Constructing what builders believe to be the most expensive life science project in U.S. history—the more than $1-billion, 1.2-million-sq-ft manufacturing center east of Atlanta for the pharmaceutical giant Shire—required concerted coordination between two construction managers as they worked separately and together to quick erect an unusually complex project. Global, just-in-time scheduling complexities, cross-country design coordination among a dozen different offices, local labor shortfalls and the task of managing their own separate project scopes were some of the issues that Fluor and Turner Construction Co. had to hurdle to get to the finish line on time.
Today, says Jim Sparrow, Fluor’s project director, the team “nailed” the project’s schedule that they first created back in 2012. At the same time, he says that contractors were able to figuratively give back “significant money.”
“Large projects have large problems, (but) anybody who was on this job knows it was an excellent project,” he says.
“We’re at the tail end, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” adds Robert Goworek, Turner’s project leader.
Though the team completed construction in late 2016, both companies remain on site as the facility goes through an exhaustive, more than year-long validation and commissioning process before Shire begins production, scheduled for 2018.
Shire’s Georgia plant was so costly in part because it was designed as a complete campus in a location new to the pharmaceutical company. The project features more than 1 million sq ft of building under roof, including warehouse, cold storage and freezer space, laboratories, three manufacturing buildings and administrative and commons spaces. The facility will manufacture products for patients with immune deficiencies, immune disorders and other critical conditions.
An early challenge resulting from the project’s Georgia location was the site itself.
“It’s Georgia red clay, and it turned wet” during mass excavation work in 2012, Sparrow says, adding that the soil’s slickness became a safety issue. Fluor, which led site excavation, added some lime to the site and imported roughly 200,000 tons of rock in order to support construction.
From there, Fluor focused on the schedule-critical element of erecting the central utility building (CUB) and constructing the project’s so-called spine, which accommodates the run of utilities, to get it up and running as soon as possible.
The quarter-mile-long, two-level spine corridor runs the facility’s length and connects the entire campus. The upper level allows people and material to pass between buildings, while the lower level carries the main utility runs, which connect directly to the mechanical floors of the site’s buildings.
Those other structures include: three manufacturing buildings that will separately produce different products; quality control laboratories; a 200,000-gross-sq-ft warehouse; a two-story, 137,5000-sq-ft administration building that houses the visitor entrance; and a 45,000-gross-sq-ft commons building.
The four-level manufacturing building supporting plasma fractionation—the first step to producing plasma-derived therapies—houses mechanical and process equipment, including stainless steel vessels, centrifuges and other equipment.
The immunoglobulin manufacturing building, located between the warehouse and QC lab structure, will produce therapies to treat primary immunodeficiency diseases. Also, a four-story albumin manufacturing facility purifies albumin proteins resulting from fractionation, says Shire.
Delivering this scope of work carried with it the challenge of securing enough labor.
“Early in the job we knew we had a skill-set problem,” Sparrow says. The fact that Georgia has not had a huge number of similar projects that require the scope and type of piping required for this job, for instance, was one issue that Fluor recognized. To address the challenge, the company interviewed contractors across the country to join the project team.
“Most pipe fitters do not know how to install hygienic piping,” Sparrow explains. “It’s clean pipe, it’s sloped pipe, and every bit of it has to be boroscoped” to ensure it meets specifications. Further, workers have to be able to perform orbital welding, he says.
“We had a very limited subcontractor base,” Goworek says, adding that Turner and Fluor communicated closely about these workforce issues as they bid out work. “We were always communicating with each other.”
Staffing the job’s roofing contractors proved one example of the workforce challenge facing the two construction managers. After crews erected an estimated 8,000 tons of structural steel in just four months, roughly 650,000 sq ft of roofing awaited.
“It became difficult to get enough roofers and to lay roofing down,” Sparrow says. “That’s a lot of roofing that you’re trying to put on.”
Early on, minor but significant details of the project’s execution plan seemed illogical to both construction managers. Generally, the owner had assigned most of the process work to Fluor, while hiring Turner to manage construction of the high-finish buildings. But there were problems.
“The way the buildings were split didn’t make sense,” Sparrow says. For instance, one of the structures under Turner’s scope featured a large masonry wall that abutted the spine corridor, which belonged to Fluor. So Turner gave Fluor authority to also build that structure. At the same time, Fluor’s original scope had included construction of an architecturally detailed employee entrance that connected to a structure Turner was to build. Again, the two CMs swapped scope so that Turner would now handle the entrance space.
“We actually reestablished what each company’s scope was,” Goworek says. “Anything that was the non-process side, we took.”
Instead of amending contracts, though, the project team accommodated the changes by shifting Shire’s budget accordingly.
Stephen Marr, Shire’s director of capital projects and head of project execution, agrees that “the biggest challenge was the coordination of activities.”
With not one but three existing similar facilities serving as “reference plants” for the entire Shire team, he says, coordinating the designs for the complex production systems from three major designers—working from roughly a dozen different offices—and then performing comprehensive construction reviews was a defining challenge for the project. Flad Architects was providing full architectural services, process architecture and laboratory planning. Meanwhile, Affiliated Engineers Inc. handled MEP engineering, and CRB served as process engineer.
BIM proved critical here, says Goworek. Because the team was delivering the entire complex on what contractors deemed an aggressive schedule, achieving smooth installation of final process systems would be necessary.
“I’ve never spent as much money on BIM as I did on this job,” he says.
Design in hand, Turner and Fluor coordinated input from each subcontractor’s BIM staff as they examined “every support, every bend, every piece,” Goworek says, while finding solutions for all conflicts in a timely fashion.
Whereas in the pre-BIM past, he says, contractors would work out system conflicts on process-heavy projects by making changes in the field, the goal with the Shire job was to install systems once—a critical goal for achieving the schedule.
“It was extremely complex going to that extreme,” Goworek says. In all, the effort required 97 purchase orders for process equipment and process instrumentation, with those items coming from across the U.S. and Europe.
One of the final installations involved the filling system equipment. Delivered to the job in 14 different crates—many of which measured roughly 20 ft long—the equipment required roughly four months to be robotically installed into the ceiling, after each room had been otherwise determined to be “clean.” Contractors facilitated delivery of each crate through the still-under-construction spine corridor.
Ultimately, installing the process systems went mostly as planned, thanks to the extensive BIM coordination, Goworek says. “When we were getting ready to turn on switches, we were able to do it with a lot more confidence.”
Finalizing construction is not the final step, however. To fully complete such a project, each system has to meet federal standards, including approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Instead, the nearly final step is achieving “the cleanliness, the verification, the backup of everything you need to be able to prove that it was built the way it was designed,” Goworek says. “When they’re making the product, and we’ve fully validated it, that’s when we’re done. If it doesn’t make the product as it was intended to do, we just built a $1-billion paperweight.”