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Through the Decades – The 1930s

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The Austin Company’s California Office Enters the Field of Aviation

Just five months after the Wright Brothers’ historic Kitty Hawk flight, the Samuel Austin & Son Company was formed. The Company began to envision how it could serve the aviation industry and become a key partner in the future of manned flight.

By 1916, Austin was more than a quarter-century old and had offices established across the country (California in 1921). The Company had built a reputation for innovation and resourcefulness. Widely recognized as the Father of Design-Build, Austin was often called upon when clients wanted single-source responsibility for their large, complex, and logistically challenging projects— a differentiator that continues today.

Ten years after Austin’s first project in the field of aviation with multiple major projects completed across the country for companies like Curtis Aeroplane and Boeing, it was time for the state of California to join the rapidly growing trend of commercial flight.

The Kelly Air Mail Act (1926) and the Air Commerce Act (1927) encouraged private investment in aviation, as did the 1926 establishment of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. The growing enthusiasm for aviation prompted the Aeronautics Board of the U.S. Department of Commerce to conduct a survey identifying new airfield locations. The Aeronautics Board reported that Burbank had the most favorable airport location surveyed. In 1929, with the support of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, United Aircraft and Transportation Company hired The Austin Company to begin construction on Los Angeles’ new airport located in Burbank. Occupying approximately 234 acres of land, the airport boasted more paved landing area than any airfield at the time. An article featured in Airports Magazine the following year (1930), reported on the construction effort, and described the scale of the endeavor in relation to the necessary modifications to the landscape, stating: “Over one hundred large oak trees were removed from the field and from property adjoining the field, by arrangements with the owners, to eliminate every possible hazard.”

The Terminal Building included administrative offices, ticket offices, a baggage room, a telegraph office, and other conveniences. The airfield’s layout was carefully planned, locating public structures like the Terminal Building near the southeast corner of the field, separate from the property’s industrial, support, and private facilities.

Austin was also responsible for constructing Hangar 1 and Hangar 2.

Memorial Day weekend, 1930, marked the opening of the world’s first million-dollar airport. Airplane races and a staged air battle with military bombers and fighter planes entertained the crowds on the ground below. As the author E. Caswell Perry relates in his book entitled Burbank:  An Illustrated History, the opening day event drew large crowds eager to participate in the festivities. He writes of the event, “More than 25,000 automobiles jammed the new airport facilities, and the overflow crowds included many of neighboring Hollywood’s brightest movie stars.” Only Pacific Air Transport (later acquired by United Airlines) operated from the airfield at first. Still, the scale of operations at the new airport expanded quickly, as Perry also describes, writing as follows, “By 1933, when the airport was renamed Union Air Terminal, it had become the primary facility for the greater Los Angeles area, used by all the major airlines of the day.”

The Terminal Building was initially named United Airport. From 1935 until 1940, United Airlines assumed control of the Burbank airfield. Several major airlines began operating from Union Air Terminal during that time, including Pan American, Western Airlines, and Trans-World Airlines. In early 1939, American Airlines also operated out of the Terminal Building. This made the Union Air Terminal the center of all primary airline operations in the Los Angeles area. The decade of the 1930s was a historic one for the Burbank airfield. The field welcomed aviation pioneers like Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and Charles Lindbergh.

In 1940, the Airport property was sold to a neighboring company, Lockheed Aircraft—a company that Austin serves to this day—which continued to operate the Terminal Building—supporting passenger and airfreight operations—while also utilizing the airfield to manufacture and test new aircraft.

Austin’s California Office Enters the Field of Radio with NBC Radio City West

Radio was one of the few industries to grow during the Depression. It was the mid-1930s and the competing networks of CBS and NBC were building for much-needed space as well as for prestige. 

Experimental radio broadcasting began in 1910. KDKA, a station out of Pittsburgh, PA, broadcasted the 1920 presidential election results on November 2, 1920. This event is considered the beginning of professional broadcasting. Seven years latter stations WJZ and WEAF would merge to create NBC and the race to build bigger and better studios began.  

CBS engaged renowned architect William Lescaze to design its Hollywood studios. Only a block away, on a site at Sunset and Vine, NBC relied on The Austin Company to design, engineer, and build its new studios. When completed in 1938, NBC’s Radio City of the West stood as an American architectural master­piece. Its design was pure, striking and thoroughly functional— a style pioneered through Austin prototype models displayed in early issues of Fortune magazine. 

For its new Hollywood Studio, NBC, and Austin architects and engineers had a clean slate. Former radio broadcasting operations had not been so easy, having utilized existing office building space, often on a second floor, and fitting complex broadcast equipment into a space ill-designed to support it. With this project, the premier of an ideal arrangement would be achieved, with ample space on the ground level. 

 Four auditorium studios, each planned for an audience of 350 guests, were located to give public access from Sunset Boulevard. Radio talent and operating staff were well-screened from the public in their own circulation corridors, even to the extent of private auto drive entrances and parking. Along one end of the five-acre site, on Vine Street, a three-story office wing provided space for executive and administrative functions.  

Sound, the soul of a broadcasting facility, can also be its greatest enemy. Vibration and sound conductivity were addressed in the design, engineering, and construction, including separate foundations for the auditoriums. 

The facility housed a total of eight studios, four of which accommodated studio audiences. Each was supported on a separate sound-isolating foundation and served by an independent air conditioning system to prevent noise from passing through the ductwork. Soundproofing was said to be so complete that a truck could have rumbled down the central corridor without transferring vibrations to adjacent studios. An NBC spokesman called NBC Radio City West “the ideal facility for broadcasting!” 

Austin went on to design and build for all three major networks. And, in the early 1940s, Austin invested its own research and development to develop models for prototype TV studios. The conversion of NBC Radio City West for television being among the first.  

We will talk about this further next month as we look back at the 1940’s. 

Balancing Act

Balancing Act

Why it is more important than ever to balance the scales between work and life

Remember what it was like to clock in at 8:00 am and clock out at 5:00 pm?  Remember leaving work by turning off your desktop computer (if you even had one), grabbing your briefcase, walking out the door and heading home for a nice dinner with the family, and then sitting down to read the newspaper, watch the news, play with the kids and finally falling into bed for a good night’s sleep? Some of us remember those times, but generation Y and Z employees may not. This was never their reality, and with the invention of laptop computers and cell phones, it is not anyone’s reality any longer.

The phrase work/life balance has taken its place at the forefront of workplace vocabulary and has been a repeated recommendation at many doctors’ and psychologists’ offices. The majority of us, to some degree, have lost the ability to separate our careers from our personal lives.  Employees can be contacted 24/7 by cell phone and through all types of media, blurring the lines of any clear-cut separation between work and personal life. Throw in the recent pandemic where everyone was working from home, and lines are now very blurry when work stops and your personal lives begin.

Separating work from your personal life is more important now than ever for several reasons.

