How a Contractor Builds a Biotech Facility from the Ground Up
With so many companies racing to expand their facilities, it’s more important than ever to get your construction done on budget and on time. That’s why you need a trustworthy, proven electrical contractor to get the intricate electrical infrastructure right.
As laboratories create new, much-needed treatments, companies are facing an increasing need for new manufacturing space. W. Bradley Electric Inc. provides professional electrical construction services to Pharmaceutical companies that want to build or expand in the Bay Area.
It takes precise conditions and a massive amount of machinery to manufacture these complex and delicate drugs. An aspirin molecule, for example, contains 21 atoms, but a biopharma molecule may have up to 25,000 atoms. That’s why the requirements in a biotech plant can be very different from those in a standard factory.
For example, some biotech processes require a negative air room in which the air pressure is kept lower than the pressure in the rest of the plant. The challenge for the WBE electrical team lies in keeping the heavier positive air pressure from pushing into the room through the tiniest of openings. They seal electrical boxes with paste and put putty in all the pipes to keep the room free of any contamination.
Other complicated equipment includes the enormous bioreactor containers — homes for the cells that support and grow the recombinant proteins needed for each medication. Then there are appliances for freezing, thawing, separating, combining and duplicating the cells and their delicate protein.
Each piece of apparatus and every process adds to the complexity and cost of producing biopharmaceuticals. But when you’re creating life-saving medications for people in the US and throughout the world, it’s worth all the complication and effort.
The Need for Speed in Design and Construction
As you can imagine, biopharmaceutical plants are multi-million dollar facilities, and the construction process provides plenty of challenges for all concerned.
That’s why WBE electricians play a vital role in getting large-scale pharmaceutical factories finished on time and on budget.
In a competitive market, companies want their facilities ready yesterday. Failing that, they set tight 16 – 18 month deadlines. That may seem like a long time, but when you consider that some equipment has to be ordered 16 months in advance, there’s not much margin for error, and decisions need to happen fast.
What’s more, many scientists and technicians have a stake in the manufacturing equipment. That means adjoining machines are often managed by people with different wants, needs and priorities.
Then, because of the need for speed, electricians often don’t have the luxury of studying actual drawings and plans. Instead, they’re taking in all that information and working with everyone in real-time. Design changes are an inevitable byproduct of that hyper-speed. Sometimes so many changes occur that planners and electricians effectively start over halfway through. Nevertheless, the schedule must remain on track so that other contractors can also finish on time and on budget.
Bradley Electric thrives on such challenges. The company’s ethos is built around relationship building, teamwork, and viewing problems as opportunities.
Joel Backman, a Senior Project Manager at WBE describes the intricate process involved in getting a factory up and running.
1. Design assist
When a client reaches out to WBE, they often know the square footage and the BOD (Basis of Design), and that’s about it.
Backman says, “It’s perfect when they reach out that early because we can help develop it.”
The WBE estimating team works with the owners and their general contractor to design the facility and calculate the costs for each stage, based on everyone’s different needs and wants.
As you can imagine, there might be several designs and cost estimates done before a plan gets the green light. With every different section head giving priority to their needs, it’s Joel Backman and his team of project managers’ job to connect all the dots.
One concern is knowing what equipment will be in the different spaces. Every piece needs electricity to work, but the infrastructure involved looks very different depending on the machine chosen.
Backman uses a kitchen analogy to explain how it all works.
“When you’re building a new restaurant kitchen different refrigerators have different electrical requirements. We have to help you figure out what refrigerator you’re going to buy so I can get the infrastructure in the design for the electrical requirements at that location in that room.”
Multiply each of those decisions by hundreds. Now you get some idea of the scale of this part of the project. Imagine the impact, then, when halfway through the design, someone wants to change their mind.
“One of my jobs is to let them know of the impact of their decisions and the cost impacts, ” says Backman. “Sometimes they go ahead, sometimes not, but if I’m not there in real time then decisions get made without people knowing the cost impact.”
2. Construction begins
From the factory floor to the offices, the parking garage and even the janitor’s closet, every part of a modern building needs electricity. So as soon as the Issue for Construction Drawings are done, WBE teams begin on the electrical infrastructure.
Now the priority is making sure that the people on the ground have the information and equipment they need to keep going.
The WBE Electrical team has to install the infrastructure that matches each piece of equipment’s requirements. Challenges arise when 10-15% of the equipment is not the machinery they were expecting. That’s because somewhere in the process, someone has changed the order without telling anyone else.
But Backman explains that WBE teams don’t get aggravated about those unexpected twists.
“Where some companies would throw up their hands and want to make sure that they get paid top dollar for the change, we see it as an opportunity to take care of it and continue to build our good relationship with the client.”
3. WBE divisions connect equipment and infrastructure
Throughout the building there’ll be apparatus that needs separate infrastructure. For example, equipment that comes from overseas and needs special connections to understand American voltage.
WBE often has many responsibilities within the build. As well as the Electrical team, the Telcom, AV and Security divisions also have teams on the ground. Most pieces of equipment come with onboard control panels that in turn provide signals that the telcom team interconnects with building IDF.
There’s a massive list of electrical requirements to get right:
- Backup generators
- Security cameras
- Conveyor belts
- Office equipment
The list goes into the thousands, and everything needs wiring, connections and switches to work. It’s WBE’s job to ensure that everything is ready on time and on budget.
4. Testing and TOP (Turn Over Package)
A small army of quality controllers keeps the documentation as each piece of equipment and infrastructure goes in and is hooked up.
They test everything (often multiple times) to ensure that it works as it should.
According to Backman, “It’s almost a full time job keeping the information flowing and testing documentation happening throughout the project.”
As we’ve seen, many changes happen during the build. Inevitably the finished infrastructure doesn’t match the original design drawings.
The engineers put a red line on the drawing showing the difference between plan and reality to keep track of what’s changed.
When everything’s checked off, the engineer of record draws a new, updated set of drawings that match what’s actually in the building. WBE hands them over to the owner, along with operation and maintenance manuals for all of the equipment they provided.
The WBE Difference
WBE teams specialize in excellence. From wiring to working with multiple contractors, WBE teams do the job with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss.