Shelter that Takes on All Extremes

Norseman Structures
Written by Karen Hawthorne

You’re building a plant in the oil sands of northern Canada during the harsh winter months of ice, snow and temperatures plummeting to -58 degrees Fahrenheit. How do you shelter your team and protect your equipment? You turn to the architectural innovators at Norseman Structures.
In construction, even a few days of downtime because of adverse weather can put a significant dent in your bottom line. A little rain is one thing, but what happens when you have snowstorms halting work and exposing your machinery and materials to the elements?

Throw in limited daylight and unpredictable conditions, such as ice-covered roads and frigid temperatures, and the project becomes a lot more complex.

But that is exactly where Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Norseman Structures excels. Known for providing its customers ShelterSolutions, the company offers a variety of pre-engineered products and services tailored to the customer’s need. It takes a project from the design stage to onsite construction, procuring materials, local tradespeople and expertise while handling logistics and project management. And the company can offer these services anywhere in the world, from the Canadian arctic to the Philippines.

The company’s structures range from temporary buildings to protect workers and equipment on a mine site, to those enclosing a sports field, to permanent structures for grain storage and fertilizer terminals. And Norseman takes care of all the interior specifications, too, from HVAC to electrical, foundations and accessories.

“One unique aspect of our operation is that we control the quality of every aspect of the project,” says Kevin Dow, Chief Operating Officer, ensuring that all components and systems meet or exceed stringent building and fire codes.

“We control the risk for our customer in the procurement of products, components, materials and services that become part of the overall project – a critically important thing when we’re serving clients in the industrial mining, energy and government infrastructure sectors. Those clients are looking for a single point of contact and a single contractual relationship that we manage.”

A case in point is Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), a crude oil company that had a tight winter work schedule to build a new plant in northern Alberta. They needed shelters that would allow them to continue fabricating and warehousing. If the foundation slabs, for example, weren’t poured and cured on time, plant construction would be delayed by months.

To add to the complexity, these shelters also needed to provide a climate-controlled environment for the concrete to cure properly. And, they needed to be designed for temporary use to avoid adding more capital purchases to the new plant – not simple requests.

In response, Norseman Structures created and assembled seven buildings onsite for CNRL to keep the project on track. In fact, CNRL finished the entire construction 30 days ahead of schedule, saving an estimated $30 million.

Clearly, Norseman Structures lives up to the company tagline, “Fiercely Reliable.”

“It’s important in everything that we do,” says Gerri Masciangelo, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “We will be Fiercely Reliable in every project, not just in what we do, but also in how we do things. It’s very satisfying when we hear a customer say, ‘I’ll only work with Norseman’ or ‘we have to work with you guys again.’”

What it boils down to is building strong relationships with customers, he says, understanding their needs and executing ShelterSolutions that solve a problem for them – whether that’s driving efficiencies or protecting their workers, processes and the environment with structures for temporary use or permanent use for a 75-year lifespan or more.

The company has a legacy of providing durable products, beginning in 1921 as a tent and outdoor outfitter for mine exploration and logging camps. It expanded into developing products such as specialty blankets and coverings to protect industrial materials and machines from the elements, including large structures built around drill rigs and material conveyors.

In 2010, Norseman purchased the assets of fabric-covered building manufacturer, Cover-All, in Saskatoon, providing the company with manufacturing capacity for larger and more sophisticated structures with greater design capabilities. Today, over 60 percent of revenue comes from the industrial sector.

Continuing to expand its presence in the industrial sector, Norseman Structures delivered a covered corridor for workers and community members to travel protected from the elements, wolves and other wildlife near the Cameco uranium mine at Cigar Lake in northern Saskatchewan. They go safely from the communal buildings to the mining operations through a lit walkway.

The company has also worked extensively with De Beers diamond mining to provide several buildings, including a storage facility for 35,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, the material used for blasting. This safe and climate-controlled storage has prevented the leaching of damaging nitrates into the surrounding environment. There is also a conveyor that is mounted from the building to increase the productivity of filling the facility during the short winter road season.

“Now that material is stored inside the building and protected from rain, wind and snow, so it’s a very good story about protection for workers and the environment and driving efficiency,” Dow says.

Norseman’s good relations with De Beers led to the construction of an elaborate gym facility for workers on the same mine site north of Yellowknife, complete with a weight room, racketball and basketball courts. “It’s gorgeous,” Dow says. Logistics were a challenge that the team was more than ready to meet, as they “had to get all the materials to the site over the ice roads in February and make sure all the materials were protected until we erected the building in June,” he says of the specialized flooring and insulation, for example.

“We know that in a gym people would be generating body sweat, so we had to control the air quality and heating inside the building with an appropriate energy source and ensure it would be suitable onsite.”

Norseman Structures also worked with SNC-Lavalin on the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal, one of the largest projects in the last 40 years in the province of Quebec.

Norseman created four sets of two 35-foot-high buildings, each set on rails so they can move and envelop each other. The buildings were designed so that you could pull them apart, pour concrete into the pier forms, and enclose that concrete so that it could cure. When the concrete was ready, a large crane grabbed the pier and placed it in the river. The more traditional method is using hoarding blankets and construction heaters, but that won’t provide the same level of control.

The result is a higher quality product that extends the life of the bridge, Masciangelo explains. “This also helped them stay on track with their timeline. Time is money.”

The company’s ShelterSolutions truly are about innovation that works to benefit the customer, the environment, and all the people who will use those buildings and travel those bridges.

“I love creating solutions,” Dow says. “We’re solving problems, with a customer focus in serving our end customers and the internal customers in our supply network. We want to drive progress. We look at what we’re doing and how we can do it better.”



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