As in many data center hubs in the U.S., Silicon Valley is a place where you constantly get to compare your project to other data centers under construction. Sometimes, you see how you’re making better progress than some others, and, sometimes, you see something that you can’t wait to try out on your next one.
Vantage Data Centers and DPR Construction have been collaborating on a three-phase data center campus in the area and made a commitment to using prefabrication for the exterior wall systems. We found our swing with prefabrication, and we were proud to see one of our phases, which started well after some nearby projects, was fully enclosed before those that had more traditional stick-framed designs with heavy concrete precast or metal panel systems.
The biggest pressure we face in building new data centers is how fast we can get to market to meet customer demand. We believe properly planning prefabrication of certain building elements not only helps address the schedule pressure, but also has benefits related to cost, quality, and safety.
- Schedule — On our most recent project phase, we agreed to an aggressive schedule. We thought prefabrication of exterior panels could lead to a 50% reduction in installation. In fact, we beat it. Instead of a traditional 16-week process, we were done in five weeks. Getting that great result, though, isn’t magic. It was planned from the design stages and backed up by a robust virtual design and construction rubric that meant all of the building penetrations in individual prefab elements — built by our partner, Digital Building Components — were exactly where they needed to be and more.
- Cost — By moving work off-site to a prefab shop, with no need for scaffolding, less crane time, and a shorter duration for installation, we estimate that we achieved a 5% cost savings across the campus, which equates to thousands of dollars. Labor costs stay relatively steady, but prefabrication provides control over when labor is put to work, helping insulate our project from shortages in the skilled trades.
- Quality — Because prefab elements are based on a digital model and robotically fabricated, there is a built-in level of precision. In fact, we estimate that traditional methods of field-installing building penetrations could have cost 10 times more due to labor and work done after the fact to get everything into place.
- Safety — The reality is that, not only does the work need to get done, it has to get done safely. Moving work off-site into a more controlled environment, like a prefab shop, makes a difference. Work can be done on the ground and, indeed, our team in the shop to date has had zero recordable incidents in 21 months of work (600,000 worker-hours). That said, on-site, just because you’re removing hazards like a scaffold, you have new risks to account for. Rigging, for example, is something that needs extra attention from teams implementing prefabricated solutions.
Unlocking these benefits requires a break from not only traditional construction methods, but also in the mindset during planning. Teams should collaborate from the conception of the project, working together with the design team to make sure prefab is in the design to begin with. Trying to “fit” prefab into an already completed design often will lead to more frustrations than benefits.
Another shift in mindset comes from some new logistics. Our team initially had some challenges when it came to transportation and deliveries. The way a finished exterior panel makes it from the shop to the site is important if the panel will truly be “finished” when installed. Many teams take deliveries for granted, but it’s important to integrate the quality control process into transportation to get the best results.
So, what’s next? Certainly, each of our firms is continuing to champion prefabrication. DPR, with its close relationship to Digital Building Components, is considering where multi-trade, multi-scope prefabricated elements might work inside portions of data centers. At Vantage, we’re considering how we can utilize consistent, repeatable approaches, so a prefab element from one project can work on any of our projects, regardless of a region’s climate or a customer’s requirements. Both have the potential to increase efficiency even more while enabling us to responsibly scale as organizations.
When we’re efficient, after all, we get to uptime sooner. We’re excited to try new methods to help us achieve that goal, and we look forward to seeing what other solutions the industry puts forward.