Design & Engineering | Problems

Planning a Capital Project: Custom or Pre-engineered - Which is Best?

July 15th, 2020   |  10 min. read
Planning a Capital Project: Custom or Pre-engineered - Which is Best? Blog Feature

Planning a capital project can be a complex undertaking. Add in something like blast-resistant buildings and there are even more parts to the planning process. Goals must be set. Timelines must be arranged to avoid upsetting workflow. And you have to find a vendor with turnkey services and experience with all the intricacies of your project. 

If you’re planning a capital project that involves blast-resistant buildings for specialized areas, like control rooms or laboratories, you might think that automatically means a custom project. That might be true, but there is another option, if you have some flexibility.

Next to completely custom modular blast-resistant buildings, a suite-quality, pre-engineered building holds its own when it comes to quality and safety. 

As a manufacturer of blast-resistant buildings, RedGuard has been there from the industry’s very first days. Our engineers and partners have been studying the science of blast events and understand the needs in protecting those working dangerous jobs in hazardous areas. We introduced pre-engineered buildings with our RediSuite line in 2016. 

In this article, we’ll compare custom modular blast-resistant buildings, with a fairly new entry into the industry: pre-engineered modular blast-resistant buildings. We’ll use our pre-engineered line, RediSuite, as the comparison but we realize there may be other players in the pre-engineered space now. 

What is a custom blast-resistant modular building? 

As it sounds, a custom blast-resistant modular building is a made-to-order blast-resistant building that follows exact specifications for a capital project. It could be a complex building that combines uses, like a control room, conference rooms, offices, and restrooms - all in one building, made up of several blast-resistant modules.

It may incorporate a specialized HVAC system, positive air pressure (to keep clean air in, and contaminants out), or any number of special needs. As a blast-resistant building, all internal elements will be vetted for safety, and the building itself will have a hazard rating that matches the needs of the project. 

As a modular building, the majority of the work is completed offsite and there may be several rounds of changes, and engineering to be considered. A project manager will keep track of all the necessary communications back and forth on your custom project. Once the work is finished, it will be shipped to your location, carefully placed, assembled, and finished. Typically, in a modular build, you can get the same amenities that you would find in a stick-built (traditionally built) building. 

What is a pre-engineered blast-resistant building? 

As mentioned, a recent entry into the blast-resistant building market is that of “pre-engineered” modules. These are similar to custom blast-resistant modules in that they are “suite-quality” buildings, with construction completed off-site, and then delivered and finished. 

Suite-quality refers to the level of finish in things like walls, electrical systems, plumbing (if present), and even some of the other internal elements of the building. You can expect that “suite-quality” will be of higher quality than that from a rental fleet. 

With pre-engineered, the customer looks over available floor plans and matches them to their needs. The elements that make the building blast-resistant, like the “rib-cage” structure of the external walls and steel-reinforced doors are still present in a pre-engineered building and there are several standard configurations available, all with completed plans and engineering. The build starts once the layout is chosen and needs are discussed. 

Advantages of a Custom Blast-resistant Building

Now that you have a short description of each, let’s weigh the advantages of opting for a custom blast-resistant building for your capital project.

Your Options are Completely Open 

The main advantage of a custom blast-resistant building is very obvious: YOU GET EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT. 

If your project is complex, that means you won’t have to compromise a thing. If you need a very tall building, to accommodate lowering the ceiling for duct-work, that is easily done. If your control room’s specifications require a platform floor to hide wires or other computer/communications elements, no problem! If you need exactly six offices that are of a specific non-standard size - you can get it! 

Get the Exact Hazard Rating that you Need

Another advantage to a custom blast-resistant building is that the hazard rating can be exactly to the number called for in your facility siting study. So, if you only need a 1, 2, or 3-psi building, you can get exactly that! 

You also may be able to incorporate Shelter-in-Place elements that you might not be able to get in something that has a predetermined layout. This might be elements like gas detection, fire protection, or air filtration. 

Disadvantages of a Custom Blast-resistant Building

When someone is trying to sell you something, they’re going to shy away from talk of “disadvantages.” But we look at disadvantages differently. We realize that each one of these options (custom or pre-engineered) will be a better choice for different people. We’d like to help you sort that out. Here are some of the reasons that a custom build might not be for you. 

Custom Buildings May Cost More

When you think about custom anything, you may automatically think, “It costs more.”  (Or maybe it’s just me.) With a blast-resistant building, there’s some truth to that, but not in the way that you think. 

There is not an automatic mark-up just because the project is custom. We know that for these projects, time IS money and that’s the major differentiator. So, a custom building may cost you more in resources.

Some capital projects managers are turned off by the lead time on custom projects. It’s understandable when they’re in a situation of having a budget, but needing to spend it quickly before things change! Once a company is acquired or sold, all bets are off when it comes to a project that was in the making. For many in our industry, spending that budget quickly is paramount.

