So, you’re expanding, and you’ve found the perfect facility and it just so happens to be completely fitted out to accommodate your operation. This is the ideal scenario, right? Not so, according to Total Construction – more a construction solutions provider than a builder.

“A lot of our clients think they have found the perfect facility and then realise halfway through the process that it’s not going to work for them,” said Rob Blythman, general manager of Total’s Engineering Construction Group.

“For example, when a client moves from a small operation in a 400sqm facility to a 1,000-2,000sqm facility and it happens to be a food factory, for instance, and its already fitted out, they think they’ve struck gold.

“Often, they quickly realise that the facility doesn’t work for their process at all, so they end up ripping half of it out, cutting up the floors, etc. and that becomes more expensive than if they had decided to build from scratch.

“If we’ve got a blank canvas, that’s easier to work with than something that’s already a fitted-out factory. If it’s already a factory, it’s the worst building to pick, because you will have to compromise your process flow to suit what the previous occupant had.”

Reusing materials doesn’t save you money either, unfortunately. For instance, according to Blythman, an insulated panel costs you more money to rip down and move to another part of the facility than to put in a new piece.

“People think the walls and roof are the expensive part, and that’s the cheapest part of any building. It’s not materials that cost money in Australia, its labour.

“Ninety per cent of the time you’re better off with something new. It’s quicker to install something new, and you don’t have the hassle of trying to keep it all in one piece while you’re moving it, which triples the time it takes and, therefore, the cost.”

As such, Total recommends involving your builder earlier in the process, ideally during the scoping and design stage known as Early Contractor Involvement (ECI). Having the builder involved at this stage allows for critical cost items in any build or fit-out to be identified.

“Engineers look purely at the process and the way the process will run, which might mean going upstairs, downstairs, down conveyor belts and up mezzanine levels. We, on the other hand, give the manufacturer a clearer picture of what they’re going to trip over, cost-wise, in terms of the build. We may look at the facility and find that, actually, there’s no need for mezzanine levels because you have enough floor space. That’s going to save you significantly on the building costs.”

Involving a builder with a process engineering capability, such as Total, enables a different set of eyes to see the requirements and suggest alternatives to the building layout that don’t just reduce the need for costly building works, but potentially improve the process flow altogether.

“We give clients the whole picture: here’s the extra cost and here’s the risk not to do it, and you decide,” Blythman said.

Total conducts site investigations on existing and proposed facilities to detail and identify all of the services required and what is possible at the new site. For example, to increase power or gas supply to a site can be very costly and create delays.

Total identifies these bottlenecks early on in the process to avoid the hassle that comes with retroactively realising what the issues are. A review into the buildability of facilities enables Total to compile design layouts with the intention to optimise process flows to best fit the client’s objectives.

“You might need increased power to the site. Most facilities only allow for 300 amps, but you might need 1,500-2,000 amps to run all of your equipment. There might not be gas available, and you might have big gas furnaces that you need to run,” Blythman said.

“Manufacturers typically don’t care if it costs an extra 20-30 per cent if it does what they need it to do. It’s better than paying less and it doesn’t do what they need to do. That’s what keeps them up at night, and we’re in the business of taking away that headache.”

Being a construction solutions provider means that Total Construction is not in the business of taking a one size fits all approach to building projects. Rather, Total is agile in the way it tailors services to clients and offers a range of project delivery models.

“We think about the client’s equipment inside the building first, and about the perfect layout and perfect positioning of everything inside the building, services included. You might need compressed air here, steam there – we do all that first and then we design the building around it. Because you’re never going to get exactly what you need available on the market, you’re going to have to adapt to the building, or have the building adapt to you.”

With more and more manufacturers of all sizes implementing Industry 4.0 technologies, however, facilities are changing in order to accommodate new equipment.

“We see a lot of clients putting in automated storage and retrieval systems; they’ve got to expand their warehousing and their facility to do that. Putting in full automation systems in their production lines means they’ve got to do changes to their services as well. Where they didn’t have compressed air, they’re going to need compressed air; where they didn’t have steam, they’re going to need steam; drainage might need to be included in the project. That’s why we focus on project engineering.”

With every project, the company looks for innovations to improve “buildability” and offers value engineering solutions, where possible, to ensure the best possible outcome for clients.

Early involvement and a close relationship with the client is key. In fact, according to Blythman, Total likes to become part of the client’s project team rather than a service provider.

“The client is key in deriving the ideal design and process flow. We involve all stakeholders from the client side to develop the design and layout that fits perfectly with their operational needs,” he explained.

“It’s the way we’ve always done business and the way we’ve always approached a project. Clients like that we know their business almost as well as they do.”

Another bonus to doing business this way is that it enables clients to accurately budget.

“Rather than being approached by a client who tells us, ‘This is what we need to do’, and then asks, ‘How much will it cost me?’, we set a budget and design the build program around what money they have available. We can show you what you can build and what you can fit out for that level of funding,” Blythman said.

“They might go to a normal builder and that builder will say, ‘Yep, no worries – that will be $1,000 per square metre to build you a warehouse-type factory!’ But what about if they need extra strength in the floors? That’s extra concrete; you need 200-600mm of concrete to hold heavy pieces of equipment.

“The average builder says, ‘I know how to build the walls and the roof, not all these manufacturing specific needs.’ So they can’t get a good grasp on the cost, which is why you then get sticker shock, because you think its $1000 per square metre, and they do all the budgeting based on that, but when it comes to building the facility to suit them its $2500 – $3500 per sqm.”

Total’s transparent and agile mode of engagement with their clients, however, eliminates the possibility of sticker-shock.

“Whether you’re planning for expansion or a new building, we want you to think: let’s talk to Total first.”

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