling and heating plants have been used in many applications. However, modularization of utility distribution systems is one of the latest developments in the industry’s efforts to optimize capital deployment. Historically ductwork, piping, and conduit systems were inexpensive enough, and erected in the field easily enough, that they were unattractive targets for modularization. The economic pressure on capital projects in today’s Life Sciences industries has shifted that balance. MEP distribution systems are now organized into modules during design, prefabricated on special structural support systems, shipped just-in-time to a waiting site, and rapidly assembled. The application of modularization to these distribution systems requires special design and constructability considerations, many of which are facilitated with BIM and 4D design and construction techniques.

At the turn of the century, factory modularization was driven to the limit with the advent of the Shipping Container Module (SCM) concept. This approach was pioneered by Pharmadule and is now applied by numerous organizations to maximize modularization. In principle, under this approach the facility is designed in such a way that it can be fabricated in shipping container-sized elements, shipped over road, rail, and water, then reassembled at the site. Because of the unique requirements that the complete facility, including architectural, MEP, and process elements, be transported, the SCM approach requires that the facility possess a unique structural system to support not only the final facility, but also the containers during shipment. This requirement means that the designer must possess specialized skills and experience to efficiently organize the facility and ensure constructability. In addition, field integration of shipping container modules requires a unique set of skills, much of which is most efficiently transferred from the design firm.

These modularization approaches can be applied in a wide range of combinations. Every project has unique requirements, and a customized approach may be needed to meet these unique requirements; the selected strategy may employ multiple modularization techniques. Parts of a specific project may benefit from modularization while another part of the same project may not, and certain elements of each approach may be suitable for a project while other elements may not be. During the conceptual phase of the project, the modularization requirements should be evaluated and a project-specific modularization program should be implemented.


The benefits of modularization are many, and the quantitative evaluation of some of them is highly complex. Two of the most obvious benefits are quality, because more craft labor hours are expended under controlled shop conditions instead of uncontrolled field conditions, and safety, for the same reason. The cost of the project can be reduced, depending on the relative cost of shop versus field labor. If shop and field labor costs are equivalent, the cost increases due to module disassembly for shipping must be offset by the savings from productivity improvements in the shop.

Schedule benefits are the most specious; many hypothetical schedule benefits derive from an unusually favorable decision-making process. However, there are substantial schedule benefits to be realized from certain modularization approaches, and the engineering and construction practitioner is well served to evaluate these opportunities carefully based on the unique requirements of his or her specific project.

The Modular Construction Technologies Tour at INTERPHEX 2014 will survey a range of the modularization concepts that have been applied and will continue to be developed for application in the delivery of facilities for the Life Sciences industry. Spanning the range of modular wall panel systems, with and without integrated MEP functions, through process modules, super skids, and shipping container/structural modules, the Modular Construction Technologies Tour will introduce attendees to different modularization approaches, their costs and benefits, and the vendor expertise that is available to support their implementation.

The 2014 tour will focus on a slate of organizations that are on the cutting edge of the advances in modularization. Led by noted industry experts, the tour will make stops at selected vendor exhibits and provide an ideal opportunity to obtain information on the latest advances in these technologies and exchange information with commonly interested attendees. This event has been designed to include the organizations currently making the greatest advances in the enabling technologies that will drive the paradigms for construction of life sciences facilities of the future. These organizations include Biologics Modular, AES Clean Technology, GE Healthcare, Cotter Brothers, AWS BioPharma Technologies and Nicos Group.

This article originally appeared in the 2014 INTERPHEX Technologies Tours supplement from PharmPro.

Related Experts

Related Expertise


Choose Your Location

To customize your experience, select an IPS region or country to view specific information based on your location.

  • Americas
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Brazil
  • All Other Countries

You’ve chosen as your location.

Thank you for choosing a location. This will help us show the information that means to most to you. Continue to the homepage to view featured projects, and happenings specific to your location.


We use cookies to personalize and enhance your experience on our site. Visit our Privacy Policy to learn more.