When it comes to mechanical design and construction, it doesn’t get any more demanding and exacting than building the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems in a gigantic data center. Making sure this project is executed in an environmentally friendly way is an even bigger challenge. But, as this article will demonstrate, it is possible to build a Goliath of a data center using “green” and lean business practices.
For every project, Shapiro & Duncan’s Health and Environmental Plan focuses on minimizing our disruption to the health of our planet. Working through our supply chain from rough material to finished product, we employ Lean business practices to minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and reduce our carbon footprint.
Our projects are all planned, coordinated, and resolved in a digital realm utilizing the latest Autocad software which provides the building information model (BIM) platform for the prefabrication of mechanical assemblies from spools to skids to modular units.
Rough material orders are produced from the BIM model by area according to our construction and delivery schedule and transmitted electronically from our virtual design, construction, and fabrication team to our purchasing team and then to our suppliers. This eliminates double- and triple-entry as well as the use of paper. By using automated cutting equipment, we are able to upload rough material cut lists and digitally maximize material usage from factory lengths. Every piece on the order is cut and labeled precisely, leaving very little waste.
Cut material and fittings are assembled according to the spool drawings, on a big screen monitor, by tradesmen working in a controlled environment to the maximum capacity allowed from our logistics evaluation. Soldering, brazing, welding, and other coupling methods are completed in this calibrated manufacturing setting. This more healthful and safe process provides a superior product for our customer while minimizing our impact on our environment.
FIGURE 1. Jobsite logistics were a tremendous hurdle for the Shapiro & Duncan team and all of the trades due to the limited amount of area around the footprint of the building.
Assemblies, spools, skids, and modular assemblies are prepared for shipment and placed on trailers, with all required ancillary tools and equipment, to complete the installation in a way that maximizes our logistics process and reduces vehicle road hours significantly. The trailers are towed to the jobsite for just-in-time delivery in a window of one to three days prior to erection on site. Modifying the majority of onsite work to an erection of assemblies, connection of spools, and placing of modules greatly reduces the amount of labor onsite and the risk of mistakes and accidents.
Back at our corporate office, we constantly work to achieve a paperless environment by utilizing a digital data storage and retrieval system. At the same time, our company’s recycling program is recognized annually by our local government for environmental stewardship.
One final “green” initiative that reflects upon all of our projects is the forest conservation area that we have established in perpetuity at our corporate headquarters in Rockville, MD.
FIGURE 2. Layout and placement of chilled water piping as well as computer room air-handling units (CRAH) required extensive coordination with the work of other trades.
All of these “green” design, construction, and back office processes were brought to bear on Project Goliath, the project code name for a 291,000-sq ft addition to a Northern Virginia data center. This state-of-the-art, enterprise class facility is owned and operated by our “Confidential Client.”
With our “green” framework established, let’s examine the specific mechanical design and construction challenges, our mechanical solution and ultimate results embodied in the Goliath data center project.
The existing 129,000-sq-ft facility is one of more than 30 data centers located across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, owned and operated by the client. The addition includes more than 240,000 sq ft of raised floor space housing four independent computer room environments incorporating redundant backup for the building’s HVAC systems.
The biggest challenge confronting Shapiro & Duncan’s project team was a very aggressive schedule that allowed only five months (January 22, 2016 to June 22, 2016) from preconstruction to completion of functional systems. The contract was awarded on 1/22/16 and our team began coordination and project documentation the next day, 1/23/16.
In order to accommodate the project schedule, all personnel and other resources provided by Shapiro & Duncan and our subcontractors had to be structured for a 24/7 work schedule. Teams were established with team leaders and crews tailored to meet the needs of the key tasks at hand. Welding equipment, tools, and logistics had to be preplanned accordingly.
FIGURE 3. A strategic plan was implemented that assembled personnel in teams to tackle the project in a building block approach.
Jobsite logistics were a tremendous hurdle for our team and all of the trades due to the limited amount of area around the footprint of the building. All deliveries had to be pre-planned and coordinated through the general contractor, HITT Contracting, to avoid congestion, delays, and safety issues while off-loading materials. For the most part, deliveries of mechanical equipment and piping were made in the evenings and over weekends, often during inclement weather. In bad weather, additional precautions to maintain quality control standards were required.
The full inventory of HVAC systems and equipment included:
Twenty 553-ton roof-mounted air cooled chillers
Twenty 50-HP in-line pumps with variable-frequency drives
Sixty 154-ton computer room air handlers
Three packaged rooftop air-handling units
Forty-seven variable air volume boxes
Two chilled water fancoil units
Water treatment systems
Approximately 18,000 ft of welded steel and copper chilled water piping
Sump pump systems for dewatering and condensate removal
Leak detection systems
Pipe freeze protection systems
Automated temperature control systems
Custom spiral ductwork serving office and corridor spaces
Custom pipe covering (insulation) and duct insulation systems
Plumbing fixtures serving office restrooms, breakrooms, and janitor rooms
Plumbing piping systems for domestic water, sanitary, and storm water
Shapiro & Duncan’s team swiftly implemented a strategic plan that assembled personnel in teams to tackle the project in a building block approach. This approach was essential in order to facilitate coordination, design, fabrication, delivery, and placement of approximately 18,000 ft of welded steel HVAC piping ranging in sizes from 10- to 3-in. diameter. Of the almost 40,000 linear inches of welds on the project, over 90% were completed in the prefabrication process.
