Modubuild – Building for the Future
Modubuild is a high-tech engineering, manufacturing and construction company headquartered in Kilkenny, Ireland. The company works for clients in the biopharma and data centre sectors, delivering projects across multiple countries internationally.
Off-site manufacturing-based construction is a growing trend, but when you bring those techniques to the biopharma and data centre sectors, the challenges, and standards, are greater than ever.
“We take complex, high-tech projects from concept to an operational facility,” explains Kevin Brennan, Managing Director of Modubuild. “In the traditional construction and engineering model, projects like these would need a design company, then a contractor, then a specialist contractor to bring it up to spec. We, however, can handle the design, engineering and construction of the entire facility inside our factory, which is the largest manufacturing facility of its kind in Europe.”
Modubuild has invested heavily in its 140,000 square foot, state-of-the-art factory in Castlecomer, Ireland. With significant investments in R&D, lean manufacturing and digitisation, the company leads the way in high tech volumetric modular construction.
“At our facility, we install all of the architectural, mechanical, electrical, and process equipment while the client’s site is being prepared,” Brennan says. “Following inspections and testing we can ship the building in large modules and reassemble it on-site in a matter of days.”
Modubuild also has the ability to deliver projects internationally and has successfully delivered complex projects across eleven countries to date.
A Higher Standard
Modubuild not only offers drawing-board-to-building-site design and construction, and efficient off-site manufacturing, but provides it to some of the most demanding construction sectors out there. A large proportion of Modubuild’s work is in creating facilities for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, where there is no room for error.
“Our clients are major multinational companies,” Brennan points out. “They operate in highly regulated environments, for example, biopharma clients are bringing new life-saving drugs to market. Therefore quality, safety, schedule and certainty of outcome are of the utmost importance.”
These companies also demand a high speed-to-market, so the time from concept to the operational facility can be crucial, as we saw during the Covid pandemic’s rush for a vaccine.
“Our volumetric solutions mean we can deliver a facility, such as a vaccine laboratory, in seven-and-a-half months, where it would normally take as much as a year-and-a-half,” Brennan tells us.
Modubuild demonstrated this in 2020 when it delivered a biosafety vaccine facility for a leading global biopharma client. Modubuild took the project from concept to operational facility in eight months, taking only nine days to reassemble the finished building on-site.
The completed facility was named winner of the “Large Project of the Year” at the 2020 Pharma Industry Awards.
As well as biopharma companies such as Amgen, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, MSD and others, Modubuild also serves many leading global data providers, a sector every bit as demanding as pharmaceuticals. Brennan led the company into this sector when noticed the need for a company that could deliver high-tech data centre systems quickly and in multiple locations throughout Northern Europe. Soon Modubuild won its first large international contract, an €8 million data centre project in the Netherlands for a client Modubuild had previously supported in Ireland.
The Netherlands has proven to be an auspicious market for the company, and Modubuild opened its own office in Amsterdam in January of 2019.
Both of these sectors have faced challenges in recent years, but Brennan regards these as opportunities to showcase Modubuild’s strengths.
“There have been challenges in sourcing people and materials, but we can offset those challenges by constructing projects off-site at our factory,” Brennan points out. “That means we have control over the supply chain, and we don’t need to move people around as much as you would with traditional onsite projects.”
Building a Culture
Demand for Modubuild’s work is growing, and to meet it Modubuild has invested heavily in talent acquisition and development. Over the last couple of years, the company has hired over 100 additional people, almost doubling its direct staff complement on top of its 350 indirect employees.
When a company grows that quickly it can easily lose the ways of working that made it a success in the first place, but Brennan has been adamant about preserving Modubuild’s culture as it grows.
“It’s always a challenge. Culture is something everyone talks about, but we put a huge value on it,” he reflects. “It is a challenge, but it is something we hold very dearly. We not only have a factory and international reach, but we get on well with our people and have a culture of cooperation.”
One element of that culture he is keen to preserve is the diversity of the workforce, which is very multicultural with people from a range of backgrounds.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, we have a very level playing field,” Brennan says.
Unusually, for a company in the engineering and construction sector, half of the company’s design and engineering staff are women.
“We didn’t set out to achieve that gender ratio, but during Women in Engineering Week, we did a headcount in our design and engineering department. It turned out we had an almost perfect 50/50 split,” Brennan tells us. “We didn’t intentionally recruit with gender in mind, we only hired the people we felt were the best fit. We have always recruited with that mindset.”
Given that the gender ratio of its staff is not part of any intentional hiring push, Brennan believes it might be the result of the company’s proximity to the technology and pharmaceutical sectors.
“We’re in construction and engineering, but when hiring we look to our clients in biopharma and technology, and what they do, rather than taking our hiring practices from traditional construction,” he says. “We put a heavy emphasis on the right person with the right attitude and the right skills.”
From Modubuild’s earliest days the company has forward invested heavily in its recruitment strategy, with a dedicated talent acquisition team. That has since grown into a learning and development department to retain talent, as well as attract it.
One of the most important aspects of a construction project is strong foundations, and it is clear Brennan is ready to build on what the company has achieved so far.
“In the next five years, we want to continue to expand. We’re going to open another manufacturing facility elsewhere in Europe, in five years we’d expect to have close to 1,200 people, and we expect we’ll be working on two other continents, Asia and the United States,” Brennan tells us. “We’ve been on a strong growth trajectory for the last few years, we’re evolving. Not that long ago we would have been considered a small sub-contractor doing small projects throughout Ireland, and we’ve pivoted to being seen as an industry leader in engineering off-site manufacturing.”