BIM, Simulation and Quality Control Capabilities Are Competitive Advantages in Today’s Manufacturing Construction Market

These days, rigorous safety protocols, fair pricing and tight scheduling aren’t the only hallmarks of the manufacturing construction segment. Technological capabilities and quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) expertise are gaining importance with plant owners—giving a competitive edge to contractors with the right mix of skilled employees to execute these services.  

A New Standard of Quality
Much like owners’ interest in safety peaked during the past 10 years, causing contractors to change their culture and processes to meet higher expectations, QA/QC is becoming a point of emphasis with manufacturing clients. Just doing quality work is no longer enough.

“Now, you have to prove in advance that you know how to do it right and follow the proper specs and guidelines, and of course you still have to actually do it right. Then you have to record it in ways that you didn’t have to in the past,” says Andrew Edwards, president of Dunn Building Company, Birmingham, Ala. “We’re still providing the same quality product we always did, but we have to verify more of it upfront and document more of it on the back end.”

Dunn Building CompanyAs a result, Dunn Building Company has formalized more processes and procedures in writing, including its Quality Management System. It also has begun devoting more resources to QA/QC on projects.

“I see a small explosion in the construction industry for QA/QC professionals, whereas in the past we didn’t have a dedicated person addressing quality on a project,” Edwards says. “We recently looked far and wide to hire a QA/QC professional and when we need another one, we’ll probably have to look hard again or train an existing employee.”

Adapting to this new standard of quality performance has been a major undertaking for Dunn Building Company, but it’s worthwhile given the manufacturing sector is expected to increase 8 percent this year in terms of square footage of construction, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. Additionally, Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu predicts spending on private manufacturing construction will increase 3.7 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.

Much of the activity is centered in the five-state area where Dunn Building Company performs work: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. The automotive manufacturing industry—which rescued the Southeast 15 years ago after a steep decline in pulp/paper and textiles plants—is bolstering state economies once again with consistent growth.

Dunn Building CompanyDunn Building Company currently has eight active manufacturing projects, representing more than 50 percent of the family-owned company’s overall workload. Edwards says the strong automotive market has fueled a few new steel manufacturing plants in the southeast, helping stabilize that market. Carbon fiber manufacturing is a niche segment doing well in north Alabama, with two large companies funding multiple expansions. In the building products segment, Dunn Building Company recently wrapped up work on an architectural shingle plant and is working on a vinyl composition tile plant.

The firm, which specializes in projects with a significant amount of concrete and steel (conventional and pre-engineered metal buildings), currently is working on the central energy utility plant for the $600 million Airbus assembly facility under construction in Mobile, Ala. A few large packages have yet to be awarded at the new plant, which is scheduled to be substantially completed in 2015.

“We’re starting to see growth in the aerospace sector and we hope this Airbus project will foretell future expansion in that market,”Edwards says. “We like to do projects turnkey as much as possible, but on a lot of larger industrial jobs we may only do one component of the work, such as the concrete foundations or structural steel. It’s a huge advantage when we do work as a subcontractor because we understand the bigger picture better than a subcontractor that is only familiar with one trade. We know how to jump in and take a stronger role focused on the end requirements.”

A New Industry Specialization

As a wholly owned subsidiary of Kajima Corporation, a global construction and engineering firm with more than 14,000 employees, Atlanta-based KBD Group benefits from operating as both a large and small company focused primarily on the manufacturing and industrial markets. Because the design-build firm only has about 150 employees, clients get to deal with top management directly.

“Plant owners benefit from Kajima’s latest technology advancements and bonding capacity, but their projects don’t get lost in a huge corporation,” says KBD Group Vice President Mike Rhinehart.

KBD GroupA network of offices in Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tenn., Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles also helps the firm chase large companies, such as GE, Mitsubishi and UPS, rather than pursue individual projects. “More than 80 percent of our work comes from repeat clients and we’re adding to that every year. Long-term relationships are very important in our company,” Rhinehart says.

Earlier this year, KBD Group won a contract with first-time client Yokohama Tire to build a 1 million square-foot tire manufacturing plant opening in the first quarter of 2015 in West Point, Miss. Yokohama insisted on finding a location in the Southeast, and is expected to spend $500 million during the next decade in the economically depressed area of West Point.