  • 51% of workers say they have missed important life events because of work commitments
  • 77% of full-time employees have experienced burnout at their current job
  • 70% of employees read their emails while watching television at home
  • 40% of employees say they use their personal devices for work purposes after business hours
  • 83% of employees say their relationships are negatively impacted by burnout from work
  • 66% of employees say they often skip at least one meal per day because of work
  • Employees who work more than 55 hours per week are at a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • Employees who work more than 55 hours per week are 1.66 times at higher risk of depression, and 1.74 times at higher risk for anxiety
  • Workers who report a poor work/life balance are twice as likely also to report poor health

With statistics like these, it is of utmost importance that employees learn how to balance reading emails at home and going to the gym or some other activity to decompress and relax. When you’re married to your work, fatigue inevitably sets in for whatever reason. This makes you less productive, increases mental stress, and creates health issues that you would otherwise not have. Stress has a negative effect on the human body, yet many just shrug it off. This is a mistake that will not only cause physical breakdowns but costs employees and employers millions of dollars a year in health and mental care costs.

I think you get the point: work/life balance is important. We can all do a better job at striking a balance we stay sharp, healthy, and productive.

A few things that help with this are:

1. Plan, plan, plan. Oh, and one more, plan. Planning (managing) your time is the most effective way to combat the work/life balance issue. Have you run into someone at the store you have not seen in a while, and at the end of the conversation, you both say, “We have to get together for dinner.”  Does it ever happen?  You are 70% more likely to have that dinner if you get out your cell phone and schedule a date right then and there. This is the same for anything. Plan to spend time with your spouse. Plan to spend time with your kids. Plan to spend time at the gym. Put it in your calendar, and the life side of your balance sheet will get better.

 It is worth mentioning the importance of planning to take personal time off (PTO). At Austin, all employees have the good fortune of having paid time off. Make sure you take advantage of this great benefit by planning and scheduling your time off. And remember, you will be more likely to take PTO if it is on the calendar. This also helps managers manage workflow and deadlines more effectively.

2. Learn how to say no.  Again, we humans hate to disappoint anyone and often have a hard time saying no to someone who asks us to do something for or with them.  Once you say yes, you have now positioned yourself to have to take something back should you realize you have overbooked yourself. A suggestion to avoid this from happening is to replace, “Sure, I’ll do that” with a statement like, “Let me check” or “I’m not sure; let me get back to you.” This takes the immediate commitment off the table, giving you time to check how full your plate is and perhaps provide a more appropriate response.

3. Develop healthy habits. A healthy lifestyle helps us avoid the stress that can lead to diminished productivity, avoid physical ailments, and poor sleep. Make sure you are eating well, detaching from work, possibly by taking some PTO, or just not answering those pesky emails at such an ungodly hour.

We appreciate the skills you bring to our company, but we need them while you’re here. Not having a work/life balance will only allow you to provide a fraction of what you have to offer.

Remote Collaboration

Remote Collaboration

Ten thousand employees surveyed by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago said they thought they were just as productive working from home compared to working in the office. In addition, 30% of those respondents told researchers they were more productive and engaged working from home. Calculations show that commuting time was reduced by 62.4 million hours per day, with aggregate time savings of over 9 billion hours starting from the middle of March 2020 to mid-September 2020.

Yet, many companies openly admit, the road to remote collaboration has been a bumpy ride. In this article, we interview Nirav Mehta, Design Project Manager, for how he and his team have successfully navigated collaborating remotely.

Q. Tell us about the early stages of your remote collaboration journey.

A. When we first moved to a work-from-home model, simple communication became a struggle. We were missing the quick response that we used to have when working in the office. I noticed we would send in an email saying, “Hey, can you please clarify the following?” And at times, those requests could sit for hours or days. This slowdown was unacceptable as the delay would impact others’ progress.

We learned new ways of communicating. We changed how we gave instructions, led group meetings, and shared ideas.

Q. It sounds like you added quite a bit of structure to your new way of doing things. Tell us more.

We implemented communication guidelines. We encouraged the team to use Microsoft Outlook to share hyperlinks to project folders and communicate with external contacts. We encouraged using Microsoft Teams’ chat feature for internal communication and collaboration.

We found that utilizing Teams chat allowed us to avoid some of the pitfalls inherent in Outlook, like team members responding to older emails and missing crucial up-to-date information. Microsoft Teams’ chat creates a linear conversation that is easy to scroll through and follow the complete discussion.

Q. I am sure there is an added layer of urgency to communicating highly technical information. Tell us about communicating and the quality control process.

A. An engineer’s quality control process is rooted in tracking and communicating design changes through careful review of electronic drawings. Bluebeam Revu is the perfect tool to leave comments, add action items, and document future changes. This software helps keep the entire team on the same page throughout the design and construction stages. Comments are retained and used to check and ensure that all the necessary clarifications have been incorporated into the latest document set.

Q. What other technology has your team employed to overcome some of the challenges of not being face-to-face?

A. Discussions using 3D models are becoming more commonplace. 3D modeling has allowed our team to communicate in a language other than the written word. Emails and chats rely on writing and reading. Using 3D models allows us to experience the design. I believe this trend will continue beyond the circumstances we find ourselves in now. For example, the work we are doing today to create 3D views of a typical office or restroom can serve as starting points for new projects. Developing prototypes with options that can be explored in small break-out meetings could become the standard for the next design collaboration.

Q. How has the team overcome the challenges of file sharing?

A. We have embraced the cloud. Moving to cloud-based file storage systems and Microsoft Teams has been tremendously helpful for our design teams. Older technologies were not built with remote work in mind. In contrast, cloud-based file systems offer a measure of resiliency and data access comparable to what we had when our users and data were physically on-site. Autodesk’s BIM 360 allows all team members to access the latest drawings and Revit models. Having quick and easy access to these files and working together is essential. We can edit models from anywhere in the world simultaneously with the software’s ‘work sharing’ feature and file-level access management that the cloud makes possible. “I’m out of the file; you can go in now and make your changes” is a thing of the past.

Q. What other innovative workflow processes have you embraced?

A.  By automating repetitive tasks, we have saved hundreds of work hours on each project. Recent updates to the Imaginit Clarity® system allow us to take the output from these tasks into dozens of competing repositories. If a consultant needs to see drawing files based on our models in a different format, we can automate that task so that each night the latest changes are exported to the file format they require and then uploaded to the cloud service they are making use of. We can confidently review a set of drawings when we know that they are based on the latest model changes.

Our industry has many modeling tools, and we have become adept at applying the best solution for the given task. There are tools appropriate for design presentation, internal model review, clash coordination, and owner walk-throughs. Our IT team and BIM software leaders are excellent training and problem-solving resources when defining and implementing these workflows. All the technology in the world won’t help if you don’t have leaders who excel at training other people.

Q. How has the client experience changed?

A. We are all in the same boat. Many of our clients have faced the same remote work challenges over the past few years. Fortunately, they have embraced virtual meeting technologies allowing us to work efficiently together. Our clients can now be sitting hundreds of miles away while our engineers guide them through a 3D version of their project to conceptualize design solutions.

Q. What do you see as the silver lining to the past couple of years?

A. We are more flexible than ever before. We have realized how quickly where and how we work can change. We rose to the challenge and transformed our processes faster than we could have ever imagined. We took an honest look at what was working and what was not and pivoted where needed. Our team learned how resilient they could be and can better face what comes next because of it. Innovation is one of The Austin Company’s core values. As we look to the future, we must embrace this change. Evaluating and implementing software that can positively impact our productivity, communication, and workflow will always be at the forefront of our design-build process.

