For clients looking to speed up their timeline, control costs and construct their project through more sustainable methods, prefabricated modular construction might be the answer. From its first modular construction project more than 30 years ago, to modular COVID-19 testing pods deployed during the early days of pandemic, PCL is a trailblazer in the prefabricated modular construction field that continues to innovate.  

During prefabricated modular construction, components of a project are built off site and assembled on the project location. This method offers a variety of enhanced efficiencies and increased controls for the contractor.

“Modular and off-site construction is more efficient, safer, and more sustainable,” says Andy Ahrendt, director of national manufacturing for PCL Construction. “One of the greatest advantages is that it can significantly speed time to market while enhancing safety and quality.”

Many of these benefits, he explains, stem from the same place: a controlled environment.

“Working in a controlled warehouse or manufacturing plant lets you save waste and bulk order,” he says. “Workers can get into more of a rhythm and you’re not changing crews, which boosts quality and safety. You don’t skip steps.”

PCL leverages technology, experience, and innovation to make modular and off-site construction easier for clients to access and use. Their experience has resulted in truly revolutionary applications of modular construction

CubicFarms is one example of how prefabricated modular construction is being leveraged for innovation. The innovative agricultural technology business aims to address the global food security crisis through automated indoor modular agriculture. Its modules can grow everything from fresh produce to livestock feed. A single CubicFarm System module can grow over 12,500 pounds of microgreens in a year. Occupying just one acre with 96 modules, CubicFarms’ FreshHub can replace 100 acres of outdoor growing. CubicFarms has partnered with PCL to build these larger, commercial scale FreshHubs.

“With FreshHub, you can grow a huge amount of fresh produce year-round, in any climate,” says Jo-Ann Ostermann, chief customer officer at CubicFarms. “We selected PCL as our FreshHub facility development partner because of their experienced teams, approach to sustainability, and innovative company culture aligned with our own. PCL understood the new configuration needed for our modular, scalable CubicFarm System technology. FreshHub installations provide people with more reliable access to delicious, locally grown food, anywhere in the world.”

“What I really find exciting about modular work is that it’s much more efficient,” says Ahrendt. “It can not only save time and money, it can address supply chain issues by aggregating material orders earlier, which can all make a huge difference for our clients at the end of the day.

While modular construction is a way of assembling a project, Ahrendt points out that getting the most out of modular touches more than construction. A project needs to adopt a “modular construction mindset” from the very beginning to most effectively leverage the many strengths of modular building.

Bringing a general contractor on to the project team during the pre-construction stage, before design begins can address this challenge, according to Ahrendt.

“Earlier involvement of construction managers in the project can help push scopes of work such that you can make many parts of a project modular without compromising on the design,” he says.

PCL recently leveraged a modular kit-of-parts approach to complete Lakeridge Gardens, the new long-term care home at Ajax Pickering Hospital, in just under 13 months. The six-story facility would have usually taken years to complete, but time was of the essence as the COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for long-term care facilities.

Modular components of the building were broken into tangible parts which were then prefabricated off site. For example, walls, washroom pods and mechanical distribution systems were fabricated off site and then shipped to the project for assembly. As a testament to the time and safety benefits of prefabricated modular construction, this approach not only eliminated years of construction time, but the workforce performed a total of nearly 500,000 worker hours without a lost-time injury. 

Access to the right facilities is key for any modular construction project, according to Ahrendt. Project components can be large — industrial modules can be larger than train cars and weigh thousands of pounds, for instance — and have demanding technical requirements.

PCL addresses this with dedicated modular and prefabrication facilities across North America, as well as a dedicated industrial module assembly facility in Alberta, which can transport finished modules across the continent.

And the people who work in those facilities are the real difference-makers, according to Ahrendt.

“We’ve been doing modular construction for over 30 years,” he says. “There’s a level of workforce sophistication and reliability that unlocks the power of off-site construction. Our people are the key — we have the best team in place to ensure success.”