More Decisions to Make / More Communications / More Approvals

If you’re creating something custom, that means there are more options and more decisions to make. And, depending on your approval process and the number of people involved, that might mean more communications that need to happen and a waiting period for each one. Going back to the concept of "time is money," this may again be a detractor. 

Our Project Managers are skilled in communicating with customers for custom projects, but we know that the more people involved when approvals are needed, the more likely to add time to the project. 

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Advantages of a Pre-engineered Building

Now that you know some of the advantages (and the challenges) of a custom building, let’s take a look at the advantages for pre-engineered buildings. 

Hazard Ratings with a Higher PSI

When a building is a standard design, that means it has to accommodate a greater number of users and circumstances. That means with a pre-engineered building, it may already be designed to withstand a greater blast load. That is true of our RediSuite line, for example, which has a hazard rating of 8 psi/200 msec. 

That means you are getting more protection for your money. This may seem like an irrational thing to think of as an advantage if you only need 2 psi, for example, but when you look at the long term, it could work out in your favor. 

Things change all the time on worksites, including the boundaries of a hazardous zone. When you get a facility siting study done in the future, that area could require more protection. It could be that processes have changed and that control room that once only required a building rated for a 3 psi blast, now requires more. It’s always good to have more protection than you need. 

Pre-Engineered Saves Time

We’ve used the word “time” in this piece enough to emphasize that we get how important it is. Our buildings are designed using a proven blast-tested design. When you choose pre-engineered, you will shave weeks off of the process by simply choosing your preferred layout from a variety of standard options and then outfitting it for your capital project. 

The standard options are created by evaluating the standard options that customers in the industry selected most often and making floor plans to fill those needs. Our pre-engineered modular buildings have proven to be very popular among midstream facilities, but have also found homes on downstream refineries as well.

Disadvantages of a Pre-engineered Blast-Resistant Building

There’s that word again - disadvantages. We’ve struggled in this article with the term disadvantages because both of these building types are top of the line and will be valid for specific use cases.

But, of course, there could be elements that mean it’s not the right choice for you. The following “disadvantages” are some of the reasons that you might decide to take pre-engineered off your list. 

Height of a Pre-engineered Blast-resistant building

With a standard configuration, you may need to look at your needs and decide if you can fit them into the layouts that are available. One thing that can’t change is height. A standard pre-engineered building starts with a greater height than most fleet buildings, but at 11 feet may still not reach the height that you require, if you need dropped ceilings or computer platform floors. 

Standard Configurations

We’re able to accommodate many requests to make a pre-engineered building fit your specifications, but there are some projects that are much more complicated than pre-engineered will allow. In those cases, a custom blast-resistant building is the way to go. 

Pre-engineered layouts won’t work for every project, nor should they. But it’s always worth talking to your vendor to see what elements can change and what can not. 

Hazard Rating Could Be Too Low

If the requirements for your project require a higher hazard rating than the pre-engineered buildings that you are considering, that’s an element that cannot change and will automatically take pre-engineered off the table for you.

In other words, if your project requires a 10 psi building, and the pre-engineered line has a hazard rating of 8 psi, that means it will not work for your use and you should consider a custom blast-resistant building.

Which is better for me?

Weighing all of these differences, we hope that you are now more informed about two excellent options for your capital project. One of them may already be a standout for you. 

A custom blast-resistant building is your starting point if: 

  • If you have a highly specific layout in mind and many specialized needs that can’t budge
  • You need a building that has a hazard rating of a very specific rating
  • You have the time to work within the time frame that a custom project will require 

Start by considering your pre-engineered options if: 

  • You have a little bit of room for flexibility in your layout
  • You can work with a hazard rating of 8 psi (even if you require less)
  • Your time is of the essence and you’d like to get this project rolling as quickly as possible. 

As a leader in blast-resistant modular buildings, RedGuard paved the way for both custom projects in 2013 and pre-engineered buildings in 2016. It’s never too soon to start talking about your project. 

The SafetySuite line from RedGuard is the industry’s top-of-the-line option when it comes to custom blast-resistant projects. And RediSuite is the industry’s very first line of pre-engineered suite-quality blast-resistant buildings. 

To learn more about specific layouts for pre-engineered blast-resistant buildings, read more about RedGuard’s RediSuite line. 

To see some specific use cases for custom blast-resistant buildings, read more about RedGuard’s SafetySuite line.

Carreen Gibbons

Carreen Gibbons

Carreen Gibbons is the Communications Specialist at RedGuard. With a natural curiosity toward technical subjects and a love of learning new things she writes content for the SiteBox Storage and RedGuard websites and spends her days learning new things about the industries that the companies serve.

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