When a plane takes off, it looks like a graceful motion of the plane lifting from the ground and gradually rising out of sight. What isn’t seen is the work pilots do to adjust to even small factors ranging from weight, wind and even more. Construction, too, can look like every piece is moving just right at every moment.
Like pilots, many on the team work behind the scenes to make sure execution goes as planned. MEP professionals play a special role in this, leveraging technical building expertise with designers and other project partners to make sure what’s in the drawings becomes a reality in the field. Sometimes, that means collaboration to iron out the finer details of a design.
This edition of If These Walls Could Talk… looks at how MEP pros can make great things happen in design management to deliver quality.
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept. 8, 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left few industries or individuals untouched. Construction companies have reacted by adapting workflows to continue to deliver projects for their clients. From pre-screening all who enter to requiring masks and social distancing once on-site, the jobsite of today looks much different than it did a mere six months ago. Many companies, including DPR Construction, are leveraging virtual design and construction (VDC) methods to navigate workflow constraints resulting from disruptions.
“Site logistics and visual planning have taken on even more critical roles,” said Hannu Lindberg, national VDC leader at DPR. “With the ongoing necessity to maintain a healthy distance from other team members, an extra layer of planning has become vital to ensure predictable outcomes on schedule.”
As ever, the devil is in the details. Any successful construction project is built on layers of well thought out planning for every scope of work. Leveraging data from the model to inform workflow planning inevitably leads to other adjustments in work methods to keep projects going.
Building Projects in the Cloud
In any circumstance, teams employ virtual models to solve problems before moving into the field, as well as to respond to changes that arise once work has begun. Using the model to preplan allows more efficient work planning and reduces rework. While important in any situation, it is critical when managing limited crew sizes such as the ones seen on jobsites today.
VDC, by nature, is extremely compatible with a remote working environment. Across the country, DPR teams are virtually building projects using cloud-based solutions like BIM Track and Autodesk BIM 360 in conjunction with web platforms like StructionSite to seamlessly collaborate, share ideas and create content to navigate constraints posed by the pandemic.
One large healthcare project in Southern California successfully transitioned from on-site co-location to remote meetings during preconstruction and design as a result of high engagement and reliance on the VDC process. By leveraging an Integrated Project Delivery approach, the project team can complete design and coordination simultaneously, with trades working alongside design partners in the model to problem solve in real-time. The process has been so efficient that the project received California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) approval on first review, where typically, multiple rounds of review are needed to solve issues flagged. As the team moves into construction, VDC will continue to play a heavy role for as-built verification, among other needs.
Planning for Limited Exposure
While defining locations isn’t a new concept, creating specified work zones is critical in a heightened environment to maximize efficiency while maintaining distance.
“Needs related to site logistics; ingress, egress and wayfinding; and the deployment and use of different work zones can be better addressed by using data obtained from the model,” said Lindberg. “With this data serving as real-time feedback, it’s possible to adapt to changing field conditions and meet new environmental, health and safety requirements while still maintaining productivity.”
Having those needs top of mind has been key to keeping one DPR project on track: an office tower being constructed in the booming downtown of Austin, Texas. The 35-story, 590-ft. tall high-rise has a total area of more than 1,500,000 sq. ft. and includes 1,390 parking stalls in both above and below-grade parking. It’s the largest vertical high-rise concrete structure that DPR has ever built and its largest self-perform (SPW) concrete project to date—thereby necessitating better planning to meet increased distancing protocols. Prefabricated components include restroom plumbing assemblies and the iconic, sail-inspired, unitized curtainwall system.
Luckily, a VDC-enabled workforce has incorporated a high level of building information modeling into nearly every aspect of the project, from the detailed model used to coordinate and construct the exterior curtainwall, to DPR’s best-in-class SPW concrete team using VDC to optimize planning and sequencing.
“From top to bottom, the team has embraced VDC tools on every aspect of the work,” said DPR Central VDC leader, Jacob Skrobarczyk. “We are intentionally focused on using VDC for self-perform concrete to improve communication, plan production and ensure we hit our targets while keeping our craft safe.”
“The more planning and prefab we can do the less exposure our teams have in the field. As we transition from the structure to the skin to the interiors, clear communication on where and when each team is working in an area is more important than ever,” Skrobarczyk added.
One thing is certain: more real-time data flowing into and out of the model allows teams to execute with a greater level of certainty. Above and beyond delivering projects that are technically sound and built right for customers, these methods also ensure teams do right by their people in the field too.
Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) processes deliver value and foster predictable outcomes on almost every project that DPR executes. These processes are especially valuable when applied to the extremely complex and interconnected mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems.
In the latest installment of “If These Walls Could Talk…,” a few of DPR’s MEP professionals discuss how VDC processes allow them to recognize and mitigate constructability issues in the virtual world so they don’t materialize in the real one.
Communicating installation sequences for prefabricated systems can be challenging, especially under tight schedules. While digital fabrication can save considerable time compared to traditional building methods, a seamless installation plan is key to achieving that savings.
“In the past, sequences were sent by PDF and required assumptions on details that frequently changed,” said Rudy Trujillo, operations support at Digital Building Components. “Panels were stacked on trucks based on these assumptions. The process wasn't well-defined, and this created jobsite issues when the stacking order differed from the general contractor’s installation plans.”
To deliver the schedule and efficiency benefits of prefab, project teams need an easy and accurate means of communicating the installation sequence.
Digital Building Components, DPR's strategic partner that manufactures custom prefab systems, has an app for that. Using model-based sequencing, Digital Building works with the general contractor to lay out an execution plan that maximizes schedule advantages in the delivery process. Once established, this sequencing plan becomes the basis for tracking digital fabrication delivery and installation. Working with another strategic partner vConstruct, Digital Building developed this app to streamline the communication process while enabling earlier and more detailed installation sequencing.
Using the App
The Digital Building Components iOS app allows project teams to order building components in the sequence they’ll build a project. In the app, project teams work with the current fabrication model. This eliminates the need for assumptions. The user clicks panels in the order they will be installed. The app then relays the information to Digital Building.
Access: The user – typically the installation superintendent – requests access. Once Digital Building has verified the right person is doing the sequence, they are invited to use the app. The user must also have access to the project in Autodesk.
User Input: The user enters the installation rate in linear feet/hour, along with the number of hours worked per day. Using the current fabrication model, the user taps each panel in the order it will be installed.
Visual Display: As each panel is tapped, the app displays a color-coded number corresponding to the order in the sequence. The app calculates how many panels can be installed per day and once that capacity is reached, moves to the next day. When this happens, the panel numbers change colors. For example, all panels that can be installed on Day 1 will have a red number. Once Day 1 is full, the numbers change to blue for Day 2. This allows the project team to see if they can meet the desired schedule based on the entered installation rate. For example, the app may indicate that with the given parameters, the installation will take too long. The user can then make adjustments to complete the work within the desired window.
Completing the Order: When the user is satisfied with the sequence, they send a summary report to Digital Building to complete the process. The sequence data is directly applied to the panel numbers in the digital model and the panels are stacked in the correct order.
Healthcare workers are called to serve a cause greater than themselves. They take care of those who are in need, often working 12-hour days with no breaks. And the mothers among them don’t stop when they clock out. They continue their service once they get home to their families, doing everything from helping kids with remote learning to giving comforting hugs.
This Mother’s Day and National Nurses Week, DPR would like to recognize the family and friends of our employees who are medical professionals and put in long hours both at work and at home. We offer our deepest gratitude to those of you who are always there to comfort us, whether at home or in the patient room, and especially in the midst of the greatest healthcare crisis of the century. We trust you with our lives, and we thank you for your compassion and expertise.
Following are a few testaments about the people we are fortunate to have in our lives:
DPR Construction values the health, safety and well-being of its employees, families, customers, partners and communities. In light of the COVID-19 public health crisis, DPR created a dedicated task force and business continuity teams to address the situation, taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization and other public agencies.
The interests of customers and projects are best served by working together with all stakeholders to prevent or mitigate the impacts. DPR's goals are to listen and respond to customer needs, take care of people and proceed on projects safely.
Following is a key question asked to some employees:
How is your team adjusting and collaborating to continue supporting our people and projects?
“The profound sense of community and seeing everyone pull together across DPR to connect, support and take care of each other is inspiring. The way we stay in touch and meet with each other has shifted across the company. Now, virtual meetings have evolved to more closely resemble the depth of connection experienced from in-person meetings. It has led to more personalized connection, empathy and vulnerability that I am so grateful for. It reminds me of how special our people are.”
Derek Kirkland, People Growth and Development Leader
“As we adjust under COVID-19, client and industry communications have also increased to support our front-line heroes in the medical community. We realize that there is not a one-size fits-all solution to current conditions. Our teams continue to move forward and accommodate requests from the healthcare systems we serve, and seek ways to advance projects, create space and support the medical community.”
