BCT Structures Inc.

When oil or natural gas is discovered, a formerly remote, unpopulated area can turn into a miniature city virtually overnight. In the past, workers had to make do with tents and other, less comfortable forms of temporary housing, and for months if not years at a time. At today’s modern work camps, however, workers have the option to spend their time in temporary structures that offer as many of the comforts of home as possible, and BCT Structures is one of the companies focused on providing them.

The Alberta-based company has existed in its current form since 2006, and was acquired by environmental, energy and industrial services provider Clean Harbors in 2011. As Vice President Brian Macdonald explains, Clean Harbors made the acquisition to provide a vertically integrated workforce housing solution for its subsidiaries. Although half of BCT’s work today is for its parent company, the company still serves third-party customers including oil and gas producers, office building owners and schools.

BCT Structures specializes in manufacturing modular buildings that are transportable, Macdonald says. Although approximately 90 percent of the company’s output is intended as workforce housing for oil and gas and construction projects, BCT’s portfolio includes high-end commercial buildings, administration and office space and affordable housing. Even though the company faces significant competition from manufacturers of many sizes throughout the region and the nation, Macdonald says BCT has the qualifications and quality to remain a leader in the industry.

Key Advantages

The first advantage BCT brings to the marketplace is its location, Macdonald explains. Being located in Alberta means BCT is close to the largest segment of its customer base in the form of the heavy oil sands activity in the region. Macdonald adds that being a local Alberta company means it has good access to a healthy supply of qualified, reasonably priced labor.

BCT’s production facility is another key advantage for the company, MacDonald says. Unlike many of its competitors, BCT operates out of a 130,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that was built specifically for the construction of modular buildings. This facility includes four distinct manufacturing lines that provide the company with the flexibility to offer customers an extensive amount of customization in their structures. The building’s 40-foot-wide folding overhead doors allow the company to build structures in a controlled, indoor environment.

Building structures indoors in a controlled environment rather than stick-building them on site is one of the biggest advantages the modular building industry has as a whole, Macdonald says. A factory environment means BCT can automate certain aspects of the process, and customers can be assured that they will receive a consistent product quality. “There’s a lot of upside for that,” he says.

Although many people associate temporary structures with trailers and quickly built structures from smaller operators, Macdonald says BCT and other manufacturers are changing the perception with structures that incorporate many of the amenities found in permanent buildings. These include private washroom facilities, individual kitchens and recreation rooms. On top of all that, BCT brings a reputation for building some of the best-quality modular structures in the industry.

Macdonald says the high-quality product that BCT produces, the experience of its people and its dedication to continuous improvement have combined to give the company one of the best reputations in the modular building industry.

“We have a very well-developed quality system, and the product we build is recognized in the industry as high-quality,” Macdonald says. “We have a good location, we have access to good labor, we have a purpose-built facility and we have a very high-quality product.”

Gearing Up

Ironically, the amount of activity in the oil sands market has propelled BCT’s current success but also provided it with some of its biggest challenges, Macdonald says. The increased activity has brought in a lot of new business for the company, but it also has made things more difficult when it comes to staffing up to keep up with that new business.

“We compete for labor with normal construction, so in the summertime specifically when the construction industry revs up a bit we have to compete with a lot of people,” he says. “One of the ways we’re trying to get around that is through in-house training.”

Macdonald says BCT has made considerable investments in building up its training programs for employees in recent years, and adds that this has gone a long way toward helping the company keep its best and brightest employees with BCT for a long time.

Regulation has been another area in which BCT has had to make adjustments. In the past, Macdonald says, permits for the types of structures used in work camps were given assuming that the buildings would only be up for a few years. These permits, therefore, didn’t require the structures to meet many of the same standards for permanent structures because they were believed to be taken down after a short while.

Recently, however, the government has come to realize that many work camps can remain in place for decades at a time, and the standards for permitting have changed to reflect that, treating them more like regular permanent structures. MacDonald says BCT has always been able to meet whatever standards are required of its products, but the company is focusing more on structures that can be considered “relocate-able” rather than “temporary.”

Despite these challenges, Macdonald says BCT is optimistic about the near future. The modular building system already is popular in Europe, and is beginning to take hold in North America as customers discover the benefits. More and more work camps are being set up with the types of modular construction provided by BCT because of the comfort, durability and features they provide to work crews, Macdonald continues. With the oil and gas industry gearing up for much more activity to come, BCT will be right there to fulfill its needs with structures that can be set up and taken down quickly but still provide key benefits.

“The way it looks right now is people are pretty confident that the infrastructure’s going to be going in, and if that’s the case there is going to be a severe shortage of beds,” Macdonald says.

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