Passion

Passion

A few years ago, we adopted EOS to support our management and leadership. We participated in an exercise to reassess what we had established as our company values, what it means to be an Austinite, and “to bleed Austin blue.”  We discussed dozens of current and past employees, identifying what it was that brought them to mind when thinking of Austin values. We organized those traits into categories, and these became our core values. This process was much more authentic than a few people sitting around and imagining what Austin’s core values should be.

One of the categories that became a value is PASSION. Passion is rooted in purpose. If the work you do has no inherent purpose that can be embraced, then your work becomes drudgery. I have seen passion in many people at Austin, directed in many ways. Passion for developing people. Passion for an industry we serve. Passion for innovating ways to do better and be more efficient. Passion for creating a building.

Passion cannot be measured, but you can sense it in the energy, drive, and attitude of a person. As a manager, you cannot demand passion from someone. However, you can provide an environment that fosters passion. That environment helps employees realize the purpose and impact of their work and therefore, nurtures passion.

For decades, Austin has prided itself on employee retention. Even in the current competitive labor market, our retention rate increased in 2021. As an integrated design-builder, we can expose our employees to a broader range of potential career paths, allowing them to find goals that resonate with them and make their work personally meaningful.

An architect, for example, doesn’t learn their craft to just put lines on paper or to specify materials or fixtures. An architect creates buildings. As a design-builder, the architect is part of the building process and is engaged in the construction—not as a consultant—as part of the team building it.

An engineer we hired several years ago joined us from a major engineering firm where he spent the first two years of his career running load calculations on process projects. Within a few months of joining Austin, he was sent to a job site for meetings with subcontractors. He told me it was the first time he had ever seen something he designed actually being constructed. Moreover, it was the first time he met those who were going to build his design. Up to that point, he questioned his career choice but seeing his work come to life in the field gave him the purpose he was missing. It stoked a passion for his work and drove him to learn more about other design disciplines like preconstruction, and construction.

There are other employees whose passion comes from serving a particular market. When you get to work on the same type of project— an aircraft assembly facility, bakery, meat processing, or pharmaceutical plant— you develop a particular expertise. You know what to look for and what not to do again. You get to know the equipment systems and vendors. Most importantly, they get to know you.

Early in my career, I was tasked with studying the airport construction industry as a potential target for Austin to pursue. I spent about two years with a special focus on that market.  And while we decided it was too fragmented for our business model, I got to know dozens of people who were incredibly passionate about designing and building airports.

There were three things I learned from that study effort.

First, people who have passion relate very well to other people who share that passion.

Second, there were people whose backgrounds and areas of expertise had been honed and developed to serve the specific needs of complex airport infrastructure. That airport infrastructure was their unifying commitment. They made up an engaged community united by a shared mission. There was energy, camaraderie, and a certain joy and pride in their personal identity with that purpose.

Third, getting involved in a specific industry we serve is humbling.  There was always more to learn and this community of passionate people willing and ready to share their expertise. Education and training provide the tools and basic know-how, but it is through exposure to actual work that we develop our expertise and find our passion.

Great artists find inspiration outside their normal environments. Indeed, the word inspiration comes from a Latin word meaning “to breathe into.” Vincent Van Gogh, for example, studied Japanese art and was so moved by it that it changed his compositions. In a sense, education and training provide the paint and canvas to enable us to become the artists of our careers.

Then how does a company or manager inspire the artist to paint a fulfilling career and find their passion?

They find their Why.

Managers must make sure there is fresh air available to provide sources of inspiration that will let the artist shape the work that defines them, that gives them passion. When employees find passion in their work and they become part of a community, they become more than their education and training. They are focused and committed to a special purpose. They find their Why.

Especially in today’s war for talent, companies must focus on providing a wide variety of experiences to their employees or passion will be harder to experience. When employees find passion, however, they find work that is gratifying and rewarding to both the employee and the company.

Consider the work experiences that have inspired and defined you. Be on the lookout for the “fresh air” in your position that may just spark your passion.

“Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue.”

Abraham Lincoln

And we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful, and it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.”

Vincent Van Gogh

“To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with your work.” – Sister Mary Lauretta

Through the Decades – The 1920s

Through the Decades 1920s

A retrospective of the first 100 years of work completed by Austin’s California Office.

This is the first in a series of monthly articles that will chronicle highlights of the first 100 years for The Austin Company’s California office. We begin in the 1920s as Austin lays down roots in California. Each month we will take you through another decade, highlighting projects indicative of the times. We will wrap up the series with a publication that includes these monthly features, along with other milestone projects – a chapter for each decade. We look forward to you joining us on this historic journey.

The Austin Company Opens its First Office in California

Records indicate that the first Work Order Number issued for The Austin Company’s new California office was on December 7, 1921, for a $20,500 project in Los Angeles. This equates to approximately $320,000 today (2021).

Four Work Order Numbers were recorded in December 1921. Twenty-two (22) projects were recorded in the year 1922 for a variety of companies, including the names of companies that few would recognize today; however, there were several projects for the Port of Los Angeles.

More than 50 projects were recorded in 1923, including projects for multiple ice cream manufacturers and the emerging industry of the times, petroleum-related companies such as Standard Oil Production Company of California, a company name that would ultimately appear in Austin’s active client list many times in the decades ahead. Also notable were multiple projects for the General Electric Company, as well as a project for The Austin Company’s new Los Angeles Warehouse. 1924 and 1925 records reflect a growing list of projects, including a project for Stauffer Chemical Company, a client who would return to Austin many times, continuing work for General Electric in Oakland, and the New Austin Office Building in Los Angeles.

Hollywood and The Motion Picture Industry

Cecile B. DeMille

1926 brought Austin’s first recorded work in the budding motion picture Industry for Cecile B. DeMille in Culver City, California.

Thomas H. Ince Studio, as it was originally known, was founded in 1918 by Ince, a silent movie actor, director, and producer, on land acquired by real estate developer Harry Culver. Ince had grand ambitions to create his own studio unique from all the others. Following Ince’s early death in 1924, his widow sold the property to Cecil B. DeMille, who renamed the studio to DeMille Studios.

DeMille undertook several large expansions, hiring Austin in 1926 to design, engineer, and construct Stages 2, 3, and 4, producing a few major box office hits, including The King of Kings.

Classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age were filmed at the studio, including Gone with the Wind (1939), and A Star is Born (1937). Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound were filmed at the studio in the 1940s. Over the years, the studio has had several owners and investors, including Howard Hughes in 1950 and Desilu (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez) in 1956. The studio was also used for television shows such as The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Lassie, Batman, The Nanny, Scrubs, Arrested Development, and Cougar Town, among many others. The studio was renamed The Culver Studios in 1970.

Austin returned to the site in 1987 when the studio was purchased by GTG Entertainment a joint venture between Grant Tinker (Chairman and CEO with NBC from 1981 – 1986) who Austin had been working with while he was at NBC, and The Gannett Company. Austin prepared a master plan for the remodel and expansion at the studio, as well as the design of two new sound stages, adjacent to Austin’s original 1926 sound stages.

