A client had the good (and creative) idea of building multi-trade modules for a new data center construction project. Our role would be to install the modules and get the center up and running. But when they arrived, it was clear the piping was all wrong. We added a “second team” to modify the piping as construction was happening.
A client builds a data center – but instead of starting with the building, they start with the HVAC components. They ask a manufacturer to create a collection of multi-trade modules, each equipped with fan coil units, piping, wiring and other components.
The first building would be designed and constructed around these multi-trade modules. Same with later phases, as the data center expanded. All that would need to be done by trade contractors onsite would be to connect all systems and test them to ensure operation.
“It’s like plug-and-play,” says Bill Kenimer, B&K’s director of mission-critical projects. “The electrical team would connect wiring. Our firm would weld pipe to complete HVAC and mechanical. And so on.”
The rationale for this modular approach, Kenimer explains, was to keep costs fixed. “The client designed the project this way to predict capital output,” he says. “By purchasing from a fabricating manufacturer, they ‘productized’ the components so they would know exactly how much each unit would cost.”
Construction of the building would follow, and it would be on an aggressive schedule.
“When these structural modules arrived, none of the piping systems inside them was correct,” Kenimer says. “In some cases, the interconnecting pipe was too long. In others, the branch connections to the fan coil units were too short. There was even pipe inside the units that needed to be replaced.” He adds that structural supports for pipe were missing, too.
Having the units re-manufactured would have thrown the data center construction completely off schedule, costing the client millions. We had to come up with an alternative plan.
First, we brought in our CAD department. Using Building Information Modeling (BIM), they developed 3D renderings and a plan to rework the pipe inside and outside the modules.
Next, our fabrication shop team built all components, including structural supports for pipes. We then brought in a separate team to work on a parallel schedule, trimming existing pipe or installing the newly fabricated components, all while protecting other trade components inside the fan coil unit frame from being re-worked.
“The greatest challenge was coordination, because you have to go in there and work where other people are doing their jobs,” Kenimer recalls. “Instead of taking our existing crew away from other parts of the project, we added a separate team to fix these structural units to keep things on track.”
The project schedule was preserved. The units were fixed. Subsequent units for later phases were manufactured correctly.
“Today, when you go into that data center, you can’t tell that we did anything,” Kenimer says. “That’s the beauty of it.”
“Today, when you go into that data center, you can’t tell that we did anything. That’s the beauty of it.”
— Bill Kenimer, project manager