Leveraging Offsite Fabrication in the Pharma Industry

The pharmaceutical industry is evolving rapidly. New facilities for the production of next-generation medicines must be designed and built quickly and cost-effectively while ensuring the highest possible levels of quality and safety during construction, commissioning and start-up. Offsite fabrication of facility components and equipment can help drug manufacturers achieve these goals.

Prefabrication has been used in building construction for decades. Interest in offsite construction — including prefabrication, modularization, preassembly and offsite multitrade fabrication — has renewed in the face of growing building project complexity, increasing pressure to avoid cost overruns and scheduling delays.

A 2017 survey conducted by the consulting firm FMI provides some insight into the current use of prefabrication in the United States.1 More than 100 owner members participated in the survey, 11% of whom were involved in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Two-thirds of respondents reported that the offsite construction environment is different than it was just three years ago, with this change attributed primarily to labor shortages and increasing cost and schedule pressures. Other factors include access to improved technologies, as well as heightened concerns about safety, risk and increased quality issues.

Prefabrication in the Pharma Industry

As a design and engineering firm focused on the pharmaceutical industry, CRB has been leveraging offsite construction for more than a decade. It is a standard practice to evaluate the use of offsite construction for every project. Cleanroom walls and ceilings, mechanical/electrical modules and process and utility skids, among other elements, can be fabricated offsite and then transported for quick installation. Our North Carolina office targets a minimum of 25% of all project construction work to be executed offsite.

Many Advantages

Leveraging offsite fabrication offers a range of benefits, including improved safety, schedule predictability and reduced costs. Fabrication of facility components in a controlled, offsite environment is safer than at the job site. Moving the construction/assembly of components offsite also reduces the number and density of laborers working on the job site, which leads to a safer work environment.

Overall project timelines are dramatically reduced because components are fabricated concurrently with construction of the building structure — and do not require a permit to initiate. Offsite fabrication minimizes project schedule risks due to weather or a lack of site resources ­— which also improves cost certainty.

Cost savings can also be realized by improving labor efficiency, minimizing construction waste and reducing the overall time to manage and deliver a project. Additionally, the standardization of components affords greater flexibility and scalability.2 Production of components in a controlled environment allows for repeatability, reduced rework and more reliable quality.2

A New Frontier

Offsite fabrication is a new approach for many pharmaceutical companies. Maximizing the benefits of this approach requires the involvement of architects, engineers, tradespeople and fabricators at the earliest stages of a project — often leveraging the expertise of offsite fabricators early in the design. Some pharma procurement groups struggle transitioning from a traditional design–bid–build process to one of integrated partnerships. CRB has, however, seen that this approach actually provides our clients with much higher levels of cost certainty.

CRB has extensive experience identifying and communicating the best opportunities for offsite fabrication early in the process and applies this knowledge to each new project.

Moving to Offsite Fabrication with CRB

These challenges can be overcome by engaging a design and construction firm with demonstrated success leveraging offsite fabrication. CRB has extensive experience identifying and communicating the best opportunities for offsite fabrication early in the process and applies this knowledge to each new project. We work closely with major trade contractors from the earliest stages of a project to jointly develop a successful build strategy.

Our teams leverage the latest 3D modeling techniques to integrate design efforts from all partners into a single model. The result is a smooth process that helps CRB’s clients realize the huge benefits of offsite fabrication.


  1. Hoover, Sabine, Jay Snyder, Ethan Cowles. “New Day, New Mindset: Rethinking Offsite Construction.” Rep. FMI. 2018. Web.
  2. Bohn, Eric. “Deciding When To Use Modular Construction.” Pharmaceutical Technology. 40: 45–46 (2016).

Dennis Kearney

Dennis is a Pharmaceutical Business Unit Leader at CRB and a Project Manager with 30+ years of experience in engineering design and management, the last 20 of which have been dedicated to serving the pharmaceutical industry. Dennis is responsible for developing and implementing a business plan to serve clients, primarily in the Southeast United States. Dennis has managed all aspects of capital projects from concept through startup.