Exploring Project Buffering to Build Data Centers Faster

Jun 23, 2020

Competing Demand

Data center developers have established efficient global infrastructure deployment plans to meet the ever-increasing demand for the digital cloud; especially, the need for Owner Furnished Contractor Installed (OFCI) or Owner Furnished Equipment (OFE). To secure this supply of critical power and cooling equipment, they must opportunistically make large scale purchasing commitments from multiple Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), making them responsible for furnishing the equipment to construction sites across the globe. Grand View Research projects the global data center generator market will reach 10.9 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 6.5%. For example, this year alone at one of our long-term partner’s hyperscale sites, we are offloading and installing over 150 outdoor generators. With the hundreds of others globally planned or currently under construction, simply put, there are thousands of generators with varying production and delivery lead times, all competing against your site needs. Data center developers rely heavily on their supply chains to meet the need for faster capacity at infinitely scalable rates. Unfortunately, when your demand and supply schedules are very different, you are at risk of missing critical path construction end dates.

Synchronizing Schedules

Manufacturers’ existing supply chains are challenged to keep up with shorter lead times, especially with the global supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19. To combat this, many data center developers have existing partnerships to maintain equipment inventory levels. However, with all the external demand, and current health and economic variables at play, accurately estimating equipment manufacturing completion and site delivery dates are highly volatile targets. Despite manufacturers’ high interest in rapid production and movement of the equipment off their production floors, moving completion dates can cause downstream construction scope creep by days and weeks. Trucking companies hired by the manufacturer to transport the equipment to the site are also a moving piece to the unsolidified delivery schedules. These trucking company’s ability to predict site arrival is led by a myriad of potential hurdles, such as last-minute manufacturer production delays, department of transportation hours of service rules, permitting issues, weather, border closures, and mechanical malfunctions.

Meanwhile, the ability to predict site-building activity production is more refined and predictable. Site construction teams have highly detailed level three schedules with critical path dependencies tied to the equipment’s site arrival. Synchronizing site tasks to equipment delivery is one of the main challenges. From our years receiving and setting equipment on-site, site construction teams often learn of delivery delays just hours before the planned arrival time and date, leaving our heavy lift equipment and crews with site contract teams on standby; sometimes, long-term. These equipment delays can lead to additional site rework as contractor teams shift gears and knock out nearby building scope while waiting for equipment to arrive, causing obstructions for heavy lift resources.

With proper streamlining of OFCI equipment delivery and installation with Project Buffering, we have seen our partners remove OFCI equipment delivery delays, minimize site rework delays, lower site risk, and ultimately build faster data centers.

Buffer to Build Faster

Throughout the years, we have helped build some of the most complex hyperscale data centers and consistently seek ways to support incremental improvements to our partners’ data center infrastructure deployment plans. I recently had the privilege of meeting with one of our long-term hyperscale partners to discuss and recast an existing site phase that just finished. Our contract was to receive and offload over 3,000,000 lbs. of electrical indoor and outdoor power equipment on a just-in-time delivery schedule that had a planned delivery timeframe of roughly three months. Due to unforeseen equipment production and transportation delays, the project extended to seven months. We reworked the site utilizing the following streamlined approach.

Starting 90 days before the first planned equipment delivery, we recast the plan to coordinate equipment pickup with the multiple equipment manufacturers. We transported and delivered the equipment to one of our local secured warehouses using our inhouse, secured transportation platform, where we have hauled over 16,000 loads nationally with an average cost savings of 20% per load. The use of our transportation platform gave our partner increased visibility and allowed us to have accurate delivery dates. At our warehouse, the construction teams performed quality control (QC) field verification, inspection, and electrical line-up pre-fabrication assembly work for the indoor units before site arrival. This step eliminated site delays associated with foundation, hookup, and equipment issues during installation. As we delivered each piece of equipment to our warehouse, we verified our rigging and installation plan and designed a logistic delivery plan that aligned with the site contractor building schedule. Once all equipment was received, QC complete, and with the building foundations ready, we loaded out, transported, and set the 3,000,000 lbs. of equipment in a one-month timeframe, with one mobilization of heavy lift resources. This streamlined approach, that we call Project Buffering, gave back roughly a 35% heavy lift contractor savings, excluding contractor markups, removed six months of site delays, and ultimately led to faster speed-to-market. We are currently collaborating with Compass Datacenters, who has been a ProLift customer and pushed us to create the buffering program. We are taking this approach together in four significant data center markets, allowing them quicker speed-to-market while also having on-demand emergency storage of critical equipment spares.

There’s a lot of innovation out there and the data center industry is converging to build better, cheaper, and faster now more than ever to meet the current demand. We’ve witnessed the costly gap between OFCI equipment production, delivery, and site installation schedules when synchronization fails. With proper streamlining of OFCI equipment delivery and installation with Project Buffering, we have seen our partners remove OFCI equipment delivery delays, minimize site rework delays, lower site risk, and ultimately build faster data centers.