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Taking Coordination to the Next Level: Axalta’s Global Innovation Center - Structure Tone
Structure Tone is a global leader in construction management and general contracting services with offices located in the US, UK, and Ireland. Founded in 1971, the company is among the world’s top twenty construction companies worldwide, responsible for more than $3.5B in annual construction volume.
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Taking Coordination to the Next Level: Axalta’s Global Innovation Center

Nine different types of laboratories. Seven demolished buildings. Over 175,000sf of new build. A patented “regenerative thermal oxidizer” unit. And, of course, offices. These are just some of the special features of Axalta’s new Global Innovation Center in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. The new center is home to the paint and coatings firm’s global research, product development and technology initiatives that will, as the company puts it, “ensure Axalta sets the pace for coatings technology around the world.”

From a construction perspective, such a complex effort takes careful, focused coordination and communication between the design and construction teams to make sure the many specialized features and functions will mesh with the necessary features and functions of a building and its infrastructure.

That’s where the Structure Tone/LF Driscoll Advanced Coordination Team (ACT) comes in. This team of virtual construction experts calls on their MEP and field expertise to integrate the design and construction building models and resolve potential problems on the spot, rather than rounds of clash detection and redesign. ACT works with the design teams to insert specific solutions—from beam penetration sizes to pipe fittings—into the models, on the spot. As a result, subcontractors have a fully coordinated, ready-to-build set of documents before construction even begins.

“When an owner asks to cut three months off the schedule, upfront planning and precoordination efforts come to mind immediately,” says Ken Innella, LF Driscoll vice president. “Resolving coordination issues after awarding subcontracts or in the middle of the coordination process can stop you dead in your tracks. By doing precoordination fit tests, you take away one of the possible impediments in fast-track construction.”

PRE-ACT: A BUILDABLE DESIGN
So, as soon as Axalta awarded the project to LF Driscoll, ACT got to work, partnering with the design team to refine the design through a coordinated model.

“We worked on the design together as we developed the construction documents,” says Clayton Lyons, ACT virtual modeling manager. “We were able to help supplement the design team’s resources to make sure the design was buildable and ready for construction to begin.”

This collaborative precoordination paid off in more ways than one. As ACT and the design team worked on the model, they discovered the wall dimensions indicated in the model did not match up to the dimensions of the specified wall type. In other words, the model makes its measurements based on the dimensions of the wall type specified in the contract documents. When those dimensions aren’t quite right, it affects the measurements throughout the model.

“What we were seeing wasn’t adding up with the wall types we saw labeled there,” Lyons says. “If we moved forward, rooms would have been up to 6 inches smaller and the critical casework wouldn’t have fit into the design.”

To solve the problem, Lyons and his team worked directly with the architects to update the model and adjust the interior accordingly. “It was an efficient, collaborative way to make this design work that definitely saved time over the usual route of clash detection, RFIs, design revisions and the like,” says Lyons.

Similarly, while going through the modeling process, the ACT group detected a discrepancy in the building drains.

“We’ve worked on several lab buildings, and we noticed that the drains specified for this project weren’t going to be code compliant,” says Xinan Jiang, ACT project coordinator. “The chemicals they would be using need a specific type of drainage and disposal system, so we helped redesign things a bit to include it.”

RE-ACT: FIELD PROBLEMS SOLVED
Once the building design models were set, LF Driscoll started in on construction, including digging trenches for some of the underground infrastructure. But as the underground modeling wrapped up, the project team realized a change in the civil engineering design was not reflected in the plumbing drawings, meaning all of the drainage and sanitary piping needed to come up an extra foot. That change, of course, meant the building design would have to shift as well.

ACT jumped in to help, working with the engineer to redesign the piping so that stormwater could exit the building under the slab at the right elevations, and with the architects to adjust the interior to accommodate the reworked configuration. “That design change could have put a complete halt to all construction,’’ says Donal Lyons, ACT virtual modeling manager. “By working together on the spot, the team redesigned everything within four days and basically maintained the schedule.”

The ACT group remained “on call” throughout the duration of the project, too, helping LF Driscoll’s subs work through any challenges by trying out solutions in a coordinated model.
“The complexities of such a unique lab building, with custom air handling systems, an entire central utility plant, custom paint spray booths, purifying exhaust equipment and other special features certainly came with some construction challenges,” says Innella. “Combine those with a corporate headquarters on the other side of the wall, and it takes a special form of collaboration to ensure it all blends together. This extra team of problem-solvers helped us achieve Axalta’s impressive vision.”

Photos courtesy of Halkin Mason Photography LLC.