How an “Inside-Out” Approach Results in R&D Testing Facilities that Work
January 5, 2023Categorized in:
Tags: Facilities & Construction, Systems Integration, Test Cells & Test Stands
A good product idea might come suddenly, but great products aren’t accomplished on the first go around. For this reason, research and development are vital. R&D represents a commitment to a better product, enhanced customer satisfaction, and greater business growth. For product testing to achieve the desired results, the research and development testing facility demands the right kind of planning and design.
If testing is the heart of the R&D process, that means the facility used to develop and validate new products represents the rest of the complex and moving body that the heart powers when producing safe, effective, and innovative products. When the overarching goal of R&D testing is collecting vital data for decision-making, every piece of the body must be designed, engineered, and procured to meet the needs of that core test. In other words, if the heart isn’t working, the rest of the body will shut down. Starting the building design for an R&D facility by understanding the testing process is at its center and working from the “inside out” is foundational to creating an optimized testing environment.
Avoid Pitfalls of “Outside-In”
“Owners often start the planning process by focusing on either the building footprint or the test equipment,” says Matt Jorgensen, Project Manager and Principal with ACS. “While both are critical components of the planning process, they fall short of accounting for all aspects of the testing process and the relationship between the facility and test equipment.” R&D test facilities have unique building requirements, ranging from complicated foundations, complex large equipment, intense power necessities, tight control over temperature, sound, or other outside factors, as well as distinct considerations for workflow processes. The test process support spaces are essential to successful testing as well as proximity to utility infrastructure. Designing an R&D test facility around a space plan, or an “outside-in” approach, often results in a disjointed connection between test equipment and facility needs. It is critical to consider the interactions between test equipment and facility infrastructure prior to space planning.
“Knowing that you may be creating a sub-optimal situation that’s going to ultimately lead to inefficiencies in your operation takes experience. For example, your test cell layout may not have the test stand itself lined up with the door, requiring difficult jogs to get the test article in and properly aligned,” says Jorgensen. “You could possibly still get in there, but was it ideal? The only way that you’re going to know is if you have witnessed it or have someone else with the experience.”
Create Layer by Layer “Inside-Out”
Designing R&D testing facilities from the “inside out” takes into account that the testing criteria and capabilities of the facility are the top priority. This means testing requirements and product goals drive facility design rather than the other way around. In other words, the heart and all its attributes are considered first, and the skeleton and its systems are designed to ensure the heart can efficiently pump through every part of the body. When the building is designed with a workflow perspective first, rather than a method focused on space allocation, the facility avoids potential issues or complete rework during construction, commissioning, and turnover to the facility managers and operators. A new R&D facility must be planned by focusing on what needs to happen at the testing level, informed by overall research, development, and business objectives, to achieve the organization’s testing and product goals.
The first step of an inside-out approach is understanding the unit under test (UUT), testing program, goals, data requirements, process, and workflow. This means planning is also a process of discovery, investigated on the front end rather than after the fact, informed by all involved parties including the facility managers, test requestors, operators, integrators, and other stakeholders. Front end planning clearly defines the design and acceptance criteria for the facility, including current utilization requirements, future needs for potential growth, and changing technology.
Once acceptance criteria are defined, the facility design can be planned and executed around the established criteria. Engineering and design, procurement of equipment and materials, along with construction scheduling and oversight ensure the final facility reaches “operational readiness” meaning it matches the design intent. Acceptance testing verifies testing goals have been met, and, finally, training and handover to the end users ensure teams are ready to go.
A testing facility design project is considered finished when the users of the building have the capabilities to effectively acquire all the data that they require to meet their overall R&D testing goals, effectively, safely, and continuously.
Fostering Alignment and Collaboration
Jorgensen says the collaboration with all involved parties is key to success across scope, schedule, and budget: “The users are the best keepers of the knowledge of what they need to test. We help by leading discussions, bringing new ideas, and contributing best practices, but we’re not the ultimate decision-makers.” Taking an inside-out approach to designing an R&D testing facility is all about maintaining alignment across the whole process. Whether a facility manager, integrator, engineer, test operator, contractor, or another stakeholder, by focusing on the testing criteria at every step of the process, it keeps goals and the final facility result aligned. It’s easier to keep the goals of every involved party united when they’re starting on the same page, rather than working backward.
If you’re in need of a well-planned facility designed with your goals in mind, connect with us. Our expertise and “plan, execute, verify” approach to testing, equipment, and facilities projects can provide the foundation you need for your next successful capital project.