Docking Station: Bringing High-Tech Infrastructure to a Historic Waterfront
Thomson Reuters has just completed a major construction and critical engineering project in London’s Docklands, delivered by Structure Tone Mission Critical. We asked the Director of Critical Services Engineering, Jay Ahmed, for his thoughts on the project—one of the highest-risk projects Thomson Reuters has undertaken to its global portfolio.
What is the project?
The project, known colloquially as “The Dock,” was commissioned by us to upgrade the critical electrical infrastructure plant that is nearing the end of its serviceable life and to increase the power capacity, availability and overall resilience of the Docklands Technical Centre (DTC).
The existing incoming power supplies are projected to exceed capacity in the not-so-distant future. With additional power becoming increasingly difficult to source in London, particularly in the Docklands area, we commissioned the construction of a new External Utilities Building (EUB) adjacent to our existing DTC, which is a combined facility for both us and for UK Power Networks (UKPN).
The EUB houses the main 11kV distribution equipment at Level 1 and an 11kV generator deck with space for six containerised HV generators at Level 2, four of which were installed as part of this project. A future phase of works will incorporate chillers and pumps at Levels 3 and 4 to enable the replacement and expansion of the existing DTC cooling plant. There is also a large basement cable chamber at Level 0.
UKPN now utilises the EUB to provide a new dual 132kV substation on the site to provide new, highly resilient dual 11kV power supplies to our facility and to increase UKPN’s overall network availability. The facility will now also provide power to other businesses and developments within the area in the future.
Key project facts:
- Construction of a five-storey, 62,000sf, reinforced concrete and steel framed External Utilities Building with external generator and chiller plant decks
- General mechanical and engineering services fit-out
- Six 3MVA 11kV generators (four installed in this phase of works)
- Upgrade and integration of four existing 2.5MVA 11kV generators
- Two 11kV generator distribution switchboards
- Two 132/11kV transformers, switchgear and cooling (UKPN)
- Two 11kV distribution switchboards (UKPN)
- Conversion of a firefighting lift into a new nine-storey services riser
- Integration of the new EUB 11kV mains and generator distribution system with the existing DTC distribution
- Upgrade of the existing operational SCADA, PLC and BMS control systems
What were the unique elements of the design and construction?
One of the most interesting technical elements of the design and construction on the project were the EUB foundations. In isolation, piled foundations are not necessarily unique. However, as the EUB is constructed over an infilled 19th century graving (dry) dock with a solid granite dock base and located directly above the new westbound Crossrail tunnel, it made for a challenging build. We installed 150 piles, 90 of which sit within the footprint of the former dock and required each of their positions to be cored through the 3-metre-thick dock floor. The piles extended to within 1 metre of the Crossrail exclusion zone and only 7 metres from the tunnel below.
Further, as the original dock was constructed in the mid-1800s in an area of London with a considerable shipbuilding heritage, the site was of significant historical importance to the English Heritage organisation. Therefore, a series of surveys, investigations and archaeological recording was undertaken in conjunction with the local authority and English Heritage as the basement excavation works progressed. The dock walls had to be preserved, and the new superstructure was designed so it did not interfere with the historical structure below ground.
The substructure had its challenges, as did the superstructure—the design required us to pour 8,500 tonnes of reinforced concrete with floor slabs cast at 650mm thick to support the very heavy capital plant.
What were the challenges in upgrading the facility?
Aside from the challenges associated with the construction of the new building, the existing DTC is a fully functional 24/7 data centre which had to remain live and operational at all times.
The interface and integration of new infrastructure with existing MEP plant and systems, whilst maintaining existing services, was inherently risky and required very careful consideration and contingency planning.
Structure Tone did a great job of managing this through an extensive series of collaborative workshops between the client team, our consultants, the specialist subcontractors and the suppliers to develop a detailed plan for installation, integration, changeovers and commissioning that avoided any unplanned disruption to operations. We experienced absolutely no disruption or loss of service during the 94-week project schedule.
What did Structure Tone do to ensure continuity of the existing data centre?
As the majority of the works did not directly affect the existing data centre halls, we did not face the usual day-to-day challenges of working within the live ”white space” environment.
However, in order to cause the least disruption possible to operations and to mitigate the potential risk associated with integrating new equipment into an existing infrastructure, the new 11kV generators, distribution systems and controls were installed and commissioned in isolation of the existing systems—in effect in “Island Mode.”
Once this was complete and accepted by our design team, Structure Tone commenced the integration of the new and existing systems over four major cutover weekends, whereby sections of the existing plant and systems were transferred to the new distribution and commissioned in manageable sections. This adopted methodology and its development through the workshop process managed to halve the original number of cutover weekends proposed by our design team, which had significant benefits to us and our management of operational risk.
There were considerable works to undertake during the four cutover weekends, and the potential to run out of time due to unforeseen circumstances or discovery of issues during the works always existed. There is also always potential for systems, old or new, to not work as expected when it comes to final integration. It was therefore imperative that we undertook extensive surveys of the existing equipment to understand its condition, function and operational status as part of the project planning and contingency process. Structure Tone undertook as much of the testing and commissioning as is possible to ensure the installations were fully proved in advance of the changeover works.
What were the key factors you considered in selecting a design team and construction company?
The key factor for us was to select a design team and a construction partner with demonstrable proven experience of delivering complex construction and critical engineering projects in live environments.
We procured the project on a traditional basis, so in this instance we selected the design team and retained their services for the duration of the contract and appointed Structure Tone as our general contractor.
Structure Tone then selected its construction and M&E delivery teams based on their experience of undertaking works of this size and complexity, together with their ability to provide the necessary resources to achieve the project schedule and support our working relationship.
It is so important on projects of this nature that we have delivery teams that share our working ethos, and that we engage skilled people that we trust to deliver. At competitive tender stage, Richard Brandon and his Mission Critical group at Structure Tone convinced us they had the diverse skill sets and the right culture and approach to deliver this project. Having worked with them for almost two years on this development, I’m delighted to confirm they did exactly what they promised.
What challenges did you experience when working adjacent to an existing data centre facility?
These facilities are always extremely sensitive to us and our 24 x 7 operational staff and, therefore, working in and around them requires a delivery team with a particular skill set to ensure expectations are managed and the project runs smoothly. This not only included ensuring the data remained undisrupted and operational during some very heavy construction and fit-out works, but also that the safety and normal day-to-day operations of our staff were not compromised by the project works.
During the extensive piling and groundworks operations, Structure Tone installed very sensitive seismic monitoring to detect any vibration to the data halls in the DTC. Careful groundworks operations, together with adopting an augured approach to piling (rather than driven piles), ensured that the seismic devices never registered any interference beyond the pre-set tolerances.
Maintaining good overall communication, managing the site and workforce correctly, keeping people informed of the works as they progress and escalating issues so they were dealt with quickly were definitely some of the key components to success.
Were there any particular corporate social responsibility goals on this project?
Unemployment is high in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH), where the project is located. Thomson Reuters is dedicated to supporting the local community, and we made a commitment to the LBTH planning department, via a section 106 agreement, to generate as much employment as possible through the construction phase.
Structure Tone supported us to achieve this goal, and we both participated in council-led initiatives promoting access to employment in the area. By using all reasonable endeavours to ensure the recruitment of residents of the local area, we achieved the target of 10% for non-skilled labour. We also supported the target of procuring greater than 20% of subcontracts from companies and organisations based in the LBTH area throughout the construction development.