The studio is operated today by Amazon.

Mack Sennett

MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Beginning with the early projects for Cecile B. DeMille and Mack Sennett in 1926 and 1927, Austin went on to design and construct over sixty projects on the MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) studio lot in Culver City, just down the street from Cecile B. DeMille’s studio, including sound stages, support facilities, and offices. The MGM Studio is today known as Sony Pictures. The years 1926 through 1929 included a long list of projects for a wide variety of companies. Many of the names are for companies that few would recognize today, however, there are others that, like Austin, continue in business today and are well recognized, such as H. J. Heinz and Ingersoll Rand, as well as Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Join us for more!

Join us as we continue our retrospective of projects completed by Austin’s California office. Next month we will explore the 1930s. The Great Depression rages through the United States, the aviation industry soars to new heights, and the broadcasting celebrates its golden years.

The Austin Company Acquires Gala & Associates Inc.

Austin Acquires Gala

Cleveland, OH – The Austin Company, a design-builder established more than 140 years ago, has acquired Gala & Associates, Beverly Hills, Michigan. Founded in 1987, Gala provides architectural engineering, design, and project management services for automotive assembly and heavy industrial facilities.

“Gala & Associates is an exceptional business. I have a high regard for Chuni Gala and his leadership team.  The relationships and trust they have earned from the major automotive manufacturers is testament to their values and integrity. Those values align completely with Austin’s,” said Austin’s president and CEO, Mike Pierce. “Gala has a great name, culture, and business model. We are treating this as an acquisition, not a merger.” 

The acquisition of Gala & Associatescompliments The Austin Company’s strategy to expand its design and engineering share of the automotive and heavy industrial facilities market. Austin expands Gala’s capacity by providing additional structure and support through its network of offices, including its parent company Kajima USA.

“With over 35 years of service and the creation of many treasured relationships throughout the industry, our reputation for design and engineering for the automotive industry is unparalleled. We take pride in our hands-on approach to every project and look forward to continuing to serve our clients while incorporating the resources Austin and Kajima provide to expand our market base and build new relationships,” said Chuni Gala, Gala and Associates President.

Austin was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1878. Its headquarters remain in Cleveland, with offices in Atlanta, Georgia; Irvine, California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; and London, England. To learn more, visit The Austin Company – https://theaustin.com, Gala & Associates Inc. https://galaandassociates.com/, and Kajima https://kajimausa.com/.

Austin Celebrates its 14th Year at IPPE

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Jan. 25-27, 2022

The International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) is a collaboration of three shows, the International Feed Expo, the International Meat Expo, and the International Poultry Expo. The event showcases the latest technology, equipment, supplies, and services used in producing and processing eggs, meat and poultry, and those involved in animal food manufacturing. The event is sponsored by the American Feed Industry Association, North American Meat Institute, and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.  

IPPE is held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), located at 285 Andrew Young International Blvd NW.   

This year’s event will feature more than1,000 exhibitors providing a large variety of educational and interactive exhibits. Attendees include representatives from all over the world, including operation and plant managers, purchasing agents, engineers, and researchers from the world’s top feed, meat processing, packing, and poultry companies.  

IPPE provides Austin with the opportunity to share our depth of knowledge and assist industry leaders in meeting their facility needs. Whether looking to build on a green site, add on to an existing facility, streamline or automate production, we are on-hand to answer your questions.  

Austin will host two social events at the show. Wednesday, January 26th, from 9 AM to 10:30 AM, join us for a cup of coffee and networking, and then from 2 PM to 5 PM, grab a beer at our social hour. Both events are held in Austin’s booth, #C11662.  

Attending this year’s event from The Austin Company are Ed Wright, Sean Barr, Matt Shank, Brandon Talbert, and Tamara Zupancic.  

Can’t make the show? We welcome the opportunity to come to you. Contact Us.   

Check out these articles by two of Austin’s Subject Matter Experts, Sean Barr and Ed Wright. It’s Never too Early to Prepare for Growth and Shortages Drive the Need for Innovative Solutions and Trusted Partners 

Six Pitfalls to Avoid When Considering a Manufacturing Plant Site

Six Pitfalls to avoide when plant site

There is much at stake when considering where to locate a manufacturing facility. The choice of a location locks in years, if not decades, of production capacity. At best, the selected location enables start-up time savings, one-time and ongoing cost savings, and long-term operational advantages relative to other location possibilities. At worst, a location can bring hidden costs, delays, and operational headaches that erode success. Hiring a qualified advisor is a good first step towards making the right location choice and avoiding an inexperienced team’s mistakes. The following is a brief list of some of those missteps, or pitfalls, commonly made by companies as they approach location decisions.

(1) Unnecessary Search Area Constraints. Location searches often begin with the simple question of “Where should we look?” Not having a systematic or defensible process to pick the initial search area can sub-optimize the location selection process from the start. An example of a sub-optimal search area choice includes looking only at trending locations.  While there may be a good reason to consider these locations, one downside could be increased start-up risk due to workforce competition from other companies choosing to locate in the area.  Another example of a sub-optimal search area choice includes defaulting to competitor locations, which assumes the competitor’s location choice at the time they made it would still be a good decision today. Instead, consider a broader and more comprehensive evaluation of a larger area. Generally, it won’t take much more time, and it can and has allowed for the discovery of better-suited locations. A skilled location advisor will be able to design a process that balances time constraints and search area choices appropriately.

(2) Poor Interpretation, or Lack, of Data. With the abundance of readily available location-related data in the U.S., companies might feel confident in self-performing location evaluations. However, if done by an unqualified analyst, that approach can lead to focusing on certain factors at the expense of more relevant ones. An experienced location consultant knows the strengths and limitations of the various available datasets and when and how to incorporate them into the analysis. For example, companies will often emphasize specific statistics such as unemployment when beginning to qualify a local workforce. A qualified analyst would consider unemployment as well, but only as one of the dozens of equally, if not more important, statistics. Consider a situation where one location has a high unemployment rate, and another has a low unemployment rate. It might stand to reason that the high unemployment location might be more attractive because more people are looking for work. However, by that single statistic, nothing is known about the skills of those who are unemployed. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on characterizing the skills present in the employed workforce as a measure of overall community fit with the proposed operation. A qualified location advisor can help companies sift through the data to place the right weight on the appropriate statistics.

(3) Over-Reliance on the Past. An often-used Wayne Gretzky quote is: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” An example of skating to where the puck has been is relying only on data analytics. While examining datasets is an integral part of the site selection process, data on its own cannot account for the whole story. Experienced location consultants will also place a high value on primary or real-time data gathering activities such as community visits and employer interviews to help understand where the puck is going. These activities can uncover information that positions two otherwise comparable communities very differently. For example, we recently interviewed employers in one location that painted a picture of a more difficult hiring environment than what the data appeared to indicate. This was partly due to multiple new entrants to the labor market that the data didn’t capture. On the other hand, employers in a similar, competing location generally expressed more favorable experiences. Investments in training and workforce development partly drove this. A qualified location advisor will integrate field observations with data analysis to produce a balanced evaluation.

