Justin Keane, Director of Engineering Support, Offsite Manufacturing & Digital Transformation at Mercury, speaks with BARRY MCCALL about how Mercury is pioneering advances in modern methods of construction.
Mercury has long been a leader in innovation and has been at the forefront of the adoption of offsite manufacturing (OSM) and modern methods of construction (MMC). These methodologies and processes have enabled the company to realise incredible growth, efficiency and quality gains while reducing cost and risk for clients and significantly improving working conditions for employees.
Justin Keane, Director for Engineering Support, Offsite Manufacturing & Digital Transformation, explains how Mercury is adapting its own structures to maximise the benefits of new technologies and techniques.
“We have eight business divisions, each possessing its own engineering and design disciplines for their own projects,” he says. “We have now added a centralised engineering support function. Based at Mercury’s head office in Dublin, this dedicated resource will support the delivery of projects across all our divisions. This is linked to offsite construction and our digital transformation journey.”
The company’s approach to digital transformation is both internal and external, Keane adds. “We are transforming internally and bringing our supply chain partners along with us on that journey. We are digitally transforming how we deliver projects and manage the overall business.”
Mercury OSM capabilities across Europe
One aspect of the business, in particular, that is reaping the benefits of Mercury’s approach to OSM and digital transformation is Mercury’s Live Environment division. The Live Environment covers a wide range of areas, namely pharmaceutical, healthcare, fire protection, data centres, telecommunications and facilities management.
As this division is diverse, its range of OSM capabilities extends from central utility buildings (CUB) to 420-tonne pipe racks in pharmaceutical to full-scale modular IT rooms and main distribution frames (MDFs) in the telecommunications sector. Mercury’s Fire Prevention business is level 4 self-certified, completing design right through to handover and maintenance. Fire Prevention is pushing the boundaries in design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) with fully modularised sprinkler pump houses and systems.
While Mercury has multiple flying factories across Europe and beyond supporting its modular construction approach, it also operates a manufacturing facility in Newbridge in Co Kildare. This facility is unique in that it also houses classes 10, 1000 and 10,000 cleanroom manufacturing facilities. These cleanroom facilities enable off-site modules to be built in these environments, fully wrapped and preserved, ready for their onward location. Clients in the life sciences and advanced manufacturing sectors visit these facilities regularly prior to and during projects, in a collaborative effort with Mercury to ensure only the highest levels of quality in manufacturing are achieved.
Mercury flying factories
Justin Keane explains that flying factories are sometimes referred to as field factories.
“Generally speaking, they are temporary facilities used to manufacture prefabricated components close to the job site. They are different from conventional off-site factories in that they tend only to operate for the duration of a project before being closed.”
He points out that in some cases, the client has the space to accommodate a flying factory on site, while in others, Mercury will build one on a nearby site or use a conventional off-site manufacturing facility such as its Newbridge factory. The company already has a facility in Sweden and is looking at developing others in Israel and Germany.
Simplifying the complexity of modular through collaboration
Justin Keane describes how high complex pipe racks, densely packed piping, process skids, fully completed chilled water pipework systems, fully coordinated MEP risers, sectional horizontal services distribution units, and high-purity cleanroom grade systems can be manufactured offsite to the very highest standards of precision.
“The challenges we are working to overcome with our clients and all project stakeholders is the understanding that the modular and DfMA approach is different to the traditional build approach. DfMA must be considered at early design stages 1 and 2. Understanding that and getting Mercury involved early in this process enables us to bring the true value of our 30 years of experience in modular delivery to the project. This is a holistic approach in terms of design for manufacturing, planning, logistics, coordination, constructability, quality, maintainability, actively lowering embodied carbon of construction and, most importantly, designing and delivering with safety at the forefront of everything that we do.”
A full-service contractor
He adds: “To realise the full benefits of these capabilities, both for the company and its clients, Mercury has adapted too. The recent change has seen the company evolve into a full-service contractor rather than a pure engineering contractor working with the main contractor. This gives Mercury control over design, build and maintenance. We have a vested interest in the whole life cycle cost of the building. This ensures that our integrated teams are working closely to ensure a smooth transition from one project stage to the next. All of the efficiencies in terms of time, cost and quality can be maximised.”
Benefits extend beyond efficiencies in project delivery
“It’s better from a health and safety point of view,” Keane continues. “On one project, we reduced working at heights by 97%. There is also a significant increase in quality with everything manufactured in a factory environment. From a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective, it is a more sustainable business model for our business and our industry. People working in factory conditions are removing the need for such high numbers of workers on the site out in the various weather conditions Mercury experiences around the world. Removing these workers from the site reduces local congestion at the job site. The modules being constructed in a factory setting are also not subject to downtime on site due to weather conditions. The volumetric modules, like modular plant rooms, for example, would traditionally be stick built on site by numerous trades fed by multiple deliveries of materials to the site. We can now deliver and install a sizable modular plant room on site in one day or less. Again, this process is dramatically reducing the overall deliveries to the site, reducing the embodied carbon footprint of the site and further reducing traffic congestion around the site. All modular elements are being manufactured well in advance of the construction project, where, traditionally, we waited for a CUB building to be built and then installed the services.”
HE adds, “All of this effort results in overall better project predictability in terms of cost and schedule, with time to facility live and operational significantly reduced.”
A digital platform approach
Mercury now takes a digital platform approach to all projects, with over 275 BIM and digital staff members. This means that projects and modular elements are designed in a digital environment and brought right through that environment to a manufacturing level of design, enabling full trace and track of every single component. Before installation on the job site, Mercury uses augmented reality on-site and in its “Digital Core” building in Maynooth. This enables Mercury staff and clients to walk the site in a fully immersive environment before turning a sod of soil.
“We also use Microsoft HoloLens technology to walk around the physical shell and core site and virtually bring in the modular elements in full size,” Justin Keane explains. “This ensures full site coordination of services connections and builders’ work and upstand connection prior to the module arriving on site. We can also use the technology to connect digital objects (modular elements) with time and look into the future to detect issues before they arise. In effect, we are visualising in 3D on X, Y and Z axes and adding a fourth dimension of time. This process doesn’t just represent a single moment in time. You can pick any point you wish in the entire construction schedule for investigation. We have successfully used this technology on multiple projects to identify potential problems in advance which would not have been detected otherwise.”
Justin Keane on sustainability
Justin Keane comments that sustainability is a core value at Mercury in all that it does.
“We are investing in research and development (R&D) with some of our biggest clients in areas such as embodied carbon and projects like the Embodied Carbon Calculator EC3. Through our digital technology platforms, we can examine the design and look at the embodied carbon of all materials and closely examine where reductions can be made.
We are also working with our key supply chain members in developing baseline environmental product declarations (EDPs) to support the EC3 project and their own embodied carbon reduction initiatives.
“The industry is becoming more and more digitally enabled. This means that we are now at the start of acquiring the datasets and information on the recyclability and reusability of the different materials and components used in a building. We need to consciously design buildings to maximise the reuse of materials. The ultimate goal is to support a more sustainable and circular economy,” Justin Keane concludes.