Changes in the manufacturing, industrial building market

Several changes to the design of manufacturing and industrial buildings are covered here by the experts

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 12, 2021
Courtesy: Jordan & Skala Engineers


  • David L. Cooper, PMP, Principal, Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (SSR), Memphis, TN
  • Andrew David Hager, BASMA, PE, LEED AP, Senior Mechanical Design Lead, CRB, St. Louis
  • Darren Rogge, Senior Associate, Jordan & Skala Engineers Inc., Norcross, Georgia
  • Joe Schadt, Construction Executive, Industrial, Harris, St. Paul, Minnesota
David L. Cooper, PMP, Principal, Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (SSR), Memphis, TN; Andrew David Hager, BASMA, PE, LEED AP, Senior Mechanical Design Lead, CRB, St. Louis; Darren Rogge, Senior Associate, Jordan & Skala Engineers Inc., Norcross, Georgia; Joe Schadt, Construction Executive, Industrial, Harris, St. Paul, Minnesota. Courtesy: Smith Seckman Reid, CRB, Jordan & Skala, Harris

David L. Cooper, PMP, Principal, Smith Seckman Reid Inc. (SSR), Memphis, TN; Andrew David Hager, BASMA, PE, LEED AP, Senior Mechanical Design Lead, CRB, St. Louis; Darren Rogge, Senior Associate, Jordan & Skala Engineers Inc., Norcross, Georgia; Joe Schadt, Construction Executive, Industrial, Harris, St. Paul, Minnesota. Courtesy: Smith Seckman Reid, CRB, Jordan & Skala, Harris

What’s the current trend in industrial and manufacturing facilities? 

David L. Cooper: The industrial market is experiencing many trends right now: coming up with innovative solutions to help drive cost down; new products to bring to market; plants becoming more energy efficiency; manufacturing healthier products; and due to Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates on refrigeration, plants are looking at other technologies for refrigeration. 

Andrew David Hager: Trends are changing rapidly now regarding COVID-19 requirements and with the materials and labor markets getting more difficult to trend themselves. Energy conservation requirements are also getting more involved with industrial and manufacturing heating, ventilation and air conditioning and utility equipment requirements. Direct expansion refrigerants continue to change with more focus on reducing global warming.  

The focus points today are meet the application need, determine applicable energy conservation requirements, determine ventilation requirements to meet code and to meet facility health and safety requirements regarding airborne communicable disease transmission, determine HVAC and utility equipment sizing quickly, efficiently and coordinate equipment procurement with respect to equipment lead times and schedule impact. 

Darren Rogge: With the e-commerce industry driving the industrial market, the trends seem to be larger and more complex buildings. Customers require more square footage and more sophisticated building control systems. A number of clients are requesting available means to mitigate the spread of any airborne viruses within their buildings. We are coaching them on the benefits of increased HVAC outside air, better HVAC filtering, touchless plumbing fixtures and lighting controls to assist with this concern. 

Joe Schadt: The current and ongoing trend for owners is to get to market in the least amount of time as possible. To that end, design and construction must take into account that the building will need to be open for the installation of larger prebuilt structures, allowing for early construction of the modules or building sections. In addition, the procurement of equipment needs to happen earlier in the process so it can be incorporated into the premanufactured modules. With the changes in how we build, we can control the schedule and shorten delivery of a project significantly.  

What future trends should engineers and designers expect for such projects? 

Andrew David Hager: Markets will change, therefore it is important to not let the immediate market volatility be the sole driver for future trends. Similar to investing strategies. For engineers starting careers, I tell them that 3D modeling will continue to grow and improve, the need to create construction documents will have to improve with modeling. Improved system efficiencies will continue to be required, requested and implemented. Manufacturers will find the ways to improve efficiencies leading to more onboard technology for equipment operation controls. What is considered the “high-end” for technology and controls will become standard offerings for equipment and automation. Plug-n-play control systems are already offered and will continue to be expanded implementing more artificial intelligence technology for monitoring, learning, adapting and modulating system operations to perform in the zones of efficiency as much as possible. 

