Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Interserve's Star Trek lookalike offers glimpse of the future

A clever hollow deck and enterprising technology are helping the contractor deliver Sheffield University’s new reconfigurable manufacturing centre.

Project: Factory 2050
Client: AMRC
Contract value: £43m
Interserve contract value: £18m
Region: Yorkshire & the Humber
Main contractor: Interserve
Consultant engineer: Curtins
Steel frame subcontractor: Finley Structures
M&E subcontractor: NG Bailey
Architect: Bond Bryan Architects
Start date: September 2014
Completion date: November 2015

“We’ve got three-quarters of the Starship Enterprise,” says Interserve senior project manager Simon Dovener, referring to the shape of the futuristic Factory 2050 project on which the firm is main contractor.

Situated just outside Sheffield, the scheme is intended to show what a factory will look like in 2050.

The building comprises two sections: a large circular reconfigurable factory with a three-storey office facility in the middle (phase one), and a “less flash” long rectangular (phase two) workshop extending off-centre from the hub like a radial spoke, Mr Dovener explains.

Source: Interserve

If this chunky spoke is ever joined by an envisaged parallel and identical second one, the ‘Enterprise’ look will be complete.

‘Factory’ may be in the title, but the completed project will be focused on helping a variety of clients solve manufacturing issues, rather than actually doing any manufacturing of its own.

Make it so

The crucial element of the scheme is that it’s a reconfigurable facility.

This means that whereas one week an aircraft manufacturer may be the incumbent client and carrying out component tests, the next week it could be an entirely different customer with a completely new set of challenges to resolve.

The main job began with site workers digging a basement with a fire escape corridor that runs from the central hub to an external pod, as well as a service corridor that goes to an energy centre.

The fire escape wraps around the central hub of the office core as it winds down to the 5 m-deep basement, meaning that in the event of a fire, staff won’t have to cross the workshop to escape the building.

This basement was a substantial dig at 30 m long and a significant element of the job that entailed forming the retaining walls from reinforcement and concrete – all done in situ.

On the plus side, Interserve didn’t need to do any ground improvement – one of the benefits of it being on the site of an old airport that’s still used by police helicopters.

With no foundations needed, a thick 450 mm slab acts as a raft and supplies the mass needed for some fairly heavy but delicate machines that will be visiting the site and will need something to bolt down to that won’t overly vibrate.

Secret of the hollow deck

Within this element lies the key to what makes the factory reconfigurable.

Mr Dovener explains how the “significant service trenches cast into that slab” form an inner ring and an outer ring, with all the ventilation, compressed air, water and electricity running through these.

Interserve senior site manager Lianne Lawson elaborates: “The M&E has had a big [influence on] the structural part of the building in terms of the slab formation.

“We’ve cast in some big service trenches as part of the ground-floor slab and they’re the parts that will feed all the machinery and research equipment.”

Space-temp conundrum

Because the 450 mm ground-floor slab has an FM2 finish with strict tolerances, Interserve left this until after the roof had gone on, to provide weather protection.

These fine tolerances extend to its air temperature, which will be +/-1 deg C from its optimum of 20 deg C, as metals are particularly prone to thermal expansion and contraction.

“That’s a tough ask for the M&E guys to create such fine tolerances in such a big space,” says Interserve senior site manager Lianne Lawson.

Heating for the project is provided by mechanical ventilation driven by 32 ground-source heat pumps.


She says the project was quite unusual in that NG Bailey and the M&E design team had some very early input into how the building was going to be delivered in terms of shape and structure, because so much was cast within the foundations.

Source: Bond Bryan Architects

“They might be researching something from a titanium hip replacement one week, to Boeing bringing in half a jet engine the next week,” she says.

“The M&E guys have had quite a lot of work incorporating a big spectrum of end products that might get used.”

Mr Dovener adds: “The idea is that [a client] can bring a machine in, place it adjacent to a service trench and there will be a series of duct covers with service holes in them where they can just tap a machine in at any point.”

“It means we’re not sending guys into the trenches to get the job done. It’s just a case of getting them all in and connecting them up at the corners. That’s a lot of time saving.”

Lianne Lawson, Interserve Construction

To save time, NG Bailey prefabricated all the M&E that has been going into the service trenches.

“There’s a nice big line of ductwork ready to go, a nice row of pipes, a nice row of basket containment for the cabling,” Ms Lawson says.

“It means we’re not sending guys into the trenches to get the job done. It’s just a case of getting them all in and connecting them up at the corners. That’s a lot of time saving.”

Federation protocol

One of the challenges the design teams continually had to deal with was being geometrically accurate.

This was essential because the phase one central building is not entirely circular. While parts of it more or less are, others are faceted. Making sure the facets meet the circles “takes a little bit of time on the drawing board”, Mr Dovener says.

With a BIM protocol written into the contract’s requirements, the model had input from structural engineer Curtins, steel frame subcontractor Finley Structures and from NG Bailey.

The various parties are using a range of software, with Finley using Tekla, Bond Bryan Architects working in Archicad and Interserve using Solibri on site as its viewing and clash detection tool, although as a company it’s moving towards Navisworks.

With firms all concentrating on different elements, Bond Bryan enters it all back into one fortnightly federated model to highlight any clashes that have resulted from the various disparate uploading of new bits of work.

This allows the team to work out what can be done before each element gets out onto the site.

Enterprising BIM

“Someone laughed at me, but I’ve used BIM from a safety perspective as well,” Ms Lawson says.

“When we’re doing things like the roof, we’ve got a very big curved bullnose on this building that wraps around to the soffit and we’re setting scaffold handrails up before we’re even close to doing that [work].

Using the model has allowed the team to work out where the lines of everything sit and pull measurements off. This means it has been able to set the handrails up once and avoid having to move them as various teams come in.

“That’s how I’ve got into the BIM and learned how to drive myself around the model a bit better. With that’s come the understanding of the building element as you go.”

Lianne Lawson, Interserve Construction

“I’ve used it from that perspective, which isn’t just the building side of it – how do we build it or how does this meet that. It helps us in other areas,” she adds.

“It has helped us in that [respect] because of the tricky interfaces with the facets and the curves. It’s meant we’ve been able to look and see what it’s going to be like and we’ve been able to peel back the layers and understand it.

“If we pop a handrail up on a scaffold, for example, and start popping the layers back on, is it going to start clashing with anything.

“That’s how I’ve got into BIM and learned how to drive myself around the model a bit better. With that’s come the understanding of the building element as you go.”

BIM aside, the team has had to think carefully about some of the sequencing on what isn’t the most conventional of buildings. The air-handling plant for example, which sits on the second floor, does not have the easiest of access.

This meant the team had to get the 620-tonne central steel frame up and then add the second floor slab cast early – before adding the roof – so site workers could then drop the air-handling units onto it and then ‘build them in’.

Despite all the various complications, work was progressing well at the time of Construction News’ visit, with the facility well on course for its scheduled November completion.

Once complete, this forward-looking ‘factory’ can begin helping the manufacturers of tomorrow boldly go where no firm has gone before.

Local crew

“The starting point for our subcontractors is that we have a database and we can search trades in ever increasing radiuses,” says Interserve senior site manager Lianne Lawson.

“We start at a 32 km radius for companies that are interested in doing the work, and if we can’t get a company that can manage that size [of job] then we expand the radius until we’ve got enough to competitively tender.

“It might be that the accounts office is in Newcastle, but the steel erector is about 5 km down the road, so the labour onsite is local.

“We have a big say on who turns up on our job, we work with them every day and we need to know that we’re going to get on.”

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.