UW Bothell Science and Academic Building is a Lesson in Lean Construction

Seattle - As the construction industry increasingly embraces lean methods to improve project outcomes, many people are asking "Does lean really work?" and "How?"

The UW Bothell Phase 3 Science and Academic Building (UWB 3) is a complex building, stepping up a hillside and featuring teaching laboratories, classrooms, a lecture hall, AV-intensive collaboratory spaces, offices, and a sustainability focus. After a planned 2011 start, the project fell victim to State budget cutbacks, then was revived in the spring of 2012 with the mandate of a very fast summer start, a March 2014 completion, and sticking to a tight budget. Now two-thirds of the way through construction, the project is on-time and on-budget.

Succeeding has required a strong focus on Lean – leveraging technology and adhering to specific efficiency measures to improve budget, schedule, and quality. Lean is a comprehensive approach to wringing out waste and adding value in every aspect of the project. Leveraging a history originating in manufacturing, Lean results range from more efficient planning and scheduling to enabling workers in the field to produce the best quality safely, and at faster rates.

The starting point for Lean is close, "integrated" teamwork among the owner, designers, and contractor, which can greatly speed coordination and then uses the whole team's collective wisdom to find better solutions at every step. The UW, THA Architecture, and general contractor / construction manager (GC/CM) Lease Crutcher Lewis (Lewis) agreed from the start to work closely together and focus intensely on the same mutually-defined goals, rather than each party acting independently. For example, the design process was continuous with ongoing input by all, rather than the typical iterative process with the stops and starts that requires. Sharing offices has opened communication and replaced many voice mails, emails, or formal meetings with quick discussion instead.

Practitioners of Lean are forecasting and achieving much lower costs, as Lean has improved production rates and reduced labor costs. At UWB 3, Lewis bid low on the structural package thanks to aggressive assumptions on these fronts (GC/CMs wishing to self-perform work are required to compete by bidding vs. subcontractors). In the end, this bid was easily justified – labor costs have been 15 percent below the aggressive assumptions.

Lean advocates leveraging BIM (building information modeling) intelligently during purchasing and construction as well as during design. At UWB 3, subcontractor bid packages included model information because clear information turns into lower bids and avoids change requests later. Once on board, the major trades modeled their own work, and Lewis integrated all trades into a federated model for not only clash detection but also optimization of each scope. Some trades took over their own design coordination process, skipping the traditional final portion of the construction document design phase and moving straight to shop drawings, saving 15 weeks for that activity.

The team is using BIM to provide far more targeted information for craftspeople in the field, which makes construction much more efficient. Printed sheets integrating 3D model images and other data describe each week's work for major trades. Workers benefit from direct access to the whole model onsite, so the UWB 3 team uses indoor and outdoor mobile plan tables, using desktop computers for their large monitors and computing power.

The team has avoided expensive change orders. These tend to be due to unclear bid packages, conflicting scopes, and construction delays. All of these are addressed by integrated teaming and Lean. The UW measured UWB 3's structural package against three other similar recent UW projects, all of which were successes in their own right. The average cost of changes on the past projects was $1.93 per square foot, and at UWB 3 this is $0.35 per square foot. For a 74,000 square foot building, that suggests an improvement of $116,000 compared to typical projects. Much of this is due to the complete absence of the change-related overtime that many jobs use to stay within schedule.

Last Planner scheduling, another Lean tool, has resulted in strong buy-in by the subcontractor crews, with each foreman helping Lewis Superintendent Don Korsmo understand what they need before they begin, and when their work will complete. Input is at the field level, not just the management level from each sub. This creates a better-informed schedule, greater buy-in by each trade, and better performance as everyone works to fulfill promises. As work proceeds as planned, each trade is able to maintain level staffing and stay out of other trades' way, and the project avoids the hurdles that can turn into change requests.

Better coordination of trades has paid off. It is common for more than 15 percent of mechanical installations to need reinstallation due to conflicts with other systems. At UWB 3 there has been nearly zero rework. Just four sprinklers have needed to be relocated, all because they had not been installed per plan. Everything else has fit exactly. This has a domino effect, as positive relations between subcontractors have resulted in even better performance.

Rather than the traditional method of storing materials onsite, the team has used just-in-time delivery to keep the site clear. Labor costs and damage have been avoided by not needing to move each item repeatedly to make room. A clean, open site is also safer.

Digital communication tools are speeding communication among all parties, and greatly reducing the cost and space devoted to paper. For example, drawing updates are made in the model and available online immediately via Lewis' WebPM portal, rather than having every team member waiting for drawing markups to be hand-delivered or faxed, without clarity about who had which version of the drawings. Other tools include third-party meeting sites that allow real-time viewing of the same screen, and digital signatures for faster contracting, administration, and accounting. Overall, paper use is reduced by more than 75 percent.

Fact Sheet: Total project value: $68,000,000 Construction contract: $42,000,000 Project name: UW Bothell Phase 3 Science and Academic Building, or UWB 3 Substantial completion March 2014, final completion May 2014 Scope: This is the first building to be constructed by UW Bothell in 10 years. The 74,000 square foot building will house 11 science labs, several classrooms, gathering space, and a 200-person lecture hall. The project also includes substantial upgrades to the campus infrastructure. This will allow UW Bothell to serve an additional 1,000 students each year, and graduate nearly 350 more students annually into the workforce.

Sustainability: The team is targeting LEED® Gold certification. Anticipated energy use is 30 percent better than a typical building of this type. The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) will use a chilled beam system, which will require substantially less energy and less maintenance than typical. Operable windows will provide an energy-free cooling and airflow option. Displacement ventilation will condition public assembly areas. Efficient lighting will include high-performance linear fluorescents, compact fluorescent downlights, and LEDs. Daylight harvesting will automatically reduce artificial lighting as daylight allows. Occupancy sensors will turn lights off in unoccupied spaces. The construction process will be sustainable as well, including reducing paper by 75 percent through digital documents and online coordination.

Owner: University of Washington GC/CM (General Contractor/Construction Manager): Lease Crutcher Lewis Architect: THA Architecture Structural engineer: PCS Structural Solutions Mechanical/electrical engineer: Glumac Civil engineer: OTAK Landscape architect: Walker Macy MC/CM (Mechanical Contractor / Construction Manager): Hermanson EC/CM (Electrical Contractor / Construction Manager): Nelson Electric Key Subcontractors: Corona Steel, Division 9, Hermanson, Hos Brothers, ISEC, Kone, Midmountain, Nelson Electric, Northshore Sheet Metal, Vanderlip, Washington Glass & Glazing, Wayne's Roofing

About Lease Crutcher Lewis
Lease Crutcher Lewis has been a leading Northwest general contractor since 1886, and has been based in Seattle since 1939. Lewis is active in numerous project types, including laboratory, healthcare, education, office, retail, hotel, multifamily, historic renovation, and others. Common threads for its work include an integrated approach to working with customers and design partners, sustainability, and a focus on optimizing delivery through lean construction approaches.