Darren Rogge: Current and future trends with these more complex buildings are demanding larger electric services and more detailed collaboration with the local electric utility provider to better understand the customer’s electrical usage and peak demand needs. We are also seeing end users opting for air conditioned buildings to help attract employees. The addition of air conditioning systems significantly increases the electrical service needs. 

David L. Cooper: An increased focus on food and environmental safety within the plant. 

How is the growth of immediate-delivery services impacting industrial and manufacturing facility projects? 

Andrew David Hager: Commercial immediate-delivery similar to what retail providers offer is not the same as materials delivery for industrial and manufacturing. Immediate-delivery reminds me of just-in-time manufacturing and we know the issues that can occur with material supply chains. Supply chain interruptions are detrimental to the method. Because of the potential for interruptions, a minimal on-site storage of materials is required, however limited, is only a bandage during long-term interruptions. I am still seeing clients purchase and store replacement components on-site, especially critical process and manufacturing lines. Immediate delivery services just aren’t fast enough when counting minutes of a process or manufacturing line that is down, out of operation due to material or component failure. 

Darren Rogge: We are seeing areas of the buildings being carved out to implement the immediate-delivery services component. This has to be carefully coordinated with the building internal layout to allow product to flow for normal distribution and permit ready access to flow to the immediate-delivery area. The exterior site design also needs to consider traffic flow and may require larger site acreage to accommodate the traffic flow requirements. Sometimes the immediate -delivery component of the business unit operates at different hours than the rest of the facility, so your systems have to be able to operate independently from one another. 

The Southeast Toyota Vehicle Processing Center is in Commerce, Georgia. Courtesy: Jordan & Skala Engineers

The Southeast Toyota Vehicle Processing Center is in Commerce, Georgia. Courtesy: Jordan & Skala Engineers

What are professionals doing to ensure such projects meet challenges associated with emerging technologies? 

Joe Schadt: One of the changes we have seen is the need for better control of HVAC and air quality in manufacturing facilities. The move to manufacture both electronic goods and products for consumption has raised the bar on hygiene and air quality.  

Andrew David Hager: Preplanning design and construction with architecture, engineering and construction. For example, we are using modular construction more frequently for clean spaces and spaces with strict HVAC and cleanliness requirements. The faculty building (housing the clean spaces within) is constructed (or reworked) using the best practices without the strict requirements to meet the extreme needs of a clean space interior such as low vapor migration, high thermal resistance, strict humidity control, strict temperature control and clean materials of construction.  

Darren Rogge: The design professionals we partner with make a concerted effort in understanding the client’s needs and we assist them in developing a list of viable options available including emerging technologies to present to the client. This proactive approach helps alleviate potential hurdles throughout the design process.  

In what ways are you working with information technology experts to meet the needs and goals of an industrial or manufacturing facility? 

Andrew David Hager: We have a virtual design group that works closely with our IT group to support 3D scanning, 360-degree photos, 3D modeling for virtual reality walk-throughs, data implementation into Autodesk Revit models and on-site construction drone fly-throughs for monitoring construction progress.  

David L. Cooper: With an increased focus on efficient plants, we’re seeing an increase in the automation of the equipment and eliminating the labor force for that type of work. The workers that were doing the packing and conveyor line oversight are now being trained as control operators. 

Joe Schadt: In design-build, we use IT to help the owners “see” their project before building it. The use of CAD and visual 3D models is useful for catching how the production areas will function. Using this,  production is maximized with less trial and error of the past. We also use IT to ensure we are delivering a quality product on time. Lastly, the turn-over of a system often comes with 3D modeling, which includes enhanced information that the owner can use for maintenance and future changes to the system. 

Describe a high-tech industrial or manufacturing facility project. What were its unique demands and how did you achieve them?  

Joe Schadt: We recently completed a facility that produces a product for human injection. The design and construction of the project had to focus on GMP principles and ensure that the build and the final product, was “clean.” A great deal of attention was paid to air filtration and also building surfaces so that there were very few surfaces where dust and contamination could accumulate.  

Tell us about a recent project you’ve worked on that’s innovative, large-scale or otherwise noteworthy.  

