Mechanical Project of the Year: How They Did It

ABC recognized TDIndustries for their work at the massive Daikin Texas Technology Park.

How do you get the job done well, and finish on time, when you’re installing 5,600 tons of cooling equipment and 25 miles of piping in the second-largest facility in North America — and you have seven months to do it? With extensive planning, innovative thinking and careful schedule tracking.

For conquering the challenge, TDIndustries (TD) won the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Excellent in Construction Eagle Award in the specialty contractor mechanical construction division, which includes projects over $10 million. The general contractor was D.D. Harvey Builders.

The site: a brand-new, 4-million-square-foot manufacturing, distribution and laboratory facility, dubbed Daikin Texas Technology Park, for HVAC maker Daikin Industries Ltd., in Waller, Texas, outside of Houston. How big is 4 million square feet? The answer: 74 football fields. The structure is also the largest industrial tilt wall building in the world. It will eventually replace several other Daikin Industries plants.

The original timeline for the mechanical job was an already-tight 10 months. Thanks to local flooding and other project delays, it shrank to seven. And during the course of the project, TD’s scope of work doubled from $20 million to $40 million. The work included installing the HVAC, chilled water system, heated water system, plumbing and process piping for lab and manufacturing facilities.

Here’s how they pulled it off.

Pull planning

The TD project team went above and beyond normal planning procedures when preparing for the project. First, the project team met with industrial companies to see how they would handle such a piping job and brainstormed with co-workers at other TD branches. They also looked at what TD was doing at a similar job at the Atlanta Falcons Stadium.

Then they spent a week reviewing everything they had learned and putting it all together into a work plan.

“We used pull planning, which is a lean method of scheduling,” said project manager Peyton Hill. In pull planning, contractors work backward from a target completion date, defining and sequencing tasks so they hit the mark. As the project progressed, someone from the team went onsite every day to track what workers had accomplished. The whole TD team met every few days to reevaluate the plan and see what they needed to do to keep on schedule.

Productivity tweaks

Finding productivity improvements was essential. For one thing, TD had to figure out the fastest, most effective way to get pipes installed at the level of the 40-foot ceilings.

“The first thing we did was step up our fabrication; we fabricated about 90 percent of the pipe that went up that high, which is much more than we’d usually do on a job,” said Hill. TD partnered with plumbing wholesaler Ferguson Enterprises, which did much of the pipe cutting. The pipes were then shipped to TD’s Dallas shop, where they were welded together and shipped to Waller for installation.

To save more time, TD doubled the normal 21-foot lengths of 24-inch pipe, which weigh 2,100 pounds, to 42-foot, 4,200-pound lengths. “When you start lifting over a certain weight, it really doesn’t matter,” said Hill. The project team built a cradle to hold the pipes, then raised them to the ceiling using a Lull lift forklift. “We eliminated a lot of joints by doing that,” Hill added.

No process was too small to merit review. When project managers asked crews for suggestions, the workers said they wasted time removing nuts and washers from the pipe hangers. So TD had the screws and nuts shipped separately. “It was a lot of little things like that that we went through to try to improve our production,” Hill said.

Another time- and cost-saving innovation was the way TD handled the water used in the chilled water pipe flushing process. The site’s sanitary facilities had not yet been built, so there was no place to dump the water, which had to be treated before it could be released. Instead of carting off the water — which would have required a long parade of trucks —TD brought in ProAct Services, which cleaned the water on site so it could be released there.

Owner meetings

As the project progressed, alterations to the mechanical design came so quickly that the normal change process, with information passing from owner to engineer to general contractor to subcontractor, wasn’t working well. So Harvey Builders brought TDIndustries into the meetings with owners.

“We were getting the information at the same time the engineer was, so we would go back and create budgets and starting the pricing exercise while communicating with the engineer about what he was planning,” said Hill. “We even did some of the shop drawings, which we gave to the engineer to verify.” That way, the budget was approved at the same time as the final design and TD could go straight into production.

“That really helped streamline the project, because we knew firsthand what the owner’s intent was,” Hill added.

TD completed its work on schedule, enabling Daikin to get its production line running as planned.

 

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.