Key to this coordination process was Shapiro & Duncan’s Building Information Management (BIM)/Virtual Design Coordination (VDC) system, which is used to troubleshoot mechanical and plumbing designs in conjunction with other trades. Job-specific project documentation (submittal data, shop drawings, etc.) was accelerated in order to provide needed product information to the BIM/VDC team. As segments of the BIM/VDC process was completed and the coordination drawings approved by all trades, the designs were forwarded to Shapiro & Duncan’s procurement team and our 51,000-sq-ft fabrication facility in Landover, MD.
FIGURE 4. Piping materials, pumps, and related equipment were staged on the unfinished roof, prior to placement of rooftop steel dunnage and the 20 air cooled chillers.
To jumpstart the fabrication effort, deliveries of bulk materials from local vendors were immediately expedited. Approximately one week following contract award, fabrication of piping systems commenced so that piping systems could be completed and loaded on flat-bed trailers in anticipation of delivery to the jobsite per the project schedule.
Piping assemblies including both supply and return lines — complete with pipe supports, insulation inserts, valves, fittings, specialties, pumps, and air separators, in sections up to 40 ft in length — were pre-manufactured, numbered, and truck-loaded in a sequence corresponding with the general contractor’s schedule. There were over 60 tractor-trailer loads of piping delivered in this fashion. Piping and equipment deliveries were staged so that the material went into the building and quickly came together in erector set fashion, thus expediting the time needed to make final welded connections, test, and insulate piping systems.
Shapiro & Duncan’s coordination solution was not limited to piping assemblies. Layout and placement of chilled water piping as well as computer room air-handling units (CRAH) not only required extensive coordination with the work of other trades, but also scoping out the logistics of sharing limited laydown space.
More intricate coordination was required for placement of piping on both the low and the high roofs of the building. Piping materials, pumps, and related equipment were staged on the unfinished roof, prior to placement of rooftop steel dunnage and the 20 air cooled chillers. Prefabricated piping/pump assemblies were strategically placed in position on the roof so that the steel dunnage could be erected above the piping, with the piping then lifted to connect to the underside of the steel. This approach eliminated the need to man-handle large pumps and piping under the steel after it was erected, thus saving time and eliminating the potential for damaging the roof substrate.
Upon completion of the erection of the steel dunnage platforms by subcontractors, the air cooled chillers were then craned into place on top of the steel dunnage. This required the use of a 460-ton crawler crane. The pre-engineered piping was then connected to each chiller and tied into the piping extending into the building.
Inside the building, over 5,000 ft of pre-engineered custom leak detection systems were installed beneath the various runs of underfloor chilled water piping. The leak detection system is designed to identify the presence and exact location of a water leak, should one occur, and immediately alert the building engineer via the BAS.
One more unique aspect of Shapiro & Duncan’s mechanical solution for this enterprise class data center is the building’s chilled water system. This system is equipped with automatic control valves designed to divert water flow from one area of the building to another, so that the cooling needs of any computer room can be supplied from any of the chillers and pumps installed.
Project Goliath has been a perfect opportunity for Shapiro & Duncan to demonstrate how its dedication to customer satisfaction, hard work, innovation, technology, and a structured team approach can deliver outstanding results in the construction of a multi-faceted mechanical construction solution — even under the most challenging schedule and difficult conditions. Hallmarks of this project included:
Timeliness of deliveries
Ingenuity of pre-construction
Smooth coordination and precise design of piping systems
Meticulous prefabrication sequencing in concert with project schedule and the work of other trades
Superior quality of workmanship
Communication was another key to the success of the Goliath data center buildout. The general contractor set the example for good communication by encouraging open lines of communication and unhindered dialogue between all team players. In this spirit, everyone could work together while the individual needs of all team players were accommodated.
FIGURE 5. Assemblies, spools, skids, and modular assemblies are prepared for shipment and placed on trailers, with all required ancillary tools and equipment, to complete the installation in a way that maximizes our logistics process and reduces vehicle road hours significantly.
Additional best practices related to communication on the Goliath project included daily meetings of key players, which helped maintain buy-in by all trades, and comprehensive commissioning plans to put system components through their paces as soon as this equipment was ready to be activated. This helped avoid unforeseen scheduling snags.
No doubt, designing and building a “green” giant data center’s mechanical systems set forth unique challenges. But the Shapiro & Duncan team met those challenges by boosting the sustainability factor in every aspect of this project, from selecting only the most energy-efficient heating and cooling systems to exacting BIM-driven prefabrication of piping and other mechanical assemblies to just-in-time transportation and delivery of materials. If the mechanical solution for a large-scale data center is designed and built with environmental efficiency in mind from the get-go, “going green” can move from being a theoretical concept to a realistic outcome.