By Christopher Williams

Modular construction techniques are gaining in popularity worldwide and Port of Belledune has built the infrastructure required to play a fab role in this mod squad.

The evolution of “modularisation” is an important and cost effective construction technique. It’s having a huge impact on industry by delivering large scale projects faster, at lower cost and with significant safety improvements. 

Port of Belledune recognized the potential in the modular fabrication niche, particularly for the northeastern market area, and wasted no time making the vision reality. According to Rayburn Doucett, President & CEO of Belledune Port Authority, “it all started with a few people thinking about the future and wondering what there is in northern New Brunswick that is unique, what we could build from and what we have that other places don’t have,” he explains. “After many discussions and brainstorming with some very knowledgeable people in the mix, it was determined that doing something radical to enable modular fabrication to develop as an industry would be a perfect fit.”

Mr. Doucett says the decision to build a modular fabrication facility was made at a tricky time when the Port was “neck deep” in a major construction project worth $67 million dollars that would see a roll-on roll-off terminal built, a new laydown area, concrete cribs filled in and part of the harbour dredged. “One would think we were busy enough, but cooperation really made us believe that adding another project at the same time would be simple. After all, what was another estimated $10 million onto the $67?” Mr. Doucett is clearly a ‘glass-full’ type of guy with the tenacity to get the job done.

The newest piece of the Port’s expansion puzzle turned out to be a $13.2 million Modular Component Fabrication Facility adjacent to a Complementary Fabrication Facility building. Two large structures offer a combined area of more than 12,000 square metres of construction space and 5,800 square metres of outdoor storage area. The larger building is “as high as a six-story building with enough area to fit the equivalent of 100 school buses parked in rows” according to the port’s snazzy marketing Infographic. Complete with 28 welding stations and two overhead bridge cranes, the facility has proven to be the right move given the port’s strengths in mining, metal working, oil and gas, mining and the offshore module industry.

To finance construction of the facility, the New Brunswick government pitched in $7 million, the federal government paid $1.5 million, and the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided a $3.2-million loan. “In our case, the Canada stimulus funding and the state of the economy from 2008 worked in our favor to help see this facility be built,” said Doucett. “It’s helped make Port of Belledune one of the best ports in Atlantic Canada and ideal for the increased demand for low-cost modular fabrication construction locations in ice-free, deep-water ports.”

New Brunswick Premier David Alward agrees. “Industrial fabrication is an important sector that provides employment opportunities for highly-skilled New Brunswickers. A number of firms in New Brunswick have grown their businesses by supplying modules on large-scale projects, and we must capitalize on large projects in the Maritimes, northern Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta to rebuild our economy,” encourages Alward.

In designing the facility, Mr. Doucett says the Port Authority got a lot of advice from various companies and similar modular fabrication sites. “Their feedback and expertise were used extensively when making decisions about the height of the building and the capacity of the cranes.”

MAN Diesel & Turbo Canada Ltd. was the first customer to lease the new Belledune facility. The company is a subsidiary of MAN Diesel & Turbo SE, the company that built the first diesel engine in 1897, and is now a leading provider of two and four-stroke diesel engines for stationary and marine applications. In Belledune, MAN leased the facility to build an electrical module destined for Xstrata Nickels’ Raglan Mine in Nunavik, Quebec in the Arctic. Throughout that project, MAN worked with local suppliers and hired a New Brunswick company, Sunny Corner Enterprises, to be the lead contractor on the project. “Seeing this module being built in Belledune took a leap of faith from MAN and the support of Xstrata Nickel to have their module built in New Brunswick,” noted Doucett. “Both companies were extremely satisfied and have indicated that the Port’s facility will be high on the list for future projects.”

Also in 2013, MQM Quality Manufacturing spent six months doing fabrication and assembly of what would become a stacker/reclaimer – a very large piece of equipment. The stacker/reclaimer was built in stages from MQM’s shop in Tracadie, New Brunswick and on an outdoor area on Terminal 4 at the port of Belledune. “By working directly at the port, we helped both MQM and MAN Diesel and Turbo mitigate some of their risks, ensure access to shipping facilities and allow them to ship final pieces by sea rather than many small components,” noted Doucett.

To create more awareness of the new modular fabrication facility, Belledune Port Authority launched a micro website, “It’s a website to pinpoint key information regarding modular fabrication,” explains Jenna MacDonald, Director of Marketing, BPA. “Promoting the new infrastructure has been our main focus and having all of the specifications and a short video easily attainable online was the logical next step.”

Maritime Welding, another New Brunswick company, recently exported tanks to Russia that the company fabricated at its plant in Bathurst. The company shipped 20 pieces on the M.V. Saimaagracht to make ten stainless steel tanks in 2012.

The $25 billion shipbuilding contract awarded to Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding Ltd. is expected to spin off satellite work to Port of Belledune which has the advantage of 650 hectares of land surrounding the port terminals to layout the huge ship pieces.

On the import side, the port’s expanded infrastructure easily accommodated wind energy cargo which arrived for two wind farms each about 150 kilometres from the port. Seventy-two windmills were delivered in 2009 to the Caribou Wind Park, about 70 kilometres west of the city of Bathurst. Another 30 were delivered in 2010 to the Lamèque Wind Farm on the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick.