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Hallway at Bal Seal, Colorado Springs

Building Report: Manufacturing Facilities for the 21st Century

by Eric Peterson on February 22, 2016, 12:38 pm MST

Form meets function: Trends towards flexible, Lean, and mean manufacturing make for a new kind of factory.

When it comes to building for the modern manufacturer, there's no paint-by-numbers approach. Manufacturing often has unique facility requirements. You might need heavy-duty infrastructure, or maybe a catalyst for collaboration, or just sheer elbow room.

And that means the commonalities of the projects showcased here are few, but they all share plans that intersect squarely with purpose.

Bal Seal, Colorado Springs

When Bal Seal made its aerospace-grade springs and seals exclusively in disaster-prone California, it made clients uneasy. They wanted redundancy in a less seismic area.

The company selected Colorado Springs in 2007 and enjoyed higher productivity at the new facility, so leaders decided to build a new 50,000-square-foot plant in 2011.

Colorado Springs-based Bryan Construction won the turnkey design-build project and "the concept kept growing," says Doug Woody, the company's commercial group manager. By groundbreaking in 2011, the final plans called for 155,000 square feet.

The $38 million facility opened in early 2014 with 30 employees and it currently has about 150, but the five-year plan calls for 300. Says Woody: "We built them the building that they're still growing into."

"They really took an approach that's different than a lot of companies we deal with," says Woody, describing it as a "Google mentality for manufacturing." The keys: flexibility, transparency, and equality. That means zero hard walls and a modular "gantry system" to allow for future changes.

The transparency tenet led to "a lot of glass," says Woody. "You can sit in an office and look down the hallway onto the manufacturing floor."

As for equality, "Sales is often on one side of the fence, production is on the other," he explains. "They didn't want to have that separation." Bryan took that to heart with a "one-chair approach" -- every employee gets the same high-quality, ergonomic chair.

"It's been fantastic," says Bal Seal GM Eric Yarbrough. "Sometimes there are walls between management and manufacturing -- they're nonexistent."

Declaration Brewing, Denver

It's all about production flow for Chief Instigating Officer Mike Blandford. "For us, it's a process from front to back," he says. "You don't want to be moving the beer here, there, and everywhere."

Following an 18-month buildout, Declaration opened in early 2015  in a former garage in in Denver's Overland neighborhood. "It was oddly well-suited for us," he says. The old welding shop is now the cold room, the garage is the brewhouse, and the showroom is the taproom. "It's all these little details."

The primary tweak was a big infrastructure upgrade: Declaration needed more electricity, gas, and water to brew. "We're using a lot more, but we're getting a lot more efficiency," says Blandford. To wit, Declaration is the first brewery in the city's Certifiably Green Denver program, with a 95 percent efficient thermal system, LED lighting, and sustainable materials.

Site selection was critical. "We looked at dozens of locations," says Blandford. His two-year search took him from Longmont to Castle Rock and spaces from 4,000 to 25,000 square feet before he picked the 9,000-square-foot garage. "It was a little smaller than we wanted. We knew we were going to compromise a little bit."

But the overlap of potential residential development and heavy-industrial zoning were a great match. "We got zoned for over 60,000 barrels of production and that's the maximum capacity you can get in Colorado," says Blandford.

After opening with an annual capacity of 2,000 barrels, a fall 2015 expansion tripled that figure, with Henderson's Duffy Crane & Hauling putting the new tanks in place. Blandford says he's planning to triple production capacity again with another expansion in about a year.

pewag Traction Chain USA, Pueblo

Making chains since the 1400s, the Austria-based manufacturer came up with an innovative design for a facility to meet their North American market needs.

Pueblo-based H.E. Whitlock was the general contractor on the 30,000-square-foot factory, built on a five-acre greenfield site from June 2013 to February 2014 using precast concrete walls from a design from local architecture firm Weidner & Associates.

"Because of some of our processes, it was custom-built for us," says Ron Francis, the Pueblos plant manager. One critical feature: a trio of 12-foot-deep water-cooling pits in front of the ovens. "We would have struggled to find that elsewhere [in an existing building]."

Some of the walls have cutouts to facilitate a future expansion. "You can knock out a section for more space," says Francis, noting that the staff of 30 could easily double in the current building.

Production and assembly areas feature high-end skylights and plenty of windows. "Having been in manufacturing all my life, one of the  things I love about our building is the natural light," says Francis. "If you've been in a lot of manufacturing facilities, some of them can be dark and dingy. Ours definitely isn't."

The Powerhouse Energy Campus, Fort Collins

The adaptive reuse of a shuttered power plant has turned it into the ideal testing facility for massive machines. A new expansion made it human-friendly as well.

"It was built in 1936 as the Fort Collins Power Plant," says Bob Hosanna, the project's architect with Neenan Archistruction. After the coal-fired relic shut down in the 1970s, it became an art gallery before Colorado State University started using for research it in the 1990s.

"The original building was not good for people," says Hosanna. "It was built for generators."

That 40,000-square-foot layout worked well for CSU's research partners like Woodward bring in industrial engines and other big equipment for testing, but classroom and administrative space had been "shoehorned" in over the years, he adds.

Neenan came in to build a 65,000-square-foot addition with classrooms, a lab, and office space for 14 companies, as well as a comfortable control room for testing. The project won a LEED Platinum certification for its unique radiant heating and cooling system and other sustainable features. It also opened up the original power plant floor for its primary use.

"This facility is unique in the country for being able to handle the size of the engines," says Hosanna."They're as big as anything I've ever seen. Just gigantic."

Tenant businesses like Czero can access shared manufacturing infrastructure: cranes, machine shop, and the like. "It's a great fabrication facility for a company like us because we don't have to buy all that equipment," says CEO Guy Babbitt. The expansion opened up space for Czero, but didn't markedly change operations, he adds.

The project succeeded in making the place friendlier to humans, he adds. "There's definitely a lot larger number of people here."

Vertical Harvest, Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson Hole might be an unexpected place for a cutting-edge urban greenhouse, but the vertical farm that's taken shape on the side of a city-owned parking garage defies convention in more ways than one.

The 0.1-acre site is set to produce as much yield as five acres of cropland by using cutting-edge hydroponic technology, both natural and artificial light, and moving carousels that track the sun. 

"This is a world first in the way this has been done," says Chase Beninga, managing partner of Shaw Wyoming, the project's general contractor.

Vertical Harvest's for-profit business model targets local restaurants and markets, says co-founder and architect Nona Yehia, who's been working on the concept for nine years. "The demand for local produce is through the roof," she says. "This could be a real symbol for Jackson."

And the $3.8 million project's innovation could easily be replicated elsewhere, she adds. "It's a local project but it definitely has global implications."

Space constraints defined the structure, says Beninga. "Every square inch is accounted for with mechanical systems, growing systems, or back-of-house use," he explains. "Coordinating the trades was the biggest challenge."

For this reason, the greenhouse was built layer by layer. "It's like a sandwich," says Beninga. Yehia describes it as "three greenhouses stacked on top of one another."

Numerous Amsterdam-based companies made the lighting and heating systems, carousels, and aluminum and glass facades. Thomas Larssen, a renowned greenhouse engineer, also worked on the project.

Construction concluded in December. After testing, year-round growing will begin in spring 2016.

Woodward HQ, Fort Collins

The $225 million project is reinventing the way the world's largest manufacturer of control systems for aerospace and industrial engines operates by aligning production with engineering and management.

With architecture by Michigan-based Ghafari Associates, general contractor Mortenson Construction is bringing the project in "on schedule and under budget," says Steve Stiesmeyer, Woodward's director of corporate affairs.

The project involved a lot of prep work, he adds. "The site itself was very challenging. We moved 400,000 cubic yards of soil to get to a 500-year floodplain."

About 150 staffers will move into the new, 60,000-square-foot headquarters in February 2016, but the transition for manufacturing and its 500-plus employees will be a five-month process.

"By May, it'll be fully operational," says Stiesmeyer. Such a move requires some serious orchestration: "For a year, we've had a manufacturing team that meets daily."

The new industrial turbomachinery space is designed to be flexible and modular, with 200 distinct areas in 300,000 square feet and no immovable monuments. "We have the ability to move things around," Stiesmeyer says.

But flexibility was only one goal of the design. "It's intended to be very collaborative," he adds. A disconnect between management, engineering, and production "is a common issue. It's our goal to bridge that gap."

The new facility will do so in a variety of ways. "There's a long collaborative hallway between manufacturing and the support space -- engineering, marketing, and everything else," he says. "You can see the manufacturing floor from the office."

The layout parallels two new Woodward facilities now operating in Illinois and is a good fit for the company's low-volume, high-mix processes. "There's nowhere to hide inventory," says Stiesmeyer.

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