We love the things we build, and we care about how we build them. While the world has changed in recent months, the importance of the built environment and high-performing spaces remains the same.
Since completing its first LEED-certified project twenty years ago, DPR Construction’s approach to sustainability and wellness centers on collaboration and data-driven decision-making. DPR leverages integrated project delivery to reduce waste of all sorts throughout the construction process, and it has proven true triple bottom line benefits for customers, communities and employees.
This Earth Day, DPR is taking stock of its impacts on the planet and communities where it operates and reflecting on the environmental performance of its office operations, especially the observation that high-performance buildings at market rates are realistic.
Lessons from Living Labs
Anyone who has worked on an office renovation knows the importance of setting a vision for the design. But meeting project goals and making informed decisions – while preserving the budget –takes data and experience.
Testing out leading-edge design and construction methods is the primary driver behind DPR’s “Living Labs,” which are new and renovated regional offices that DPR brings online. Each office is an opportunity to think about space differently, and to set goals not only for functionality and effectiveness, but also comfort and enjoyment.
With each Living Lab completion, there’s more evidence that renovations can be done to high performance standards and competitive rates, and that sustainable design and construction works in every climate. These offices endorse multiple green building rating systems, including LEED, WELL, Fitwell and ILFI Zero Energy certification, and DPR intends to scale up certifications across future offices. Each one employs a unique combination of green strategies, but some features standout:
San Diego: The DPR San Diego office used a broad-based natural daylighting strategy which includes Solatubes and south facing roof monitors, which reduce overall lighting requirements. As a result, the building performs 97% better than similarly modeled buildings.
Phoenix: DPR’s Phoenix office was the second office in the U.S. to achieve net-zero energy certification and incorporates several passive heating/cooling solutions. These include including 87 operable windows and a stack ventilation system which draws air up and out through the building.
San Francisco: As the first net-zero energy building in the city, the San Francisco office is a textbook case on adaptive reuse. Unique circumstances included no space between buildings, cast shadows, and the need to “right-size” the roof PV system for foggy weather and structure upgrades.
Washington D.C.: In aiming for net-zero energy status, the team leading the DPR Washington, D.C. office used a combination of passive and active strategies first and then focused on offsetting with a 141kW rooftop PV system, which more than makes up for the building’s minimal insulation loss.
Austin: Living walls are one of the most noticeable elements of DPR’s Austin office, which is the first WELL-certified building in the city. Biophilic design encourages connection to the natural world and can reduce stress while increasing productivity, creativity and wellbeing.
Sacramento: The relocation and renovation of DPR’s Sacramento office included a 6,000-sq.-ft. mass timber addition – the first cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure in the city. CLT panels were prefabbed to reduce onsite waste, and timber requires less energy to produce and has lower embodied carbon.
Look to the Data
Each office employs different techniques to achieve and maintain its green performance status because technology, systems and equipment are constantly evolving. And more than ever before, there are tools available to demonstrate that environmental performance equates to business and financial returns.
DPR partners with Lucid to optimize building performance and metrics tracking. The Lucid BuildingOS system allows for monitoring and sharing building water and power consumption, and photovoltaic energy production in real time. In the last 12 months, five representative DPR offices produced 448,751 kWh from PV installations, and consumed approximately 601, 116 kWh – making up nearly 75 percent of the energy used. As DPR continues to expand its use of the dashboard, keeping track of stats over time will help the organization figure out strategies for further reduction, and continually optimize its offices.
Living Labs may be the first space where DPR tests new approaches to sustainability, but the data on cost and performance provide reference points for all building owners seeking to achieve big results at market rate.
The construction industry is developing new methods and improving productivity in response to customer needs, technological advances and labor-related challenges. Prefabrication is at the forefront of this evolution, delivering high-quality projects with lower costs and accelerated schedules.
For some, the term ‘prefabricated’ may spark memories of manufactured housing from the last century. But the prefabricated components used in construction today blend seamlessly into completed buildings and contribute to an efficient workflow.
“Concepts like DfMA—design for manufacture and assembly—and DIMC—designing for industrialized methods of construction—are on the rise,” said DPR’s Ray Boff.
According to Buildoffsite, DfMA, in its simplest terms, is “the application of factory (or factory like) conditions to construction projects” and almost always includes prefabricated components. Parts of the structure are manufactured offsite in a controlled environment. These pieces are then delivered to the jobsite and hoisted into place for assembly.
