One of the nation’s largest aerospace firms planned to expand and modernize existing capabilities at an occupied research and development facility in southern California. Xcel Mechanical Systems, based in Gardena, CA, was hired to design and build the mechanical, plumbing and process piping elements of the new project. To minimize risk and maximize labor efficiency, the Xcel team selected NIBCO® Press fittings and valves as a smart solution for the multi-phase project.
“Leveraging press technology mitigates the inherent risks of working with open flame within an occupied space,” said Jason Gordon, Xcel Mechanical’s vice president of operations. “We chose NIBCO Press for this job for multiple reasons, including safety, time and labor savings, and aesthetics,” said Gordon, whose firm has been a preferred design-build mechanical contractor on the sprawling campus for more than two decades. “NIBCO is a proven brand name in our industry. That’s important to us because the products we select are a reflection on our company.”
After four carefully planned construction phases, three and a half years of steady and precise work, the $8 million HVAC, plumbing and piping elements of the estimated $50 million laboratory modernization project are nearing completion.
The total renovation project included remodeling existing labs located on the ground floor of a three-story, 1960s-era research and manufacturing facility; labs which must be constantly redesigned and reconfigured to meet the specific requirements of each new contract award. The owner’s primary goal was to convert the subdivided lab space into a large open floor plan, creating the opportunity to build-out a modern, flexible and scalable “factory of the future” that would maximize the total available 160,000-square feet of lab and manufacturing space and 57,000-square feet of office space.
The building was stripped down to concrete on all four sides, exposing what was left: columns, high ceilings, and slabs. The original building design included old stanchion supports with piping and electrical systems running up from the floor. To free up valuable floor space, the new design features steel overhead utility racks that now run 500-600’ feet across the exposed ceiling for a nice clean application. Major mechanical and plumbing systems were removed and redesigned to align with the new design.
The Safety Factor
In this facility, the mains on the overhead utility distribution racks are sized 2” down to ¾”. Separately, the HVAC system has chilled water and heating hot water lines measuring up to 4” in diameter. Some of those lines drop down from a chilled water system located on the roof that serves a newly installed air handler.
“Typically, we would use steel for those 4” lines,” Gordon said. “But since the piping ran down an existing shaft, there were safety concerns around welding or grooving the 4” steel. And then there was the weight factor and what would be required to run steel pipe down that shaft versus copper,” he said.
“For these reasons, my foremen advocated for the additional material spend on copper. Obviously, the material cost is considerably more but we felt the safety benefits and labor savings would offset it,” Gordon said. “We are a strong believer in getting perspective from our foremen. If they support the plan, believe in the products they are installing, and it makes sense financially, then it’s a win-win.”
Gordon said using NIBCO Press on the project also meant not having to go through the facility’s Hot Work permitting process which typically adds time to any project. “The customer liked that the NIBCO product removed a certain level of risk, and also the smell of soldering and flux from an operational lab environment,” he said. “So, in the end, our customer was happy. Our safety team was happy. And our field personnel were happy.”
Labor Savings is Big
NIBCO Press is easy to install which helps reduce labor costs while keeping projects on schedule. “Material is material, but labor is what makes or breaks a job,” Gordon said. The project’s process piping system consists of three copper lines, one each for compressed air, nitrogen, and industrial vacuum systems. Each run is 400-500’ long and includes multiple connection points. Gordon said the press product made working in smaller areas and also making multiple connections overhead much easier from both a safety and labor efficiency perspective. “We fabricated a fair amount of material used in this job, but with a multitude of small overhead connection points located 6-12’ apart along these lengthy runs, the copper press solution was key. We saved a minimum of 30-40% on labor on some parts of this job, and significantly more on other parts,” he said.
Minimizing System Downtime
Through the life of the project, the ongoing challenge was to build safely around the 100-200 employees who were working in the lab areas. The project’s four-phase approach called for temporarily relocating employee teams into other parts of the facility while completing construction one section at a time. “Using NIBCO Press not only reduced labor time, but it shortened shutdown periods, allowing us to get the building back online sooner.”
Although functionality and flexibility played an important role in modernizing this facility, creating a visually appealing space was also a consideration, Gordon said. “Aesthetically the NIBCO Press product is a good-looking product and a clean application overall,” he said. “For nitrogen systems, we would typically purge and braze, and afterward the copper is oxidized. When we install press, the copper looks brand new. It’s a good look.”
As the project nears completion, Xcel Mechanical will continue to use NIBCO Press systems to ensure their reputation for high quality and good workmanship is maintained. Press is easy to install and the labor cost savings generated cannot be understated. The proven performance of Press makes it a smart solution for every job.