Darren Rogge: We worked with a major vehicle brand to develop a vehicle processing facility where vehicles are received from rail cars and then processed through various areas to be delivered to local dealerships. The facility had many challenges due to its 300+ acre site size with seven unique buildings. Working with the local utility providers to develop the necessary infrastructure to support the buildings’ and their needs along with calculating utility demand needs across varying facility processing operations was a challenge.  

The location was in a very rural area that required the utility providers to upgrade off-site utilities to be able to support the needs of our site. We were responsible for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems design of the entire project and the overall design was completed in approximately 12 months.  

One interesting challenge was the need to minimize the number of site lighting poles to assist with vehicle flow and storage. It was finally decided to use 100-foot poles with controllable LED lights to achieve the desired light level values with adequate light distribution. Due to the height of these poles, the entire light head assembly was fitted with an internal winch to lower the assembly to the ground level for any required maintenance. 

How are engineers designing these kinds of projects to keep costs down while offering appealing features, complying with relevant codes and meeting client needs? 

Andrew David Hager: CRB is using a design platform called SlateXpace. SlateXpace is a platformed modular solution that provides multimodal manufacturing unparalleled in speed-to-market, cost effectiveness and adaptability. They are highly agile, scalable and efficient suites that allow manufacturers to campaign between modality-specific process platforms. 

Darren Rogge: We work in collaboration with various developers and MEP subcontractors on a number of industrial projects each year. This experience affords us the knowledge of what MEP systems provide the client with the best value to achieve their goals. By sharing this knowledge with our clients early in the design process, we can navigate them to a cost-effective design solution that meets their objectives. 

How has your team incorporated integrated project delivery, virtual reality or virtual design and construction into a project? 

David L. Cooper: Most of our project design is done in a form of BIM/VDC. We are currently using Revit and AutoCAD Plant 3D to allow owners to see the plant before it is constructed in a model. 

Andrew David Hager: AutoCAD BIM 360 for sharing Revit models and documentation files that upload quickly and easily. In many cases, the client can use a program such as Navisworks to review a building model to review equipment layouts and production flow strategies.  

How has COVID-19 changed your work in these facility types? Has the coronavirus affected these projects, by either increasing or decreasing some aspect of them? 

Andrew David Hager: Due to reduced travel, we are experiencing more video conferencing, use of field verifications using 3D scanning, 360-degree photos and fly-throughs using drones. Clients are more aware of ventilation needs and air filtration needs due to industry recommendations such as recommendations by ASHRAE COVID-19 response resources. 

Joe Schadt: We are looking at air movement and air quality more closely because of the coronavirus and will be paying much closer attention to airflow and air changes in spaces. We are also looking at lower density of people interacting in buildings and considering design space. 

Darren Rogge: The biggest change we have seen on industrial projects to combat the COVID-19 virus is to implement specific systems and components to flush the building with more outside air and to limit the touch-point items such as lighting controls and plumbing fixtures within the building 

David L. Cooper: We’ve seen a shift in the overall design to be geared more to safety.  

Does your firm anticipate more industrial or manufacturing building projects, considering the supply chain issues with non-U.S. facilities? 

Andrew David Hager: Yes, industrial and manufacturing buildings are typically at the center of many of our clients’ needs. Many of our clients are either taking their product to the next level, out of the lab and into entry-level production or expanding existing manufacturing lines or both expanding lines to bring new products to market. 

Joe Schadt: We do see an upswing in interest in on-shoring. The immediate surge was for critical supplies. The long-term effect for us appears to be less interest in building outside of the U.S. and seeing new and expansion projects planned for North America. This seems to be the trend as moving production assets is not typically cost-effective. 

Darren Rogge: We do feel that the industrial market is going to continue to remain strong for the foreseeable future. We will continue to support and collaborate with our developer partners and architects who work diligently to shape this market. Our staff keeps current with emerging technologies and industry trends to share this information with our clients to keep their buildings marketable.  

David L. Cooper: We see an increase in food and beverage due to demand and on-shoring building of new plants.