Industrial-strength design

Manufacturing and industrial facilities tackle heavy-duty projects during their day-to-day operations—so it makes sense that engineers working on such structures face a number of tough challenges. Engineers offer advice on how to achieve strong results.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 29, 2015


Jerry Bauers, PE, NEBB Qualified Professional, National Program Executive, Outcome Construction Services, Kansas City, Mo.

Jason R. Gerke, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, Mechanical and Plumbing Group Leader, GRAEF, Milwaukee 

Mark O’Connell, PE, Manager of Facilities Engineering, Matrix Technologies Inc., Maumee, Ohio

CSE: Please describe a new manufacturing or industrial facility project you’ve worked on.

Jerry Bauers: The most recent project I was involved in was a pharmaceutical pilot plant facility. This 20,000-sq-ft facility was designed to allow for flexible manufacturing of a variety of biologic pharmaceutical products. The facility was essentially a contract manufacturing pilot plant built in collaboration with a teaching university.

Mark O’Connell: We have recently completed the design for a $50 million chemical production facility in the Southeast. U.S. Matrix Technologies was selected as the engineer of record due to our experience with chemical manufacturing processes and our depth of services, providing both engineering and factory automation and programming services under one roof. The project is situated on 54 acres of undeveloped property, which also includes a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdictional stream and wetlands. This plant, which is nearly complete, houses office facilities and several process structures including a chemical-reactor building, a final-product screening building, packaging and warehousing, finished-product storage tanks and equipment, raw-material storage tanks, a wastewater treatment plant, and associated utilities equipment. Our firm performed all aspects of engineering, from site development and preliminary engineering through final process design, equipment specification, site utility support, facilities design, and process-control programming.

CSE: Please describe an existing building retrofit of a manufacturing or industrial facility project you’ve worked on.

O’Connell: Matrix Technologies is completing the engineering renovation of an existing 45,000-sq-ft warehouse area into a food manufacturing facility in Chicago. The project includes demolition of existing interiors, building reinforcement, and the installation of new manufacturing rooms, process equipment, and power feeds for the building and process, process cooling, and ventilation. The building is located in a historic part of Chicago and is in close proximity to a large residential area. A major concern is the visual appearance of exterior HVAC equipment, and the sensitivity to the construction process within close vicinity to the public. As a high-quality food manufacturer, the owner maintains stringent good manufacturing practices (GMP) for the health and safety of the final process and product.

CSE: How have the characteristics of such projects changed in recent years, and what should engineers expect to see in the near future?

O’Connell: Every process build-out has its challenges. We find that many customers do not have the internal project support team they once had. Because of this, engineering firms may have more responsibility in the overall direction of the project—from conceptual engineering through final construction documentation. We also see increased demand for construction management services for projects where the owner may not have available resources. Excellent communication and coordination skills on the part of both the engineering firm’s design team and the owner are critical to the overall success of the project.

Bauers: The nature of the installed mechanical systems has not changed substantially. However, the demands for performance of industrial systems have been ratcheted up. The performance demands of industrial projects, particularly in the regulated industries, are becoming more demanding. Environmental control of manufacturing spaces is becoming a key element of production process reliability and product quality. As commissioning engineers, our attention has to be focused on performance, reliability, and repeatability.

CSE: On what aspect of the project do you see the most emphasis being placed by building owners?

Jason R. Gerke: I think clients continue to focus on energy efficiency and sustainability as far as project budgets will allow. However, flexibility for future changes and long-term reliability also are important factors. The response of any good engineer should include “it depends” on what the client has established as their project goals. The design team needs to be prepared to adapt to a changing set of parameters until a certain design phase is reached.

Bauers: In the industrial/manufacturing sector, design concerns are first focused on reliable support for the manufacturing process and for product quality. The second greatest concern is for reliability, especially for batch processes in which large quantities of product (and significant revenues) rely on the continuous operation of the process line and the support systems that enable these processes. In the manufacturing world, lifecycle cost is important with the caveat that the life of the process and process facility may be considered foreshortened by the increasingly short product lifecycles. Flexibility in the manufacturing facility has become substantially more important—though hard to accurately define—as product lifecycles have shortened.

O’Connell: In the industrial building arena, owners want a design team that will work efficiently toward the on-time delivery of a quality process and automation system. Although many projects are justified by a return on investment, we also have customers with a “sustainable in our lifetime” attitude; spending capital dollars on ideas that are more efficient, create less waste, use less water, and minimize their impact on this earth.

CSE: How does engineering systems for international manufacturing and industrial facilities differ from facilities in the United States?

O’Connell: Differing regulations associated with codes, standards, and permitting outside the U.S. nothwithstanding, we have seen product and personnel security impact the decision as to where a new process/renovation might be located. In addition, the skilled labor to efficiently construct the project may be a larger concern when venturing further away from population centers. Language barriers and time zone differences add a level of complexity to projects outside the U.S.

CSE: What unique tools, software, or systems do you use?

O’Connell: The workhorse for our engineering division includes a variety of Bentley design software products, including AutoPLANT, AutoPIPE, ProSteel, and RAM products. In addition, our process engineering experts use aspenONE to simulate and optimize a variety of chemical and petrochemical processes. These design and 3-D modeling packages work within AutoCAD, and allow us to guarantee a quality product with minimal mistakes due to interferences or project coordination. We find that integration of the 3-D model and the design model works well and simplifies our design, making us more competitive and able to travel further to compete for new project work.

Gerke: We have worked to push the limit with some of our regular-use software systems. These products include Autodesk REVIT for building systems modeling; Autodesk Civil 3-D and SITEOPS for site development and design; as well as energy modeling software programs, selecting the appropriate program for the appropriate project. We have been able to leverage some of these programs to provide clients with early design information shortly after we are engaged. This information may be used to select systems, locate buildings on a site, or provide a quick energy analysis to determine U.S. Green Building Council LEED or other energy-efficiency goals.

CSE: Please list the top three manufacturing industries in which your firm is currently working.

O’Connell: Chemical/petrochemical, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries make up a large percentage of our day-to-day work.

Gerke: We provide design and consulting services to a variety of industries. Our current client list includes chemical, energy, and printing as the top three markets.