Product Engineering Helps Overcome Labor Shortage

Aug. 16, 2016
Construction product development is keeping in step in finding ways to help projects proceed with less labor if that is what must be done.  
Victaulic triple-service valve assemblies, strainers, couplings, and fittings join condenser water piping to pumps in the mechanical room of the Millennium II office building. Photos courtesy Victaulic.

Houston, the heart of the oil and gas industry, has seen rapid growth in recent years fuelled by tax incentives for companies setting up headquarters in the area. The influx has led to a high demand for office space, and in turn, a wave of construction that has resulted in labor shortages.

Despite the recent oil industry downturn, building activities continue at a breakneck pace. Fortunately construction product development is keeping in step in finding ways to help projects proceed  with less labor if that is what must be done.

CFI Mechanical managers realized the needed design assistance, for help in overcoming the labor shortage, as well as schedule and budget challenges. CFI Mechanical was founded in 1996, and is based in Houston. It provides quality management and labor services to the HVAC and plumbing construction industry.

The Millennium II Tower is an office building under construction in the Westchase district of Houston, Texas. The long-planned sibling property to the Millennium Tower, Millennium II is a 24-story glass- and aluminum-clad tower that will stand 309 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the district. All 417,000 sq.ft. of space was pre-leased by National Oilwell Varco (NOV), a leader in the design and manufacture of oil and gas drilling equipment and Houston’s largest energy employer.

“Construction has a lot of cycles to it, but for the last two years, it has been crazy around here,” said Ron Bukowski, vice president of CFI Mechanical. The Houston-based contractor, which provides plumbing and HVAC services for commercial construction throughout Texas, knew the labor shortages would present challenges on the Millennium II Tower project in terms of design and construction. In addition to welders, the company has experienced a shortage of detailers that has been magnified by mandates for building information modeling (BIM) on projects.

“There’s a lot more demand now on our drafting services,” Bukowski explained. “More customers want the ‘Cadillac,’ they want everything.”

CFI is also facing the typical construction challenges of schedule and budget. “We are building at a record pace around here as far as the speed at which we put buildings together,” Bukowski noted, “and budget’s always an issue.”

Shared Design Modeling
Fortunately, the contractor found a single solution in Victaulic. Known for its grooved mechanical pipe-joining systems, Victaulic also offers BIM and 3D modeling through its Construction Piping Services (CPS) division. Although CFI Mechanical planned to manage the BIM process in-house, it quickly became clear that help was needed. CFI hadn’t previously worked with the CPS team, but the Millennium II Tower was a good project to test the waters. “We see a need for [CPS services] in the future, and this looked liked it was a good fit for Victaulic to come in,” Bukowski said.

Shortly after CFI was awarded the contract, in January 2014, the contractor brought in the Victaulic CPS team to model the mechanical rooms and piping systems; CFI’s in-house team handled the plumbing systems. The CPS team completed the fully coordinated BIM model for the basement and penthouse mechanical rooms, an AHU room on the eighth floor, the cooling tower area in the attached parking garage and the crossover piping, managing to stay ahead of the construction coordination timeline despite the tight schedule. CPS also generated isometrics, fabrication spool drawings and bills of material, enabling the contractor to get a head start on fabrication.

Victaulic Products Speed Installation
Bukowski has used Victaulic products for 19 years, and  he says he knew grooved piping systems would be the solution to the schedule and budget challenges, as well as the labor shortage.

Despite CFI Mechanical’s reservations about working with Construction Piping Services, attitudes changed by the end of the project. Concerned about costs, prompt service and lack of control, Bukowski reported that the project did not turn out that way. “It turned out very well,” he said.

“CPS did exactly what they said they were going to do and when. The value was there. We can’t wait to get another job where we can plug in Victaulic.”