(4) Misguided Incentives Focus. Incentives can sometimes make or break a location decision among a shortlist of candidate sites. However, incentives generally should not be considered a primary decision factor too early in the location decision process. At all times, incentives must be framed in the appropriate context. Companies are often surprised to learn that the answer to “Where can we get the most incentives?” is often different than “Where is the lowest cost location?” Incentive assessments generally add more value after a shortlist of locations has been identified.  They are especially important after specific properties along with their structural shortcomings have been vetted. To that effect, a successful strategy for some communities can be to position their sites with incentives that address the structural weaknesses of the site early in the process.  A qualified location advisor can help place the true value of incentives in the appropriate context at the relevant points in time.

(5) Minimizing the Importance of Site and Infrastructure Development. Perhaps no greater hidden risk exists in site selection for manufacturing facilities than the development viability of the land and its attendant utility infrastructure. Without a thorough vetting of the development challenges associated with each site, companies may find themselves unable to meet their timeline and cost objectives at best or with an unviable location decision at worst. In one instance where two similar properties were being considered, a construction and development assessment revealed millions of additional dollars and months of extra time for site development in one location, but not at the competing location. Selecting a property quickly and without understanding the requirements of developing the property and corresponding utilities infrastructure can result in significant loss of time and hidden costs that far outweigh the investment in a thorough qualification exercise. A qualified location advisor will thoroughly address the site and infrastructure development process and risks.

(6) Lack of Timeline and Process Flexibility. Companies often face pressure to quickly make a location decision without knowing how long the evaluation process should take.  While each company’s situation is different, a general rule-of-thumb is that it takes at least six months from the time a greenfield location project begins to when the property and incentives have been secured. This timeline can be shortened based on various factors and tradeoffs specific to each situation. In all cases, optimal project planning allows for flexibility and discovery throughout the process. For example, during a recent project, one community proposed a unique utilities infrastructure development solution that saved the company millions of dollars but at the cost of several additional weeks of time for evaluation and approvals. Some companies might need to forego these savings due to timeline pressure. Nevertheless, the companies that approach the site location process with timeline and process flexibility—and in a collaborative, iterative fashion—are the companies that experience optimal results. A qualified location advisor can help companies navigate the discovery process within timeline constraints.

In summary, manufacturing location choices are often more complicated and time-consuming than they initially appear and are fraught with pitfalls. Having the expertise to avoid these missteps leads to success and can pay dividends operationally for years to come.

The Austin Company Welcomes The Austin Company of UK Back into the Fold

announcement

The Austin Company welcomes The Austin Company of UK back into its organization.

The Austin Company (US) founded The Austin Company (UK) in the 1920s as The Austin Company was developing into an international company. Operations were suspended due to WWII and then resumed in 1948. During the 70s and 80s, Austin UK established a strong reputation and loyal customer base within the manufacturing, life science, biosciences, food, and beverage markets. These sectors became their primary source of business and remain so today. In 2006, The Austin Company sold the UK business to local managers.

“Rejoining The Austin Company (US) is fantastic for our business. It enhances our resources and enriches relationships. Together, we will advance professionally while keeping our identity and culture unique. Partnering with Austin US is strengthening the brand, bringing exciting new opportunities, challenges, and expanding our area of service,” said Prakash Davda, Managing Director of The Austin Company of the UK.

The UK team leadership team includes Adrian Ward – Construction Director, Allan Huke – Commercial Director, Barrie Pond – Financial Controller, George Lowney – Projects Director, Karl Butler – Director of Engineering, Pankaj Raithatha – Deputy Director of Engineering, and Michael Blake – Director of Design.

Mike Pierce, the President and CEO of The Austin Company (US), said, “This is an exciting and historic time for The Austin Company as we reunite to expand our services within the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industry.”

The Austin Company is a member of the Kajima Corporation. To learn more about The Austin UK – http://austin.co.uk/, and Kajima https://kajimausa.com/.

NEW ROLES FOR THREE OF AUSTIN’S IRVINE DESIGN PROFESSIONALS

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IRVINE, CA – The Austin Company’s Irvine California office announces new roles for three seasoned professionals.

Greg Hong transitions to Senior Design Project Manager. Hong has been with Austin as Chief Architect since April 2020 providing oversight to the architectural efforts on projects for our key clients. “Greg’s architectural design and management experience will be a great asset to our current and future projects,” said Jay Fischer, P.E., Manager of Engineering and Design.

Eric Marx has been promoted to Director of Design and will also assume the interim role of Chief Architect. Marx has been with Austin since July 2006 and has held several positions as Architect, Chief Architect, and most recently Associate Director of Design. “Eric brings a high level of planning, programming, and architectural design expertise to the team. His leadership skills will serve him and our clients well in this new role,” said Fischer.

Nirav Mehta assumes the newly created role of Manager of Design Project Managers to oversee processes, procedures, budgets, and assignments. Mehta has been with Austin since August 2008, holding positions as a Structural Engineer and Design Project Manager. “Nirav has proven himself to be skilled in process, planning, and training, making him the ideal candidate for this new role. We are confident that Nirav’s innovative spirit will continue to benefit our team and clients,” predicted Fischer.

The Austin Company is a great place to grow your career. Check out our job openings here https://theaustin.com/careers/

Automation Considerations for the Baking & Snack Industry

robotic arm placing bakery item onto conveyor belt

Automation has made steady progress into many phases of industrial baking, from ingredient handling to packaging to palletizing and warehouse operations. Advances in robotics and digital technology make automation a viable solution for many baking and snack producers, and the ROI can be attractive.

ARE YOU READY?

It is essential to evaluate if your organization is prepared to transition into automation. This step requires a certain level of technical sophistication from both maintenance and operations organizations. Because it can be challenging to transition from manual operations to a highly automated facility It is essential to evaluate your organization’s preparedness.

BABY STEPS

A good place to start the automation journey is in the packaging area.  It is not uncommon for smaller bakers to manually pack finished products into corrugated cases, plastic trays, or baskets. Depending on the line speed, this often involves two to three people. Automation can often reduce the number of people performing these tasks while providing a safer working environment.

For the most part, large bakers were able to begin the automation journey many years ago and are now comfortable with the technology. They also have been able to hire or develop the talent to maintain these systems. However, while large bakers may be more comfortable with automation and robotic technology, no one is fully automated yet.  The vision of a “lights out bakery” is still years away.

TALENT

Transitioning to automation requires hiring and developing solid technical talent. Bakeries must have the ability to operate, clean, and maintain these automated systems. This includes staff who know how to work with programmable controls, computers, and robotic systems and diagnose mechanical problems. It is vital to building an in-house technical team that can speed up today’s ever-changing technology.

FOOTPRINT

On average, automation in the packaging area requires 10 – 15% more space than a manual operation, depending on the application. For example, if you are loading finished products into trays or boxes, the products coming down the conveyor may require three or four people to pick and place the product into the tray or box. This takes a relatively small footprint. However, if you are going to automate this process, you need to lane, align, and feed it into a robotic cell. This requires more space. Some bakeries do not have the footprint to fully automate areas like packaging but can still benefit from other upgrades in technology. For example, bread or roll basket loading can often fit into an existing footprint.

