March 27, 2019

DPR Construction recently completed a series of complex electrical and power monitoring upgrades on Merck’s Kenilworth, New Jersey campus that will help ensure scientific work there will go on without interruption for years to come. The work, which included upgrading five existing primary substations and associated feeder systems, along with the demolition of three substations in their entirety, showcased how DPR’s MEP expertise and approach to planning can lead to exceptional results and the kinds of predictable results customers rely on.

“This location is the world corporate headquarters for Merck, with active research and development labs and critical data center operations. Any impact to this campus could have major implications,” said Michael Abbatiello, Director of Engineering for Merck.

A new indoor electrical substation.
One of the new substations DPR installed on the campus. Photo courtesy of Michael Denora Photography

Getting Out of Tight Spaces

The Merck EM1/EM2 Substation and Feeder Replacement Project was a three-year project performed under a design-build contract in conjunction with a teaming agreement with Forest Electric, the electrical subcontractor. The project upgraded 40-year-old systems that were no longer as reliable as a global corporate headquarters and mission critical lab required. Executed without interrupting work on the active campus, DPR relocated one 26 kV substation into an existing structure while prefabricating and building another new 5 kV substation across campus. Both existing substations were demolished and the 26kV and 5kV cables feeding the campus’s eight major buildings were replaced. Additional work included the replacement of electrical equipment at two outdated 5kV substations, the demolition of an existing decommissioned substation, and a brand new 5kV substation to feed the main corporate administrations building on campus.

“This was a very complex project with a high risk of injury to people and disruption to Merck’s operations,” said Abbatiello. “Planning and communication between site operations and the project team was critical. This project outperformed others in this regard and it was a major contributor to its success. The overall execution and performance on this project was outstanding.”

Much of this technical work, however, needed to be coordinated with various campus stakeholders to ensure switching service from old to new infrastructure did not affect research and development of life saving medications. Additionally, much work required access to systems through manholes, which required confined space permits and heightened safety supervision. To alleviate this safety hazard, crews employed remote control cable cutters.

Complex electrical systems in the lab.
Work required managing technical, but high-risk work in tight spaces. Photo courtesy of Michael Denora Photography

“The remote control cable cutter was a practical and safe tool for cutting wires,” said DPR’s Brandon Bell. “The wireless remote communicates with the tool via a mutually exclusive connection, and a lineman can arm the cutter and move away from the area to perform the work safely.”

Winning Safety Performance

Indeed, safety was paramount throughout the project, with DPR’s team aligning with Merck’s existing safety culture. One key factor: customer involvement. Aided by the design-build approach, the entire team took safety to be its job, with the customer leading the way.

“It just goes to show how important owner and stakeholder involvement in safety is,” Bell said. “When we combine our own approach to safety with an owner that shares our safety value, it strongly reinforces our culture.”

The results speak for themselves: by March 2019, the project had amassed more than 200,000 worker-hours and one recordable incident. Merck recognized DPR for its efforts with one of its regional safety awards, highlighting its excellent safety practices.

Outdoor electrical systems.
Work on the campus took place in both complex indoor environments and outdoor areas where the elements presented a different set of challenges. Photo courtesy of Michael Denora Photography

Collaboration in Action

Ultimately, the use of a design-build contract in conjunction with a teaming agreement took what could have been just a successful project and turned it into an outperformer all around. The job was finished on schedule and under budget, aided by a collaborative approach that made delivery as seamless as possible.

“There were several instances where we had to deviate from the initial plan, such as moving away from fully prefabricated conduit racks because they wouldn’t work logistically,” Bell said. “In those instances, the integrated team was able to tackle the challenge together with no negative bearing to cost or schedule.”

In addition to safety, cost and schedule results, the high level of collaboration had a positive influence in building rapport with other project partners, as well.

“It was, easily, one of the best project experiences with subcontractors in several trades,” Bell said. “We were also able to train a variety of subs and partners in Lean techniques and associated systems, which means we can take the same approach to future work.”