Choosing a Site for a Manufacturing Facility
Part 2: Examining Topography, Environmental History, Local Infrastructure
This second in a three-part series examines the importance of existing conditions on a given site, as well as environmental and regulatory conditions.
A site visit is the starting point—not the end point—of site selection. In-person visits don’t usually reveal the challenges that the building team will face. At a minimum, the site selection team must examine topography, environmental history and local infrastructure.
The first thing to look at is the proposed site’s surroundings. Do nearby industrial facilities emit pollution, odors, or dust that will impact the new facility? Could contamination be introduced from adjacent sites (for example, sewage treatment plants, landfills, dumps, chemical plants, or power plants). An acceptable site will have good air quality, low air particulate and low concentrations of airborne bugs or other pests. These issues are typically covered in an environmental assessment, usually conducted by a consultant. Engage with local economic development, governments and community-based organizations to determine if the new facility will be a fit with surrounding communities.
Logistics (relating to suppliers and end users) is another important factor in selecting a site. Identify the modes of transportation needed for raw material deliveries, outgoing finished product distribution and internal material movement, and assess the site’s proximity to these options.
Traffic flow also needs to be evaluated. Traffic congestion can limit the throughput of production equipment and make access to the facility troublesome for workers, suppliers and distributors. Are there alternative options if a route is shut down or blocked? A location that minimizes the facility’s mileage between both customers and materials also will minimize transportation costs. High-priority customers should be considered first.
Review the plant’s communications and utility requirements, then compare them to resources that are readily available to the site. Water and energy sources, with adequate capacity and within close proximity to the site, are a must. Also consider the waste stream of the facility’s intended product. It is important to determine which municipalities have the facilities to process different waste streams, or the operator could be faced with on-going waste processing costs.
Developing cost estimates for utility services will help with qualifying prospective sites. Engaging power companies and other utilities early in the process to assess availability and costs can be beneficial. In many cases, utility companies may be able to contribute to specific projects. Costs can be projected based on existing data from similar facilities.
From building and fire codes to permitting and zoning, the regulatory environment must be carefully reviewed. This is very important for companies considering purchasing existing facilities, as the building will have been initially designed and constructed for a different use. Regulatory requirements are highly specific to the output of the project and need to be reviewed with environmental and/or legal support. Additionally, new codes or pending regulation could impact plant processes and equipment used.
Don’t make assumptions about labor availability. A labor market analysis is necessary to ascertain whether or not there is an available workforce with the right skill sets. Review the area’s unemployment rate, industry mix and number of workers in comparable occupations along with their wage ranges and benefits packages. Have these occupations recently seen significant growth or a decline? A decline indicates a readily available labor pool. Contact local economic development groups, universities, community/technical colleges and vocational/high schools to find out if they offer relevant education, training and apprenticeship programs and determine their willingness to partner with local employers through development of specific workforce training programs.
All of the above considerations translate into many project variables that have a complex interplay, making site selection a non-intuitive process. By working with design-build firms or consultants who have leading interactive building information modeling (BIM) software, and who have customized its pre-set formulas and data sets (especially historical cost data) with information that is closely tailored to specific project situations, owners can reduce risk and improve on predictability. Parameters can be changed on the fly and cost estimates on energy, lifecycle, topography/grading and scheduling/sequencing are then updated in real time. Decision making is enhanced when owners and team members are engaged in the transformation of a model as its footprint, building material type, massing, siting and more are adjusted. Various alternatives and “what-if” scenarios can be quickly and accurately compared.
Brian Gallagher is vice president for marketing at O’Neal, Inc. O’Neal is an integrated design and construction firm based in Greenville, SC. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-551-0362.
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