Modular Engineering Small and Flexible Engineering: Modular Thinking Outside the Box

Author / Editor: Dominik Stephan* / Dominik Stephan

Modular engineering with future proof flexibility  — Unprecedented flexibility in engineering with safe installation in shorter timeframes. Modular engineering could bring a construction kit for 'plug and produce' process plants — and thus fits right into the portfolio of an engineering specialist that focuses on a functional turnkey approach. It nevertheless might require engineers to think outside the box...

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The Lego-principle: Modular engineering brings unprecendented flexibility and shorter construction times by using pre-assembled building blocks.
The Lego-principle: Modular engineering brings unprecendented flexibility and shorter construction times by using pre-assembled building blocks.
(Source: © wolcan; Jeibmann Photographik; [M]GötzelHorn)

As the process industry is facing global competition, speed becomes the decisive factor. Agile innovation and quick investments, but also flexible production are needed to keep pace with the ever-evolving markets. Especially in sectors like specialty chemicals with short product life-times and small capacities of highly specialized products, these demands pose significant challenges for plant engineers, as typical design, evaluation, planning and construction processes are often long-term undertakings with limited flexibility.

Engineers tasked with the challenge came up with a unique vision: Assembling a complete production plant from pre-fabricated containerized building blocks. This so called “modular” approach would help to shorten construction time and facilitate work at the site, experts believe. Furthermore, it would — just like a Lego-kit — offer the possibility to re-configure existing plants.

Modular Engineering: Top Trend at Achema

While modular engineering was the talk of the town at Achema 2018, the topic is an old hat for Cryotec Anlagenbau. The Wurzen-based company specialized in technical gases had adapted a modular approach already in 2004, long before this became a trending topic. Today, the specialist design, plan and construct modular plants for applications from wastegas-utilisation to LNG-production.

In fact, the majority of products (around 99 %) are sold on export markets, the company states. 2009 was another highlight in the Cryotec history: The engineering specialists from Germany’s state of Saxony became part of a bigger family — the EPC Group.

Thus continues a unique success story: Since its foundation as EPC Engineering & Technologies some 23 years ago, the company has successfully managed more than 1, 000 projects in over 40 countries. “With the combination of engineering services and technology competence, we take a different approach and set ourselves apart,” states Tim Henkel, Member of the Managing board of the EPC Group.

A Recipe for Success

The recipe for success is founded on a strategy that has been pursued single-mindedly from the outset: With one ear close to the market and close to the customer, the company diversified from an early stage, Henkel states. No wonder, that modular engineering has been on EPC's agenda for quite some time: “Undoubtedly, modularization plays an increasing role,” confirms Jens Henkel, who runs the business together with Ulf, Tim and Nadine Henkel.

But there are limits: “In large-scale plant construction, for basic chemicals and commodities, with capacities of several tens of thousands of tons per year, this is not something we should be looking at.” In fact the EPC Group, a company that takes great pride in its motto ‘Ideas inside’, does not advocate over-engineering: “What makes us special is that we sell technology with engineering, but we do not over-develop the engineering to the point where we cease to be cost-effective,” Henkel explains.

The Plant, that Came in From the Cold

To bundle its activities in modular engineering, the managers decided to have their subsidiary ­Cryotec join forces with the group’s core business, EPC Engineering & Technologies. The aim: To provide thought-out process and construction know-how in an innovative area. Moving forward in an exciting engineering trend topic while reaping the benefits of 14 years of experience — this is what sets this co-operation apart from the competition, both companies believe.