An owners guide to advanced tech construction

An owner`s guide to advanced tech construction

While every construction project faces the same key issues — quality, cost and schedule — an advanced technology project lives or dies by how well these issues are managed.

Author`s Note: There is no room for error in the planning, design or construction of an advanced technology project, where a relatively inexpensive repair can be extremely costly in terms of schedule impact. A project team`s ability to remedy an error is limited by the dynamics of a fast-moving, precedent-driven schedule. A minute oversight in the construction of any advanced tech facility can spell disaster. You think you know what you`re doing — and you probably do! Don`t, however, fail to recognize the level of uncertainty involved and that change is an integral part of the entire effort — from concept to delivery. So plan for change and surround yourself with a team that knows how to accommodate change. Advanced technology facilities are capital intensive projects. As an owner, you are sure of your directions and confident of your capabilities. You only get to build once in a lifetime, and you plan to make this facility a showcase — a testament to your company`s success. Only the best will do, and money is no object. Beware — you have just fallen in love with a building! Your success as a company was built on rational analysis of the most cost-effective means of operating. Apply the same critical eye to your facility that you use in your daily business decisions. Don`t bet the bank. This is no time to change into a wild and crazy guy.

Q:How is the maximum quality achieved at a price you can live with, so you can put money in your processes and equipment?

L. R. Pyric, Mill Valley, CA

A:An experienced builder understands quality. Attention to detail and systems for quality assurance permeate his/her organization. Dedication to excellence thrives where it counts most — in the attitude of the individual craftsman. All builders will preach quality, but not all have the systems and procedures required to achieve it. Your builder should be able to demonstrate to you the methods he/she will use to provide a quality project. These would include systems to ensure that quality is built into the design of the project, as well as methods that provide for a quality installation. Standard cleanroom protocols, commissioning plans and utility disruption procedures should be customized to address the specific needs of the project.

Q:Our company wants personnel involved at all levels in our cleanroom upgrade project. But who should have the final say?

T. Bessels, Corvallis, OR

A:It is important to establish a clear chain of command from the start. Most advances in science and technology are the result of the collaborative effort of many individuals. While divergent approaches can be beneficial in the scientific world, they can prove detrimental to a construction project. Channel all directions to the project team through a single contracting authority. Construction by committee can prove ineffective and expensive.

Q:We`re looking at project delivery systems. We need maximum flexibility for our processes. Although growth has been “through the roof” for the past two years, we don`t want to overbuild and get caught in a downturn.

C. deVries, Billerica, MA

A:Bricks and mortar are the most inexpensive component of the manufacturing process. If you anticipate needing additional space or utilities in the near future, consider what steps might be taken today to accommodate tomorrow`s needs. “The most expensive shutoff valve is the one we didn`t put in last year when we had the opportunity and that now requires a process interruption to install,” is a frequently heard refrain.

As you review project delivery systems, consider “just in time” (JIT) construction. Facilities that have process-intensive operations are amenable to this construction method that integrates the process flow with the construction schedule. The process flow is analyzed and the subsequent requirements of the process are used to drive the activities of the construction schedule. Significant time-to-production may be saved by utilizing this method.

Q:We`re a small company on a tight budget and time is a major constraint. We`re currently in the design phase and wonder if there are shortcuts which could save us both time and money?

T.C. McElroy, Wilmington, NC

A:Don`t shortcut the process. The design phase of an advanced technology project is perhaps its most critical phase. It sets the direction for the project, and guides the function, the level of quality and the budget. The traditional design process consists of a programming phase, a schematic phase, a design development phase and a construction document phase. This approach has one major advantage over other methods: It works. Owners are often tempted to skip a step in the design process or to combine steps in the name of budget or schedule. Avoid taking such shortcuts, if possible. Each step of the design sequence has a purpose. Together, these steps provide a series of checks and balances that are essential to the success of the project. You may even want to establish a schedule of design document milestones that allows sufficient time to review the progress of the design before proceeding to the next step.Also, involve your builder early in the design process. As the design progresses, concepts become fixed, making it difficult to significantly influence schedule, costs and quality. Your builder can provide an integrated project schedule that will incorporate the design with the construction activities to minimize total project duration. He can also assist you in managing the project budget by providing cost estimates at the completion of each design phase. Most importantly, he`ll be able to influence the economy, the quality and the constructibility of the design at a time that will most benefit the project. He can provide vital constructibility and project sequencing reviews. If, at this point, value is built into the design by the project team, there will be no need later for “value engineering” in order to achieve budget.

Q:How often can you change a construction schedule on the average and still come in on budget?

D. Russo, Hemet, CA

A:It is not unusual for an advanced technology project to have schedule updates every two weeks, twice the frequency of other types of projects. An owner should clearly communicate the specific construction milestones that must be met. Significant time and money can be squandered trying to hit a constantly changing target. Once milestones have been established, your builder will schedule the project using the Critical Plan Method (CPM) of scheduling. This method provides a dynamic tool for directing the progress of construction, keeping the project on course through the ever-shifting seas of change. To accomplish this formidable task, the CPM schedule must be updated on a regular basis.

Q:There seems to be a real gap in communicating quality vs. cost requirements. We asked for certain quality requirements in planning and building our facility, but the cost ended up way out of line, even though we thought we had “communicated” to the design/build people! What do you suggest?

R. L. Freeman, Albuquerque, NM

A:Communicate your budget philosophy to your designer and to your builder. Stress the importance of cost control to your facilities, manufacturing and research groups. Most importantly, place the responsibility for budget control in the hands of an individual or a small group. Then give the individual or group the authority to ensure that the budget is maintained. n

Mike Fitzpatrick is vice president of Advanced Technology at McCarthy. Fitzpatrick`s primary responsibilities include technical and business development support for all McCarthy advanced technology projects for the semiconductor, biopharmaceutical and automotive markets. During the 28 years he has spent in construction, Fitzpatrick has served as cleanroom systems engineer and on-site project manager for numerous semiconductor and high tech projects. He is a senior member and chairman of two IES committees and is also a member of ASHRAE. Currently, he is chairman of design considerations for cleanrooms and minienvironments and other locally controlled environments for IES. He may be reached at (314) 968-3300, fax (314) 968-4502.

McCarthy, headquartered in St. Louis, MO, is the eighth largest general building contractor in the country. It offers the full range of construction contracting alternatives: general contracting, construction management and design/build. At 132 years old, it is the oldest privately held construction firm in the nation with regional offices in major cities in the West and South West. McCarthy has executed contracts totaling more than $1.5 billion in advanced technology construction for the microelectronics, R&D, biotech, pharmaceutical, chemical and data center industries. In the early 1970s, the firm was a pioneer of construction management and partnering — team-based approaches which accelerate the design and construction processes and allow differences to be resolved quickly, avoiding cost overruns and facilitating project completion. Clients include: Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S.D.A.


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