ENERGY

Most automated systems require compressed air and electrical power. While some facilities may experience a slight uptick in energy costs, the cost savings due to reduced labor safety off-sets this occurrence.  Typically, people doing these manual tasks are subjected to repetitive motion, bending, twisting, lifting, and reaching. These constant movements strain workers’ bodies, often leading to injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons.  Automation eliminates these factors and provides a safer work environment for employees.

LABOR REDUCTION

One of the most compelling reasons for implementing automation is the challenge of labor force. For most bakeries, labor costs represent the most significant expense and hardest cost to manage or reduce. Even highly skilled operators can’t match the repeatable accuracy of automation. Some automated systems can also perform multiple operations, eliminating the time required to move materials from one work center to another. 

Today’s labor market is probably one of the most challenging markets bakers have seen in many years.  Hiring and retaining employees has been a significant challenge for most bakers.  Many bakeries are moving to automation due to the inability to retain employees for highly repetitive positions.

PAY-BACK

The return on investment for automation depends on several factors, including each bakery’s financial guidelines for capital investment payback. However, a rule of thumb would be two to three year payback. When calculating your savings from automation, you need to include direct labor savings, improved uptime, quicker changeovers, and reduced workers’ comp costs. 

There is a significant up-front investment required in automation. Ideally, to prepare for a clean installation and startup at the bakery, technical staff should be hired in advance.  This allows them to be a part of the steep learning curve that comes with this new technology. Key maintenance and operations representatives should attend FATs (factory acceptance tests) and participate in installing the equipment.

MAINTAINING TIGHT SPECIFICATIONS

One of the biggest eye-openers when automating is the need to maintain tight specifications on your product. Most products can vary in size throughout the day. Typically, when manually placing the product into a basket, bag, or box, you can squeeze it and get it in there. With automation, there is usually not a lot of room for adjustment. This places pressure on the operators at the front end of the process to ensure the finished product is within specifications.

KEEPING UP WITH THE MARKET

Wherever you are considering automation, it is valuable to keep up to speed with current technology, what other bakers are doing, and the next best steps for your unique product and facility. When considering equipment suppliers, be sure to enter partnerships with companies that can support you through the training and maintenance journey. Make sure you understand all the needs and be able to communicate them clearly to vendors. Clear expectations should be established during the negotiating process.  It is crucial that everyone understands these expectations for line efficiency, throughouts, and changeovers.   

The best-in-class approach is to hire technical folks early in the project to work closely with vendors and benefit from first-hand equipment training. In addition, technical staff can benefit from being a part of the acquisition and installation process.

PHASED APPROACH

A phased approach to automation is usually the best course of action. There is considerable risk associated with drastic changes to operations. Phasing allows you to spread the risk out over time. We recommend a two- or three-phase investment. This prevents staff from being overtaxed while gaining experience with the technology. As comfort levels increase with the additional automation, you can move to the next phase, building on all that has been learned.

Any approach should consider the impact the change will have on your ability to get the product to the market. For example, maintaining product specs, equipment, and training can take time to get right, slowing down production.

While phasing plans vary, typically phases are implemented about a year apart. Timing considerations include any challenges encountered with the first phase, staffing requirements, and equipment lead times.

CRITICAL QUESTIONS

  • What products is your bakery running?
  • What are the speeds you are running?
  • How many changeovers do you have each day?
  • What are the specifications of the product?
  • What is the bakery’s available footprint?
  • Are you comfortable with robotics?
  • Should a non-robotic solution for automation be considered?

The early stages of automation planning often lead to more questions than answers. But, partnering with experienced bakery designers, engineers, constructors, and vendors, means you won’t be going it alone. Meeting the challenges of today’s food and snack industry requires out-of-the-box thinking. However, with a well-thought-out, phased approach, the automation game can be won.  

Aerospace and Defense Industry Cleanrooms

aerospace industry clean room

Early-Stage Considerations in Cleanroom Design 

Aerospace and Defense industry cleanrooms are crucial to support the development of advanced aircraft and spacecraft. Manufacturing and assembling the exacting components require environments that eliminate contamination and comply with customer requirements for strictly controlled environmental conditions.  

Below are some of the key design decisions that must be considered.  

Cleanroom classification. A vital first step is to understand what classification level is required. For aerospace and defense, the standard for cleanroom classifications is ISO 14644-1. Cleanroom classifications are often referred to by the outdated standard, Federal 209E. The stricter the classification, the higher the air change rate (or the number of times the air is removed, filtered, and then returned into the space). Many times, a cleanroom is designed to a stricter ISO classification than presently needed. With an eye to the future, more stringent requirements to operate a cleanroom at a lower classification is simple; retroactively upgrading it to a higher standard is challenging and expensive. Understanding how a program may evolve helps engineers design in the flexibility necessary to change course. 

Cleanroom
Standard
Cleanroom
Classification Guidelines
ISO 14644-1Class 3Class 4Class 5Class 6Class 7Class 8
Federal Standard 209E1101001,00010,000100,000

Function of the space. There are times when the classified nature of what the space will be used for means our engineers must rely on the client to provide a general concept of the manufacturing processes to be performed within the space. This general concept provides us the necessary information to understand the operating conditions more closely and if there are areas within the cleanroom that require stricter cleanliness than others. This includes vertical zones in high bay cleanrooms. 

Upgrading. Some clients need to improve a room’s requirements as a program evolves. To determine potential upgrades, we discuss how they are going to operate within a higher classification room. Sometimes we are helping clients identify vital clarifications, and other times we are assisting them in making decisions.  

Environmental considerations. The next discussion to occur is about indoor environmental conditions. This encompasses temperature and humidity specifications. The program and employee needs help our engineers make recommendations and critical design decisions.  

A thorough understanding of environmental considerations allows our team to design the cleanroom to meet the program’s set points and tolerances. Furthermore, it provides us with clear parameters to achieve the ideal indoor conditions for temperature and relative humidity. Frequently, the potential for electrostatic discharge also factors into the relative humidity specifications. 

If the program has not defined specific requirements, we will typically design ranges to make the employee comfortable. This discovery process includes discussing how employees gown-up since that factors into personal comfort and often means lower temperature setpoints.  

Weather consideration. It is very important to know and understand outdoor weather conditions that are not represented in standard published weather data for the larger geographic area. While the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) weather data tells us certain things, we need to consider many factors for our aerospace and defense clients that do not show up in this data. For example, some facilities are in high and low desert areas. In these locations, we need to take into consideration the unique weather created by localized wind patterns and events—including wide swings in humidity—often within a few-hour period. This geographical phenomenon also causes strong, arid downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal areas of Southern California and northern Baja California. On occasion, and often enough to be a design concern, these conditions cause single-digit (extremely dry) relative humidity along the coast. As the temperature rises and the humidity drops the risk of wildfires increases, resulting in additional outside or make-up air filtration concerns. These are all factors that need to go into the design discussion. 

This type of geographical area also experiences monsoonal weather that does not show up in average weather data. These storms dump an extreme amount of moisture in a short time span, usually during warm to hot temperatures, causing excessive humidity. Some manufacturing operations can handle the extra humidity, while others must go to greater lengths to wring out excess moisture during these high humidity events. This capability is something we design and engineer into cleanrooms.  

