Project profile: Zeiss Michigan Quality Excellence Center

SmithGroup designed a building while balancing the environmental needs of people and machines

By SmithGroup September 1, 2021
Engineering firm: SmithGroup
2021 MEP Giants rank: 35
Project: Zeiss Michigan Quality Excellence Center
Location: Wixom, MI, United States
Building type: Office building, research facility/laboratory
Project type: New construction
Engineering services: Electrical, power; energy, sustainability; fire, life safety; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; plumbing, piping
Project timeline: March 2018 to August 2020MEP/FP budget: $593,000


Zeiss is widely known for pioneering scientific optics and fabricating state-of-the-art electronic measuring devices. Zeiss recognized the need to better serve their clients and employees by consolidating their five Michigan offices into one location. Due to the hyper-sensitive machinery Zeiss uses to conduct high-precision metrology, the building systems were required to maintain temperature uniformity. Even one degree variation within an hour would disrupt this process and produce incorrect measurements. SmithGroup needed to balance this extreme internal control while still giving employees natural access to daylight.
Built on a certified wetland, aspects of the stormwater design requirements set forth by the County Water Resources Commissioner are more complex than some other municipalities’ specifications, specifically regarding the outlet design and release rate. Additionally, the available above-ground space on site was not sufficient to manage the entirety of the required stormwater storage volume while the high groundwater table also presented restrictions on the depth of storage that could be used underground.
What is challenging is balancing the environmental needs of people and machines as they require different things. Temperature change spoils precise measurement because parts grow or shrink. Traditionally, this meant expensive, inhuman, closed-box metrology labs. The structural design and detailing needed to meet the precise, accurate outcomes that one would associate with the meticulous ideals of German Engineering.


The approach split the sales/display and research/prototyping into two wings to isolate the varying energy and mechanical needs. To maintain a temperature uniformity across the space, the engineering team came up with following design concepts to help mitigate this, including:
  • Use fabric ducts and large fans to provide high-volume, low-velocity, steady uniform air distribution to the space.
  • Provide individual setpoint control for each pair of blower coil units across the different zones to allow the system to respond to varying equipment loads across the space.
  • Use blower coil unit discharge temperature in system controls for more immediate feedback of changes in supplied room cooling load.
  • Program system to simultaneously and uniformly raise/lower cooling airflow across the space to minimize interaction between room zones.
Destratification fans constantly mix lab air, engaging symmetric swaths of cooling air discharged at a low velocity from fabric ducts. Fan-coils stabilize cooling air temperature with industrial control valves metering chilled water flow. Large buffer tanks stabilize water supply temperature using simple thermal mass.
Each tool runs 24/7 and self-compensates for exact local temperature. Fan-coil discharge air setpoints are tweaked, over days, to even-out lab temperature. Tools then heat window zones through a central heat-pump. Architecture buffers the labs, 360 degrees, with program space or double-wall plenums to limit external environmental fluctuations. Fenestration and interior design modulate daylight entry, first with custom fritted glass, then automated shades, then program elements and finally dark-out shades used during uber-precise measurement. CFD (computational fluid dynamics) modeling proved the HVAC performance, while daylighting and frit pattern development was modeled with custom grasshopper scripting.
Through internal analysis programs, the engineering team was able to find solutions that not only work for the site but can also be used as guidelines for other locations Zeiss is expanding in Michigan and other parts of the country.