“DIMC evaluates how available building components can be programmatically arranged and procured in the most efficient ways to provide cost and schedule certainty, along with improved design and construction quality,” said Boff. “Both concepts support concurrent engineering methodology.
But what about creativity? Does building with prefabricated components restrict customization in design? Not at DPR.
“Each project is a blank canvas,” said DPR’s Bryan McCaffrey. “Through the use of virtual design and construction, and the data-rich model produced through the VDC process, we have the ability to digitally fabricate custom components.”
DPR works with Digital Building Components, located in Phoenix, AZ, to digitally fabricate precise-to-spec building assemblies directly from the building information model (BIM), including load-bearing panelized structures, fully finished panelized exterior walls and panelized interior walls with electrical and plumbing already roughed in.
The key to integrating prefabrication is to include it from the beginning of the design process. DPR collaborates with customers, architects and engineers to determine if prefabrication makes sense and how best to include it. This helps ensure that the project will run smoothly. It also avoids the challenges arising from inserting prefab into an existing design.
Incorporating prefab into a project’s design can yield the following advantages:
Higher Quality: Digitally fabricating components in a factory-controlled environment improves quality control. Machines create precision products directly from the model and deliver components that fit as expected in the field.
Cost Certainty: Materials are batched, and waste is reduced or eliminated. Factory-based labor offers greater predictability that results in higher productivity, safer working environments and cost advantages. According to Buildoffsite, site labor costs about 2.2 times as much as factory labor and factory productivity is about double that on jobsites.
Accelerated Schedules: Panels are manufactured in parallel with work done in the field. This leads to earlier project completion. Weather doesn’t affect factory production and thus becomes less of a factor.
Improved Labor Resources: A 2019 survey by AGC found that “80% of contractors report difficulty finding qualified craft workers.” Prefab requires fewer workers, provides a safer work environment, and offers consistency – making jobs in the prefab sector among the most attractive in the construction labor force. Controlled environments also allow for cross-training in specific tasks, which helps in labor balancing, skills enhancement and workforce improvement across the board.
Sustainability: According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), “About 40% of solid waste in the United States derives from construction and demolition.” Prefab batches production and takes place in a controlled environment, substantially reducing or eliminating waste. It also reduces the number of vehicles traveling to and from the jobsite, thereby reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and their associated emissions.
Other job-specific advantages: Jobsite constraints are becoming more common. Prefabrication minimizes the number of workers required on-site. According to Sam Huckaby of Vantage, having fewer people on the jobsite was a significant benefit of using prefab. “We were a constrained site from a parking and access perspective, so the more work we were able to do offsite, the better, especially when something is wrapping the entire building…”
Prefab in Action
The 175,000-sq.-ft. Building 1 on the Vantage McLaren Santa Clara data center site was DPR’s first use of pre-finished EIFS panels from Digital Building Components. The digitally fabricated exterior panels allowed the team to enclose the building nearly 12 weeks earlier than if it had been stick-built.
In a series of higher education projects in California, DPR also provided prefabricated steel panels in place of wood framing, without increasing the owner’s cost. According to the owner, the projects realized the following benefits by including prefab:
Efficiency of construction
A stronger, better product for the same cost.
Ultimately, the power of prefab is in the value to the customer. Prefab methods speed up construction schedules while also providing high quality at a lower cost. As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to unfold, DPR is actively working with design and prefab partners to support the healthcare community with rapidly deployable solutions to help increase capacity and other needs as they arise for individual customers.
Construction costs a lot, but so does keeping a building running for 50 years… or longer! Upgrading systems later is also costly and disruptive to building tenants or owners. There are more tools than ever to address these issues, though.
By bringing experts in mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) construction to the table throughout a project – from design stages to execution in the field – customers can ensure their new facilities operate optimally, ideally supporting a lower total cost of ownership.
In the latest installment of “If These Walls Could Talk…,” DPR Construction MEP professionals describe how they collaborate with project partners and customers to deliver the best possible outcomes on every project.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sep. 4, 2020.
DPR installed 10 prefabricated modules for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. The Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) Cell Processing Modular Facility, where the National Cancer Institute (NCI) delivers cutting-edge cancer treatment, is the first large-scale, fully prefabricated and modular multi-module cGMP manufacturing facility of its kind ever built in the United States.