Tolerances and cost. Knowing absolute outside-range tolerances is essential because tighter tolerances can impact cost. The stricter the environmental and control requirements, the more capacity and capability to be designed into the system.  

Pressurization. Another vital consideration in design is pressurization. Pressurization is ventilation technology that controls the migration of air. Cleanrooms require bringing outside air into the space to push air outward and ensuring that particulate does not come in through cracks, gaps, or leaks, and periodically open doors. This requires a comprehensive understanding of code requirements for ventilation and construction details of the building assemblies that contain the cleanroom.  

Exhaust requirements. Understanding exhaust requirements allows designers and engineers to right-size HVAC systems. Knowing if the room will require a fume hood or slot hood exhaust that will necessitate makeup air is critical.  

Security: Many aerospace and defense clients have security requirements that must be incorporated into the HVAC design. These requirements vary from client to client and program to program. Security includes physical, acoustic, and visible (line-of-sight) factors. Security devices that may be incorporated include security bars, non-conductive breaks, white or pink noise, grounding, double bends (Z-ducts), and acoustic liners. 

Airflow methodologies: The type of HVAC system to provide is not simply about providing a chilled water system or a refrigerant-based cooling system. It is about the methodology of how the air is being exchanged within the cleanroom. It is about how the air is being delivered, circulated, and taken out of the space.  

We are working with a client right now that has all three of these approaches in one facility.  

  • Fully-ducted is where the air is supplied to the space through air handling unit(s) (AHUs) that are ducted all the way to the HEPA filters mounted in the ceiling. The return air is then ducted from the return-air wall plenums back to the AHUs. This is considered a traditional system and requires more ductwork than other methodologies.  
  • Negative pressurized plenum system is where fan-filter units (FFUs) do the circulation within the space. The fan filter units return the air through low-wall intakes to a HEPA—or ULPA— filter and recirculate the air to the space. A small AHU provides conditioning of the air (temperature and humidity and maintains positive pressure for the space. There is a significant advantage to this system in terms of initial cost savings as it requires less ductwork as well as smaller or fewer AHUs. A considerable advantage is that the plenum above the ceiling is negatively pressurized and draws air from the cleanroom into the ceiling space. In the event of a leak this prevents unfiltered air from entering the cleanroom space. 
  • Positive pressurized plenum system is considered in-between a fully ducted and negative pressure plenum system. This method uses the same AHU equipment to do the major recirculation as a fully-ducted approach. The difference is that air is supplied into the ceiling plenum space and pushed through the HEPA filters into the space by power from the AHU instead of being directly ducted to the HEPA filters. In terms of cost, this method falls between a fully-ducted system and a negative pressure plenum system since it still has large AHUs while having less ductwork. 

Each approach has its pros and cons. It is valuable for designers and engineers to talk through these design elements with the client team before finalizing the design.  

The most conservative system is the fully-ducted system. Here’s why:  

  • The supply air is directly connected from the AHU(s) to the HEPA filters, preventing the possibility of particulate from entering the air stream and being transported into the clean space.
  • The return is directly connected from the wall plenum or duct risers to the AHU(s), where the air is filtered before entering the supply airstream. 
  • This method is the original design for cleanroom HVAC systems and has a proven track record that spans many decades.  

There is no way for something foreign to enter the system other than through a very controlled location (e.g., where you pull the outside air in, doors, and people). However, it is the highest initial cost system. Some programs require a fully-ducted system given its long-proven performance and greatest assurance of airflow control.  

Retrofitting a fully-ducted system to achieve a higher cleanroom classification can be difficult and quite expensive and disruptive to system operations. Negative pressurized plenums have one big appeal in that they offer significantly more flexibility for classification upgrades in the future because most of the infrastructure is in place. The classification can be simply increased by adding additional fan-filter units in the ceiling to provide the higher air change rates required. The AHUs providing the conditioning will require evaluation to determine if they have the capacity for the additional cooling required for the new motor heat in the added FFUs. There will be some disruption, but this is minimized. A positive pressure system is adaptive but less so because they utilize large AHUs for circulation that will require additional space and clearance. The decision often comes down to a client’s comfort with the systems. 

Confidentiality and design. It is important for designers and engineers to understand what clients are doing in the space and what kind of environment is needed. Due to the confidential nature of clients working in the aerospace and defense industry, this can be a challenge. It is essential for designers and engineers to be good communicators, glean what can be shared, and work with client teams to help them make the best decisions possible.  

The preliminary stages of designing a cleanroom require careful consideration. Understanding how the space will be utilized now and in the future is critical for making informed design decisions. Working with an experienced engineering team helps to navigate the complexities of cleanroom classifications and airflow methodologies in order to make smart choices in managing environmental conditions, pressurization, exhaust, and security.  

Safety and Quality: The Foundation of a Successful Design-Build Project

safety inspection with iPad

Safety and quality share many of the same aspects and are often intertwined. A sign of a well-managed jobsite is the team’s commitment to safety, quality, and productivity. When a team focuses on even the smallest of details, crews feel supported and encouraged to do quality work.

Let’s take a deeper dive into successful safety and quality planning.

Company Culture. Employers need to foster a company culture that values safety and quality. Then, when team members lead by example, everyone knows that a company isn’t just giving lip service to these values. Leading by example is an authentic expression of the company’s commitment to safety.

Inspection Process. Quality requires meeting the expectations of the owner, designer, and engineering requirements. Implementing a quality control program with detailed procedures reduces errors and omissions. Defects in design, engineering, construction, and products can be managed by following a good quality control plan.

Safety and quality control both require the ability to verify and scrutinize the built environment. For safety, it starts with making sure everybody has the correct personal protective equipment for each task. This includes a hard hat, safety vest, and glasses.

An example of quality during the inspection process would be validating that the crew has the latest design documents and correct material. It also means inspecting work to ensure that installation was completed per manufacturer recommendations.

Checklists. Building inspection checklists can be one of the most effective ways to ensure safety and quality protocols are followed. Lists can serve as a starting point that can be modified or expanded to account for new phases of work. When implemented effectively, checklists ensure that the necessary safety precautions are considered and that work is done according to the design documents.

Training. Safety and quality control require significant training and reinforcement. Many common construction hazards and quality mishaps can be controlled or avoided with training. When workers are trained in safe practices and proper installation of materials and equipment, the job site functions in a more efficient manner. These competencies reduce overall construction costs by diminishing insured losses, citations, and delays.

Regardless of delays or looming deadlines, safety and quality training should never be viewed as an unnecessary expense. It is critical that all employees, even seasoned veterans, attend safety meetings and acquire additional training regularly.

Right Tool for the Job. For safety and quality purposes, teams must always have the right tools or equipment to get the job done. Necessity may be the mother of innovation, but it can have catastrophic consequences. For example, if a crew member is sent out to do a job with a 10-foot ladder, but requires a boom lift. Rather than getting the lift, the worker decides to stack pallets to accommodate the height difference, leading to a dangerous fall situation.

Cutting corners can also have a significant impact on quality. Therefore, confirming that the right tools and materials are used is an important part of the quality control process.

