Adapting Lean production methods first made famous by Toyota to data center design and construction, Mortenson has completed and commissioned a highly secure and efficient, Tier-III data center in Chaska, MN. By eliminating unnecessary steps and rework, Mortenson built the fast-track project on schedule and on budget, in just nine months, compared to the twelve months it would have taken using traditional construction methods, despite the worst Minnesota winter in 65 years.

“We've been actively defining how to effectively apply Lean construction principles to our industry. We have learned that the most effective way to solve problems and add value is through the combination of the great innovation provided by our team members and partners, and the application of effective tools, processes and techniques,” said ScottGanske, director of operations for Mortenson's Mission Critical Group.

Beyond construction, Mortenson played a critical role in each phase of the project, from development through to operations. Attracted by the robust fiber optic and power infrastructure in the area, Mortenson acquired the property, secured commitments from the electrical utility for redundant primary services, and obtained entitlements for development before selling the property to its customer. Mortenson led design and construction of the 75,675-sq-ft, structurally-enhanced facility that is built to withstand winds of up to 185 miles per hour and to achieve LEED Silver certification. To help with operating the data center, the customer also incorporated Mortenson’s 3-D building model into its building management software system saving the expense of recreating 2-D schematics for the building management software.

Leveraging Lean

Through the Mortenson Center for Lean Innovation and its construction projects, Mortenson has spent more than a decade defining and applying Lean construction principles, including striving for daily improvement, ensuring integrated work planning, and filtering decisions through “the voice of the customer,” to deliver better buildings and customer experiences.

For the Chaska project, Mortenson followed three key Lean practices that delivered a higher level of performance:

  • Virtual design and construction (VDC) processes throughout the lifecycle of the project, delivering vital project information to the point of work ("the last 100 ft") rather than just to the job-site trailer.
  • Lean project management methods that stressed collaboration vs. micromanagement
  • Prefabrication for improved quality and safety

VDC leverages technology to streamline, collaborate

As part of its VDC approach, Mortenson used building information modeling (BIM) tools to plan and manage work, not just for clash detection. For example, it put an integrated workstation with a flat-screen monitor and iPads on the job site so project partners would always be working from the most up-to-date work plans, schematics, specifications, and models rather than relying on printouts with potentially outdated information.

With BIM and robotic / total station layout tools, the Mortenson-led team installed more than 2,000 pipe support hangers in precise locations, prior to concrete being poured onto the metal roof deck. Without this technology, workers would have had to layout and drill through the metal deck and into the concrete for each hanger while standing on lifts that reached to the 20-ft-tall roof. The new approach greatly improved labor efficiency, increased accuracy, and eliminated substantial safety risks. Similar processes were used to efficiently and precisely locate thousands of electrical conduit stub-ups, reducing labor costs and eliminating rework.

Using Lean project management and technology, Mortenson saved substantial time in coordinating clash detection by eliminating the typical practice of exchanging numerous versions of the 3D models among the subcontractors, which can introduce errors and delays in communication between remote team members. Instead, Mortenson brought the mechanical, fire protection, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) subcontractors together at the project site in a BIM "war room,” and led the coordination and planning processes with all team members working in a single model. This detailed pre-planning drove significant improvements in labor efficiency, and eliminated rework from potential conflicts in densely packed underground areas, corridors and utility rooms, where over 35 miles of conduit, 115 miles of wire, and 1.5 miles mechanical/plumbing piping were installed.

Mortenson also opted for prefabrication whenever possible, allowing for the manufacture and integration of many parts in a controlled "factory" environment.Examples include precast concrete wall panels, and mechanical piping subassemblies.This improved labor efficiency, reduced weather-related quality and schedule risks, and improved the overall schedule by paralleling off-site work activities with those in the field.More on Mortenson’s use of prefabrication can be found in its recent industry study on the topic.

Mortenson is one of the leading data center contractors in the U.S., ranked sixth by ENR for the past two years, and has built mission critical projects totaling more than more than 16 million sq ft since 2000.