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Construction: Behind the Scenes

In the Fall of 2009, Messer presented two options for Xavier to consider. The first was a traditional approach where the designers designed the building fully, we put it out to bid and then built it per those drawings. That option projected a completion date of December 2011.

The second option had two unique features. The first was a new building skin product that provided for an earlier drying in of the building and the second items was a new project delivery system called Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) that was never used in the area before. This option provided for an opening in August of 2011.

Both features were approved by XU and the project never would have been completed on time and under budget without it. The skin feature was an insulated metal panel that, when installed, becomes a watertight membrane allowing the building to be watertight and allow interior finishes to start. This was critical because under the traditional method, we would have had to physically lay all 600,000 brick before starting on inside work. This insulated panel provides a secondary waterproof membrane, increases energy efficiency and allowed us to start the inside work last December while the mason continued to lay all of those bricks until June.

The second piece was the IPD approach. Again a new concept at that time that involved getting the construction manager, owner, designers and key subcontractors (plumbing, HVAC, electrical and fire protection) all working together with one goal in mind: deliver the best product for the least cost in the shortest time. This involved weekly meetings with the leaders of each team (maximum of one-hour meetings) getting together to make decisions, suggest new ideas and prioritize workflow. The rule was no finger pointing, but a joint team approach to solving whatever problem we encountered (and we had quite a few of those). We set goals and measurements up front, periodically measured our progress and had fun. Each meeting ended with a list of successes-—and there were many of these, too.

This was a new concept in the industry that is becoming much more formalized now, but we took bits and pieces of the process and adopted the ones that seemed to fit best. We referred to it as XPD (Xavier Project Delivery). The real key was a collaborative effort of the designers and the contractors working early on. Contractors suggested new ways of designing the project. One simple example involved backfilling the underground pipe trenched with gravel and using these same trenches to create an under-drain system instead of digging separate trenches specifically for under drains. Alternate products were also suggested to reduce delivery time. In sum, all of this constant communication increased the dialogue between the designers and builders that reduced the number of formal requests for clarification by 40 percent, reduced the time it took to approve a product for ordering by 50 percent and allowed us to order major equipment with long lead times over three months earlier than normal.

Construction technology was a key element that we made sure our IPD team utilized from day one. Technology has greatly increased in recent years. It is allowing the design to occur quicker, ensuring it is better coordinated and providing for more efficient labor installation methods. A few examples to point this out that did not exist 30 years ago. The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) was used on this job for design and construction. In a nutshell, all of the components of the building utility systems were designed in 3D on a computer by individual designers working in our field office. Every week all of the designers gathered to review their plans and eliminate any conflict or places where two components occurred in the same space. This was a very efficient way to design and allowed for better use of building space that in the past.

In the past, this would have been done with light tables and overlaying of drawing sheets to look for issues. From this point the design files go to fabrication facilities that prefabricate the materials in an offsite controlled environment and shop the completed components to the jobsite for assembly. This reduces onsite labor along with field scheduling and coordination problems.

The files were also used early on to quickly install all of the sleeves in the concrete slab. This one piece alone was done in 10-15 percent of the traditional labor method

Lastly this technology can be further used after the project is completed by providing a model that the maintenance staff can use to maintain the new facility. Imagine a computer screen that pops up on a prescheduled date to let them know it is time to change the filters. The screen will even show a 3D view of the location of the filter with a link to its maintenance manual and the model number of the filter. Again, not only does the building not look like your father’s dorm, it was built and functions totally different.

The schedule of the project was certainty fast and furious, but compared to other recent projects I have worked on, it was very controlled, sequenced and organized. If you look at a chart of manpower for the project, you will see that all of those approximately 1,100 workers worked the 400,000 effort hours earlier on in the project that a traditional project. The IPD process and coordination efforts enabled the on-site field labor to occur earlier on in the job than normal and, most importantly, greatly reduced the overtime hours usually found at the end of a typical fast paced project. In the last month of this job, OT averaged under 10 percent, compared with traditional project of this type that have more than 25 percent overtime at the end. Essentially we are coasting (or gliding) to the finish line.

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