Planning. Ensuring you have the right tools, materials, and trades, requires planning. Shortcuts coupled with the pressure to meet budget and schedule demands can spell disaster. Project teams must be proactive in assessing and addressing the needs of the crew.

Adhering to Requirements. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a starting point for safety guidelines. There are many examples of site-specific conditions that require more stringent protocols. OSHA guidelines should be considered a minimum standard. Failure to comply with OSHA rules can shut down a site and result in fines starting at $14,200 per violation.

Tools, materials, and equipment have manufacturer guidelines. Understanding and adhering to these instructions produce a higher quality project. It is equaly important to hire a knowledgeable team and evaluate their work.

It is also critically important to work with a team that understands building code. Building to the latest design drawings and specs creates a smoother transition to an occupancy license.

Budget and Schedule. Safety and quality issues have the potential to significantly impact the budget and schedule. Preventative measures help design-build companies like Austin circumvent costly errors, omissions, safety shut-downs, and failed inspections. Daily huddles and weekly safety meetings allow teams to iron out safety and quality issues in real-time before they hinder the budget or schedule.

The Cost of not Getting it Right. Faulty safety operations lead to lost time, injuries, and eroded morale. It’s better to invest in preventative measures than to manage an emergency. Many companies think they must choose between expediency and quality. However, sacrificing quality can drive up costs and destroy a schedule. In the long term, poor quality control impacts project costs resulting in rework costs. A good quality program during construction extends a facility’s lifespan.

Details matter when protecting workers from injury and building a quality facility. Creating a company culture that values and prioritizes safety and quality is the first step. Inspection checklists provide a proven process that can be replicated. Training reinforces the importance of planning, using the right tools for the job, and following requirements. When organized and executed by experienced project leadership, safety and quality can work together to meet client standards and make sure everyone goes home safe.

Superflat Floors: Design and Construction Considerations for Industrial Settings

Concrete flat floor

In this age of advanced machinery, robotics, and complex logistics systems, superflat floors are critically important to operations. Superflat floors can:  

  • Determine the kind of racks and logistics systems to be utilized in the operation.  
  • Impact the amount of maintenance needed on equipment.  
  • Be used for advanced robotics and rapid picking systems.  
  • Impact how fast fork trucks, robotics, and other equipment can move around the facility.  
  • Minimize risk of rack impacts and handling errors.  
  • Improve the safety of the operations.  

Installing superflat floors allows for taller storage systems and, potentially, tighter aisles, faster operations, less maintenance costs, and, oftentimes, a safer operating setting. All are desirable benefits for industrial plant and facility owners.   

Pouring Concrete

Considerations

  • Understand equipment manufacturer’s floor flatness and levelness requirements related to performance. It is critical to understand the exact requirements and reasons for the guidelines versus making assumptions like using past reference points. 
  • Coordinate the structural engineer or floor designer and the geotechnical engineer to agree upon soil loading and settlement requirements. This is critical for determining which soil improvement system will be recommended. 
  • Base design details for the floors, including thickness, reinforcing, joint spacing, and layout on the superimposed loading criteria and geotechnical recommendations. Superflat floors must meet the demands of heavy wheel traffic, often in specific lanes in narrow aisles.  The concrete floor surface must be hard, wear-resistant, and not create concrete dust.  Careful specification of the concrete materials, proper finishing techniques, and surface treatments such as liquid hardeners are proven methods of ensuring wear-resistant slabs.  
  • Coordinate and partner field operations and engineering team for size and layout of planned concrete floor placements.  
  • Conduct an in-depth preconstruction conference involving the structural engineer, concrete supplier, concrete finisher crew, concrete testing lab, and geotechnical engineer. 
  • Utilize specialized construction equipment, including laser screed machines and adjustable side forms set with laser levels.   
  • Place superflat floors under a roof to control sun and wind. Both can cause the uneven setting of the concrete, which will result in flatness issues.   
  • Provide proper lighting during finishing operations for the concrete workers.   
  • Hire adequate numbers of experienced workers to place and finish the slab uniformly. Uniform timing promotes even curing and flat floors. 
  • During installation, ensure joint saw-cutting, curing, and testing is per concrete specifications. 
  • Have engineers review reports such as concrete compressive test reports, flatness reports, and levelness reports. Don’t just review them in the field or receive and file them without review. 
  • Understand current industry standards which define the measurement of a floor flatness within 48 hours of placement.  However, concrete shrinkage and curling continue for several months after placement and can cause changes to the floor slab reducing the slab flatness. 
  • Control cracking. Concrete slabs, including superflat slabs, are subject to cracks.  Crack control of super flat slabs begins with an awareness of the considerations listed above. This includes proper concrete mix, proper joint spacing, careful detailing to avoid restraint of slab components, finishing equipment, finishing procedures, and curing.  Additional techniques used to control cracking in superflat slabs include post-tensioning, shrinkage compensating concrete and admixtures, over-reinforced slabs, and distributed synthetic reinforcement.   

Did You Know?  

Austin has been designing and constructing floor systems to tight flatness and levelness specifications since the 1950s. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that industrial and warehouse owners started increasing the density of their storage configurations to minimize investments in land and facilities to optimize operations.  

In 1987, Barry Rogers, PE, Senior Project Manager and Project Executive with Austin’s Research and
Development department, patented one of the first formal measuring devices for floor flatness allowing for a scientific method of testing and laser measuring these special floor systems.  

In 2017, and our partners set the world record for floor flatness and levelness design and construction.  

Austin Thought Leaders Slated to Present at the 6th Annual Advancing Preconstruction Conference

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Three of our preconstruction thought leaders are presenting at the 6th Annual Advancing Preconstruction Conference this summer! Amy Hewis (Preconstruction Coordinator), Chris Jackson (Director of Preconstruction Services – Eastern Operations), and Andrew Hoffmeyer (Associate Preconstruction Manager) share their insights at the event, taking place in Dallas, Texas, from August 30 through September 1.

This year’s conference, entitled “Win More Work, Kickstart Project Success,” explores the latest technologies and workflows across five educational tracks: estimating, design coordination, cost escalation, subcontractor management, and department management.

Chris Jackson and Andrew Hoffmeyer lead a conversation about remote work entitled “How to Maintain Engagement & Productivity of a Preconstruction Team Working a Mixture of in the Office & at Home.” The presentation explores the impact of remote working on introverted and extroverted team members.

Amy Hewis reveals what makes you a general contractor of choice in her talk, “Developing Strong Relationships with Subcontractors to Ensure You Have Enough Bids to Compile an Estimate.” The presentation will also cover how to improve the communication of job specifications and explore the benefits of platforms and tools to advertise jobs and network well.

New highlights and additions for the 2021 conference

  • Post-pandemic outlooks with a focus on cost escalation for major markets and bidding strategies
  • Deep dives into estimating for specific CSI divisions, including earthwork, steel, mechanical and electrical
  • Benchmarking ways to conduct design reviews and maintain quality of coordination, including with remote working
  • How direct material procurement, prefabrication, IPD, and other trends could radically alter preconstruction and reduce costs

To purchase tickets, visit https://advancing-preconstruction.com/. Be sure to use the discount code “Austin10” when registering.