The prefabricated modules were supplied by subcontractor Germfree’s Ormond Beach, Florida, manufacturing facility. The modules, which span an average 14 x 40 feet each, include a cell processing suite, cleanroom lab space, a cold storage room, office and work spaces and more.
Construction crews undertook an extremely complex rigging procedure to move the modules into place. It involved a carefully choreographed sequence of rigging and hoisting the 40,000- to 50,000-pound modules some 35 to 40 feet into the air, over the structural steel exterior building envelope and through the open roof to set them in place on their foundations.
Magnifying the challenge, the entire operation took place a mere 40 feet from two adjacent, fully operational medical and research buildings. Vibration monitoring required close coordination with users in adjacent buildings to ensure that sensitive activities were not affected. “The logistics of planning the rigging was extremely complex,” commented DPR Project Executive Jeff Vertucci. He noted that the decision to construct the building’s exterior structural steel frame prior to installing the modules – essentially building the structure from the outside in – helped the team keep to schedule even as elements of the project changed. It is just one example of the solution-oriented approach adopted by the DPR-led design-build team working in concert with Germfree, architect Perkins & Will, and owner/end user, NIH and NCI.
“We were already well into design and planning when we collaborated with our customer to recalibrate the scope for NIH, while also retaining a schedule that met their needs,” Vertucci said. “By enclosing the building and getting structural steel erected before the modules showed up, then reworking a rigging plan to drop the modules in through the roof, it made the rigging much more challenging but allowed us to save at least three months versus a traditional approach.”
That solution worked so well that NIH has asked DPR to re-sequence another job they are currently building on campus, the six-module CCDTM project, using the same approach, according to Vertucci. This DTM Modular Facility is using the same Germfree components as the TIL Facility.
As DPR’s seventh project on the NIH campus, the TIL facility is a groundbreaking project in the world of cancer treatment. DPR Project Manager Ignacio Diaz said the facility’s lifesaving mission has provided the design and construction team extra motivation to work collaboratively and overcome an array of challenges in order to get the project up and running as quickly as possible.
“This is one of those jobs that did not need much outside influence to motivate people,” Diaz commented. “Cancer is such a common thing; virtually everybody is touched by it. The fact that we are building this facility that really impacts almost everybody is powerful. It gives us more incentive to finish fast so the end users, the researchers, can get to doing what they do – curing cancer, or at least helping to do so.”
Leveraging Expertise to Move Project Forward
With a footprint spanning approximately 6,000 sq. ft., the TIL Cell Processing Modular Facility is supported by an auger pile foundation drilled as deep as 30 feet. The structure has three levels: a bottom floor “crawl space” that follows the existing site slope, containing gas piping that includes the supplies of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) to the facility; a first floor comprising the 10 prefabricated modules; and a mechanical floor above. The mechanical level contains the building’s HVAC system, including two air handling units and two exhaust fans, electrical conduit for building controls and power systems, IT infrastructure and more.
Since being awarded the project in October 2017, DPR leveraged its design management capabilities, its technical construction skills and its off-site construction management expertise to help keep the project moving forward while contending with underground utility rerouting, logistical challenges and tight site access, among other things. When the owner needed to make extensive programming changes to reconfigure the facility’s planned workflow during the design phase, DPR worked to re-sequence the project’s construction processes in order to make up some of the lost time.
Construction formally kicked off on the TIL Facility jobsite in August 2018, just two months after the off-site module prefabrication work was getting underway at Germfree’s Florida manufacturing plant.
Modular Construction Delivers Quality Benefits
Off-site construction has provided significant quality and quality control benefits, according to Vertucci. Both the modules and the majority of the building systems were prefabricated off-site.
“I think ultimately NIH & NCI ends up with a phenomenally high-quality, state-of-the-art project when this is completed,” Vertucci commented. “Building this in a controlled environment in a warehouse manufacturing facility, by Germfree technicians who do this work all the time, makes the quality excellent.”
Adding to the quality control benefits, DPR self-performed significant portions of the work with its own crews, including all exterior framing, sheeting, vapor barriers, doors, masonry and various other items.
Push Towards Completion
The project team also had an integrated commissioning plan to allow the owner’s Commissioning Qualification and Validation (CQV) agent to start with commissioning of systems earlier and more time to work through the NIH document reviews that come with the cGMP facility requirements.
DPR also handled all scientific equipment procurement on the project for the owner, a turnkey approach to project delivery that adds additional value for the client. This integrated approach ensured that DPR’s scientific equipment team handed over a project with the necessary components needed for the research program the space is being used for.