Read the article as published on the Mission Critical Magazine here.
Written by: René Morkos, Ph.D.
The big build is here — and, as tech giants like Google, Samsung, and Panasonic gear up for expansion of their U.S. data center facilities, construction needs to pick up the pace.
Efficiency is a must when it comes to building data center facilities, as each day of delay means millions of dollars in lost revenue. But, efficiency is no easy task — with high-performance requirements, tight schedules, and intricate designs, these projects demand the utmost attention to detail. So, how can data center owners and operators ensure that these construction projects are completed correctly, and at top speed?
Time is money
In the business world, time is money. This is especially true during data center construction, where the tight margins of construction and high stakes of big data partners collide. Even minor delays in time-to-completion can cross the line between profit and loss. Project stakeholders have a pressing need to maximize build efficiency to maintain their financial interests.
In a complex system with so many moving parts in play, this is often easier said than done. To protect profits, general contractors and developers must learn to leverage today’s technology to their advantage.
Lean into lean construction
The principles of lean construction are based on the philosophy of the Toyota Production System, which aims to eliminate waste in all aspects of work. However, in construction, lean principles have been adapted to create a more efficient and effective building process.
The main goals of lean construction are to reduce waste, optimize resources, and improve communication and collaboration among all members of the project team. Today’s technologies can help project stakeholders lean into the application of lean construction methods, leveraging AI-driven optimization for continuous improvement of the construction process.
Plan efficiently — Potential for wasteful practices or mistakes during data center construction or other critical facilities, such as component manufacturing complexes, abounds. In order to avoid these potential pitfalls, detailed planning, risk management, and project execution are a must.
Stakeholders are empowered to make better decisions when they have accurate data analysis informing their planning and scheduling. The ability to weigh the impact of various scenarios and options helps identify the plans best suited to the unique needs of a particular location and project. Staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in technology and equipment supports optimized use of resources and reduces waste, so efforts go further.
Before ever breaking ground, today’s tools for iterative design and generative construction can help stakeholders save time and money. The use of 3D modeling and BIM softwares during design and planning allows for precise measurements and layouts that reveal best options for data center and fabrication facility design, enabling faster, more efficient construction. Additionally, iterative design and generative construction modeling can provide a better understanding of the space and how it will be used, helping designers, architects, and managers better conceptualize and envision a building. This adds transparency and enables collaborative planning by connecting scope, schedules, and cost estimates.
Construction optimization software can be used to support lean construction by homing in on alternative pathways and methods for building. By running millions of generative construction scenarios and assessing them for maximum efficiency, the most effective (and often, innovative) build options are revealed. For example, assessing the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of off-site component production (in which elements are transported to the job site for assembly), against more traditional methods of construction (in which elements are built from scratch on-site) can help data centers and fabrication facilities build faster and more efficiently. Identifying options for prefabrication and modularization during preconstruction can save significant time and resources — shaving time from the build plan, before ever breaking ground.
Reduce waste — The process of construction creates large amounts of waste, including emissions from heavy equipment and machinery. Tech-enabled construction optimization supports lean construction of data centers and fabrication facilities by helping to reduce both materials waste and the carbon footprint of construction.
Optimized scheduling, for example, enables just-in-time delivery methods by streamlining ordering and scheduling of equipment and materials so that they arrive only when needed. This eliminates the practice of stockpiling, reducing the need for on-site storage space while improving site flow and reducing risk of loss or damage to expensive materials and components. It also reduces the carbon impact of construction by limiting gas waste and carbon emissions from material and equipment transportation — further reducing project costs.
Optimize resources — With the right tools and software, project stakeholders can easily analyze and adjust the placement, scheduling, and use of resources throughout the project site. But optimized resource allocation isn’t just about preserving construction materials — it extends to use of labor and equipment and can be leveraged throughout the entire project life cycle.
Today’s technology supports generation of detailed, resource-loaded schedules that can be adjusted as on-site conditions shift. Analysis can reveal the ideal combination of material, labor, and equipment required for each step of the construction process, creating the optimal project resource and scheduling plan. Compared to manual processing, use of available construction optimization tools and softwares can save stakeholders millions in project spend.
Improved allocation of available work crews and equipment increases their effectiveness — while supporting worker safety — by ensuring that optimal site flow and pace of progression are maintained. Reduced exposure to hazards and risks, optimal maintenance of equipment, and boosted efficiency all support a streamlined build, thereby improving project outcomes, and speeding time-to-completion for data centers and other complex facilities.
Improve communication — In addition to boosting efficiency, use of appropriate technologies can improve communication and collaboration among all members of the project team. From simple visual management tools (such as Kanban boards) to modernized BIM, remote site monitoring to digital inspections, today’s technologies support transparent, real-time management and oversight of physical construction.
When everyone can see what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who is responsible, tasks are less likely to fall through the cracks. Improved collaboration and oversight ensure that everyone is working toward the same goals — and helps the build process flow more efficiently.
Leverage automation — Another way to maximize efficiency during data center construction is to leverage automated systems. Automation can provide great gains in terms of time and resources, allowing for greater accuracy, fewer errors, and faster completion times. For example, automated scheduling and sequencing adjustments can help minimize the number of personnel required on the job site, reducing overhead costs, and improving overall safety while speeding up project progression.
In summary, data center construction and fabrication facilities requires a great deal of planning and precision. Strategic use of today’s technologies for lean construction maximizes the build efficiency of these complex projects.
Utilizing construction optimization tools and scheduling software can help general contractors and developers maximize planning efficiency as well as improve project management, tracking, and oversight to ensure timely completion.
AI-driven technologies can help project stakeholders proactively identify potential bottlenecks and address them before they cause delays, helping construction managers and general contractors maintain project progression and prevent spiraling costs.
Better yet, advanced tools for construction optioneering and schedule optimization can often suggest iterative sequencing and scheduling scenarios that actually speed time-to-completion and improve project outcomes, saving millions of dollars in daily construction costs.
By utilizing the right tools, processes, and systems throughout the project life cycle, stakeholders can ensure a smoother, speedier pathway to data center construction completion. Construction optimization will help keep these complex projects on track so they can be up and running at lightning speed.