Data Center Supply Chain Automation: Tackling Challenges From Factory to Operation Floor at CAPRE’s Construction, Design, and Engineering Summit

DENVER, CO – The data center construction and engineering space is dynamic, with new technologies and platforms seemingly revolutionizing various aspects of workflow every week. However, with change comes hiccups and lessons learned. To get in front of this conversation, CAPRE included a panel titled “Data Center Supply Chain Automation: From Factory to Operation Floor” at its Data Center Construction, Design, and Engineering Summit in Denver in August.

Moderated by Everett Thompson, General Manager at Wired Real Estate Group, the conversation kicked off with a request by Thiompson for the two panelists to provide some insight into the typical project that they say within their respective verticals. “What are the common issues that occur?” asked Thompson.

Jesse Davern, Chief Estimator for RK Mission Critical, a provider of custom-engineered modular solutions for the data and telecom industries, offered the first take, talking about his firm’s platform and why it’s so unique. “Well, for example, we’re in a controlled environment. We don’t have a 30-acre site for a bunch of material layout. We’re confined to a 430,000 square foot fabrication facility,” he began, setting the tone for his perspective.

“Let’s say we’re building 60 models on the floor at one time. We don’t have enough space to stock material for the entire build-out, but we’ve got equipment coming, and we’re identifying where it is in the shop. We have all of the raw material that we’re using to manufacture – steel, wall panels, etc,” continued Davern. “Having an idea of how much inventory we can hold and how much is used on the daily, you can keep track of your budget and how many hours are on your project, and you can still make sure you still have that on-time delivery.”

“So where are the hiccups?” asked Thompson. “What’s a common issue that pops up?”

Jesse Davern, Chief Estimator, RK Mission Critical,

“Well a common issue is that your workers are already moving onto Model C [after the completion of Model A & Model B], but there’s no material there for them,” Davern replied. “Because, say, you got your minimum for something simple like screws. Say you’ve got a thousand dollars worth of screws sitting there, but you can’t move on, because some of the other materials are still stuck in transit from the supply chain.”

At that point, Thompson followed up with some remarks about why Davern’s insight is so timely. “What I think is interesting is that you’ve got a controlled environment. They’re delivering a product to a site, and presumably the site is pad-ready. And they’ve still run into these challenges,” he observed, preparing to ask Davern’s co-panelist, Vikas Murali, Chief Executive Officer of Actvcontent, the next question.

“So how is it possible that when you’re a construction manager dealing with a data center environment – which is a snowflake, essentially – you wouldn’t run into these same problems?” mused Thompson. “It’s got to be more complex when you’re talking about custom-designed data centers and delivering it each time to a new site and a new environment.”

“There is a significant trend in product manufacturing where orders can be different, and you have a lot of engineered-to-order assembly happening,” offered Murali, whose firm makes software to enable real-time factory-wide visibility throughout the manufacturing process. “And with that, you have to manage the complexity of the process – each and every individual order could be different. And that creates a lot of variability, and that can constrain your delivery. I think that when it comes to the software world, you’ve got to think about that. That’s a new challenge that needs to be addressed.”

Vikas Murali, CEO, Actvcontent

Not surprisingly, Murali had quite a bit to say about how the industry has found itself in this particular predicament. “It’s a scenario where a lot of the tools today that manufacturers can rely on were really built with a different type of manufacturing in mind. One with more processes in place – things were similar, over and over again,” he explained. “But now, with less repetition, more customization, you need new software that can tackle that. From a high level, that’s what we’re looking to do.”

In response to that, Thompson asked the question on everyone’s mind — what tools or tricks exist today to address these challenges?

“Implemeting software is a huge trick – to have that visibility for multiple levels,” Davern replied, concurring with Murali’s viewpoint and showcasing a shared value proposition. “We want our material coming in to be coded. If something’s been pulled from inventory, I don’t want my workers to track what they’re pulling themselves, to make sure there’s inventory. I want them assembling and installing.”

“So they need to be pulling this inventory that’s automatically tracked through codes, and which can be viewed on dashboards throughout the shop. You want to know your burn rate for the day, how much you’re consuming,” he continued, preparing to conclude the initial conversation of the panel discussion. “And fortunately, there are trigger points in there, which tell you when it’s time to re-order.”

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