How Being Proactive with a Facility Plan Puts Your Goals in Reach

November 7, 2022 - Author: Randy Rozema - Director, Acoustics & Vibration

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Maximizing your goals through a thought-out facility plan

Objectives of Facility Planning to Keep in Mind

The facilities used to develop and validate new products are central to R&D testing safety, product effectiveness, and ongoing innovation. R&D test facilities have unique and multifaceted building requirements, including specialized temperature and humidity control, ventilation systems, power necessities, and safety requirements. At the heart of it, the building must be outfitted with the equipment and systems necessary to address the goal of the Unit Under Test (UUT).

When the overarching goal of a testing facility is to collect essential data for decision-making, every element needs to be designed, engineered, and procured to meet the needs of that test. Accomplishing that takes thorough, precise, and collaborative front end planning.

What Defines a “Thought-Out” Facility Plan?

A thought-out facility includes a clear definition of what acceptance looks like on the back end. Objectives of facility planning and goals need to be set before going into a project and then translated so that when the facility design team gets involved, they have a roadmap.

Here is where an analytical perspective is vital to gathering the right data for decision-making and product development to meet market and regulatory requirements and instigate product innovation. Designing the facility around the testing process requires more precise test objectives and planning than a broad goal like “improve the product.” Early conversations must thoroughly define the needs of the test, test cell, storage, and support systems, to determine how the space layout can best address process and workflow.

Alignment Requires Collaboration

The first step to a successful facility plan includes an aligned understanding of the facility’s testing program, goals, data requirements, and process. By articulating that definition on the front end, the design firm, constructor, integrator, and client all have a common target. To get a clear picture, you need input from all involved parties at the planning stage. This includes facility managers, test requestors, operators, integrators, and other stakeholders. Without a collaborative effort, it’s an uphill battle to define the design and acceptance criteria for the facility, let alone create a roadmap that encompasses potential growth.

Plan for the Final Stage

Successful front end planning envisions every step necessary to reach the end goal. Once acceptance criteria are defined, it is important for the facility design plan to address engineering and design, procurement, construction scheduling, commissioning, acceptance testing, and, finally, training and handover. It’s vital to bring each of these execution steps as early into the planning process as possible for the best results.

“For example,” Randy Rozema, ACS Principal and Director, Acoustics and Vibration notes, “the long-lead equipment can present serious complications in today’s environment. For a piece of electrical gear that previously would have taken 30 to 36 weeks to deliver, we were quoted 84 weeks. In today’s environment, one of the ways that we can reign in a project schedule is early planning on long-lead equipment. Order it early in the design process. As long as there’s enough information available to size the equipment, you can order it and then finish and complete the design around that equipment, allowing for the overall schedule to remain intact.”

Commissioning and acceptance ensure the facility and process are delivering on the defined goal. Clearly envisioning this last step means the facility will fit testing equipment and capabilities like a glove. “By bringing commissioning planning forward into the planning and design process, it does two things: it allows our team to more seamlessly plan for what testing is going to be required at the back end of the project. Second, it gets the owner thinking about how they are going to use this facility for their needs. Talking through acceptance and commissioning they may realize that what they’ve asked for doesn’t align with what their needs are. It’s now early enough to, at a very low cost, pivot and find a new path to achieve what they really need.”

“Thought-Out Facility Plan” Envisions Future Goals

A thought-out facility addresses current testing criteria that includes longevity. You can’t stop by simply looking at the current product that is here and now. The new facility ideally has a future lifespan. The next generation of the product likely will be tested in that same facility. If the client has some idea of what the future might look like, often it’s more cost-effective to upsize a few items in the current design to allow it to accommodate future capabilities. By defining the current UUT and bringing a vision of future products for the next five to ten years, a facility can handle future equipment or throughput accommodations without asking for upfront investment or retrofitting after the fact.