Rhinehart credits his firm’s use of BIM for helping win new manufacturing projects with clients such as Yokohama.

“We’re actually constructing in 3-D, not just designing,” he says. “We take our tablets on the jobsite and coordinate with subcontractors on what’s going on that week rather than looking at a set of 2-Ddrawings.”

KBD Group created a five-person BIM Construction Management Group about a year ago to help adapt the technology to the field.According to Rhinehart, the group is creating a new industry specialization through its work merging all of a project’s 3-D models from the architects’, engineers’ and subcontractors’ shop drawings. “Utilization of the 3-D shop drawings is the key to creating a true 3-D model that can be used to save time during construction,” he says.
KBD Group
KBD Group has two other tire manufacturing projects going on in addition to the Yokohama job, including one for a confidential client in South Carolina and an 800,000-square-foot expansion for Toyo Tire in Georgia.

“The Southeast is red hot for manufacturing right now,” Rhinehart says. “We’re involved in several site selections for clients from Texas to Tennessee and the Carolinas; that is where everybody is looking to locate.”

Though KBD Group shies away from automotive assembly plants, it is performing work for first- and second-tier companies such as NGK Ceramics USA, Inc., which manufactures ceramic substrates for catalytic converters. Rhinehart also sees food processing picking up in a lot of areas, as well as a general trend of more foreign investment dollars coming to the United States from Germany, China and Korea.

“The biggest sales increase we’ve seen in the last couple of years is definitely in manufacturing,” he says. “We have more than $950 million of projects in the sales pipeline. We see great promise in 2014.”

Simulation: The Answer to ‘What If’ and ‘Why’

When it comes to saving manufacturing clients time and money, The Haskell Company, Jacksonville, Fla., turns to simulation.

Want to know why glass bottles are breaking on the production line? Haskell’s System Analytics & Modeling group, which is comprised of eight employees based in the company’s Atlanta office, can apply physics to each bottle and virtually compare different variables (e.g., the speed of the conveyors) to see what’s causing the breakage.
What if the client wants to install a more expensive, higher throughput piece of equipment? Haskell can model how long it would take to generate the ROI, taking into account the increased amount of product manufactured as a result of the upgrade.

“The idea is to model a system to make sure the system we’re designing actually meets the client’s needs and is as efficient and effective as possible,” says Haskell Engineering Manager Bela Jacobson. “They can have this information before any capital is spent, and it gives the client information to leverage its own internal request for project appropriation or approval.”

Then, in a process called emulation, Haskell ties the simulation into the control program and debugs the system offline to see how the proposed line would function—all without interrupting onsite production. “When we do go onsite, it’s an accelerated and very smooth startup,” Jacobson says.

A quick startup means a reduction in onsite resources (along with their associated costs) and less downtime for the owner. Plus, a calmer programming environment in the office allows any bugs to be worked out before the high-stress environment of startup onsite. On the front end, it can take anywhere from three weeks to four months to do the simulation depending on the size and complexity of the system.

“It is a huge value-add for our customers,” Jacobson says. “Once they do it the first time,they won’t do a project again without it.”

One client came to Haskell with an idea for making its equipment faster. The System Analytics & Modeling group simulated the new process versus the one currently in place and determined the difference in output would be so minimal that the amount of time and money spent to make the change wouldn’t be worthwhile for the client. In another case, the team whittled down 900,000 possible solutions for why two machines weren’t as productive as expected into five optimal courses of action that resulted in the client getting about 20 percent more output. 

“Our goal is to have the data to back up proposed solutions and then let the customer decide what works best for them,” Jacobson says.

As an added benefit, clients can adapt the simulation for video training purposes so new employees are up to speed on the system before they actually get on the line. Additionally, Haskell can update an existing model to reflect new proposed changes—saving the customer from having to create a new model from scratch with every future project. 

Most of the members of the System Analytics & Modeling group have a background in industrial engineering and therefore have some experience with simulation, but there’s still a long learning curve for Haskell’s specific platforms once a person is hired, Jacobson says. “Every year they come out with new versions of programs and new applications, so you have to keep up with those technologies.”

For Haskell’s three-part blog series on the advantages of simulation, visit

JoannaMasterson is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email, visit or follow @ConstructionMag