Five Challenges to Building a Test Facility

September 7, 2021 - Author: Matt Jorgensen - Director, Facility Engineering and Site Management

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Challenges to building a test facility

Advanced Building Construction Design for Effective Challenge Mitigation

You’ve developed a great product. Now it’s time to put it to the test. A test facility can be complex or simple—as big as a building or as small as a single test cell. No matter what kind of project you’re planning, there are five challenges that ACS building construction management sees cropping up again and again. Planning with advanced building construction design can allow for effective challenge mitigation.

Five Considerations to Keep in Mind While Building a Test Facility

#1: Sticking to a Budget

Whether it’s a large test center or a single test cell, there is almost always tension between what users want and what the company can afford. Picture building a house: starting with basic plans—bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage. Then, desires like a gourmet kitchen and a basement game room surface, quickly exceeding the budget. The same occurs with companies constructing a test facility. The budget is set by the executives in the office, but then the users chime in. “Sometimes the things people want seem very minor,” said Matt Jorgensen, Director of Facility Engineering and Site Management at ACS. “They say something like, ‘We need it to run just two degrees colder.’ That sounds easy, but there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in mechanical equipment behind that.” To keep the project on budget, be very clear about the scope at the outset. Designing the test cell for easy expansion makes today’s needs the priorities while keeping additional features on the table for the future.

#2: Managing the Project

When designing equipment, it’s important to get early input from the groups who will be using it. The best way for your company to prevent scope or feature creep is to appoint a strong project manager from your staff to be the point of contact between those users and your ACS team. This staffer should be someone with a solid understanding of the budget and the project’s intent. They can distinguish between user wants and project needs. “You need one person the design team can go to and say, ‘If you add this feature, it’s going to do this to your budget.’ And that person needs to be able to say no to the feature, or modify the scope, or request additional funds,” Jorgensen said. “When you don’t have that, all the program users ask for what they want and the design typically comes in over budget. Then you need to rescope the project, which costs more, or modify the design, which delays the build.”

#3: Designing in the Right Order

When building a new facility, companies often start with the architectural design and work inward. Test cells are technically complex. When the test cell designer must work within the footprint of existing blueprints, making everything fit can be challenging. When contracting for a new building, start with the equipment and test cell design first. The architect then knows the technical requirements for the space and can design rooms, access points, and mechanical spaces around them.

#4: Budgeting for Reliability

It’s a fact of business: budgets get cut. When that happens, there are typically two options: trim the scope or ‘value engineer’ the design. When aiming for cost reduction without compromising scope and functionality, the only approach is to engage in value engineering, refining systems until they align with budget constraints while maintaining desired features. Unfortunately, cheaper systems are often less robust. Test equipment works hard, and it’s not useful unless it’s reliable. At ACS, we recommend against value engineering. Cutting corners at the beginning of the project often ends up being more expensive in the long run as pieces wear out or break down prematurely.

#5: Designing for a Second Life

The typical research and development program lasts three to eight years or less. The challenge to test cell designers is creating a cell that can be repurposed to test different products after the program ends. Compile a list of recurring testing requirements for each upgrade planning session. While not all features are typically needed for a single product, the objective is to facilitate running multiple products through the same cell. Then, when a significant project faces an unexpected cancellation just as the test cells are about to launch, they can be modified for another program. Establishing a resilient testing facility is pivotal for producing top-notch products. While construction inevitably comes with its challenges, proactive preparation for common issues provides a head start in overcoming them.

The bottom line: before you start planning your new test facility, reach out to consult with our experts who have the skills, knowledge, and experience to help you accomplish your test center goals.