When a manufacturer of softgel capsules needed a lift, the Design/Builders at EMCOR Services/Trimech Corp. were there to pick them up.
By Ron Rajecki, executive editor
Winner: Retrofit/Rennovation: More than $1 Million.
EMCOR Services --Trimech Corporation
Pompton Plains, NJ
Winner at a Glance:
Have you even wondered where softgel capsules come from? Wonder no more. Soft gel capsule production machines like this one can crank out thousands each day.
This unit provides a mix of return and desiccated air to the drying tunnels for Intergel's softgel capsules.
The customfabricated doors on the drying tunnels are designed to act as supply air grilles.
One of the key advantages that true Design/Build holds over any other type of delivery system is its ability to find specific solutions to specific customer challenges. Design/Build, by its very nature, has nothing "cookie cutter" about it.
Design/Build also allows a contractor to take a big-picture view of a project and really get to know a customer's business and needs. In some cases, that knowledge can not only lead to delivery of an outstanding HVAC system, but an improvement in the customer's very business itself.
Such was the case for EMCOR Services/ Trimech Corp., a $10 million mechanical contracting firm in Pompton Plains, NJ, when it was called by the Intergel Division of Inverness Medical Innovations, Irvington, NJ. Intergel manufactures soft gelatin capsules for the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries.
Intergel's challenge was a good one to have — its product is so popular that its customers wanted much more volume than the Irvington facility could produce. The company needed to increase supply in the most time-efficient and costeffective way.
The increase in supply wasn't going to be a small one. Intergel was manufacturing 2 billion softgel capsules per year; at the same product mix, this project would allow them to produce 3.5 billion. And this wasn't a case in which quantity could be substituted for quality. As Intergel proudly states in a company brochure, "Our rigorous manufacturing standards have given us an impeccable regulatory compliance letter. No Inverness Medical Group facility has ever been issued an FDA warning letter, and none has ever been involved in a recall, misbranding, or Good Manufacturing Practices violation."
Because Irvington is a very densely developed area, expanding the footprint of the building was not a viable option, and building a new facility would have caused a significant disruption in production. Thus, a renovation project was born.
Finding the Right Partner
After an extensive interview process, the senior management at Inverness Medical Solutions was confident that the project team at Trimech was the right partner for the job. Trimech had completed numerous renovation projects requiring tight control over time and money, including one that was honored as a runner-up in last year's Contracting Business Design/Build Awards (see CB, October 2006, p. 54).
"I was very impressed with Trimech's Scott Smith," says Ray Mulvey, Intergel's vice president. "Even though ours is an industry in which he didn't have a lot of experience, he picked up on it immediately and understood exactly what we wanted to do."
It was very important for Intergel to remain focused on its normal business operations and not be unnecessarily burdened by interfacing with numerous contractors. Realizing this, Trimech offered to be the prime Design/Builder, taking responsibility for all aspects of the project, including architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection. Recognizing the value of this offer, Intergel graciously (and wisely) accepted.
"Most HVAC contractors would prefer to work directly for the owner or end-user than a general contractor," notes Trimech Vice President and General Manager Scott Smith. "On this project, we were able to take the prime contract and had the GC working for us. The owner only had two major contracts on this job: one with us, and one with the manufacturer of the process equipment. That allowed us to really control the project and not be one or two steps removed from the client."
Once on board, the Trimech team took a close look at how to help Intergel gain more production capacity from its existing space. It made sense that production rates could be substantially increased by installing two new, larger encapsulation machines. Trimech went beyond the obvious, however, and found the product-drying process could be made significantly more efficient by converting the client's current "drying rooms" into "drying tunnels."
The innovative drying tunnels were designed to substantially boost throughput by increasing the density of the capsules within the available drying space and decreasing the drying time by more effectively distributing dry air across the capsules. Trimech's design team carefully scrutinized every aspect of the tunnels to maximize the efficiency of product flow, durability, fire resistance, and drying effectiveness. Even the doors of the tunnels are specially designed to act as supply air terminals to deliver a uniform and steady flow of dry air through the tunnels.
Intergel's desire for uninterrupted production throughout the project meant setting up temporary partitions to separate construction areas from production space. These partitions were set up during a regularly scheduled production shutdown. Temporary exhaust systems were used to keep the construction area at negative pressure, which reduced the migration of debris and moisture into the operating production spaces.
Keeping to the Schedule
Completing the project as rapidly as possible was of paramount importance to Intergel. Therefore, Trimech worked closely with the client to develop a detailed project schedule well in advance of the completion of design documents. Not only did this schedule allow for careful coordination of work to avoid interference with ongoing production activities, it also created confidence about the project's completion date. That allowed Intergel to effectively manage its customer commitments.
"We sat down with Trimech and put together a timetable for the project," recalls Mulvey, "and the project was finished within one week of the projected date. Trimech was here when they said they were going to be here, they did everything they said they would do, and their work was exemplary."
Smith says experience and a reasonable customer made all the difference in creating the project schedule.
"We first met with Intergel in August, and they wanted a straight answer as to whether the project could be completed by February 1," says Smith. "We sat down with them and went through the project schedule line by line and showed them how that date just wasn't possible. We gave them a realistic date, and we hit it.
"It would have been easy and understandable to say yes to February 1, and when we missed it, we would have had a dissatisfied client. In this case, by working side-by-side with the client, we showed them what we could deliver and when we could deliver it. They ended up much happier having that news upfront than finding out six months down the road."
Smith is especially proud of the fact that the target date was hit despite some significant unplanned issues, including a long municipality approval process, and a lengthy delay waiting for equipment to arrive from the manufacturer of the softgel encapsulation machinery.
The System Takes Shape
Trimech's work included construction of a new structural platform on the roof of the facility to support two new Bry-Air desiccant dehumidification units and Trane condensing units. One dehumidification unit is being used to service the facility's current 15 drying tunnels; the second will be used to provide dry air for any tunnels the company adds in the future.
The 15 drying tunnels are divided into three groups: two groups of six and one group of three. A dedicated Trane air handling unit is provided for each group. Each air handler is located on an existing mezzanine just above the drying tunnels, and has a heating coil for final temperature control. The air handlers move air through the tunnels, mixed with carefully monitored quantities of dry air from the desiccant units. Return air comes from the tunnels.
Although the facility's production space was already conditioned by an existing desiccant-based system, Trimech modified the ductwork and added RAE Corp. steam reheat coils to accommodate the redesigned space.
A Tour Andover Controls direct digital control (DDC) system handles various aspects of the desiccant units, air handlers, and reheat coils. The system includes a graphical operator workstation to allow for monitoring and adjustment of the various parameters within the system.
Trimech's final product for Intergel included design and installation of electrical power systems for all of the installed equipment (HVAC and process), as well as for all lighting and convenience power. It also included all control wiring associated not only with the DDC system, but also with the process control systems for the production machinery.
And, of course, no award-winning project would be complete without the finishing touch of commissioning. In this case, Trimech's National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB)-certified technicians balanced the tunnels in a real-world situation: namely, while they were fully charged with capsules.
Not a Tough Pill to Swallow
In the end, this project ended up being a collaboration between two companies that refuse to compromise quality.
Inverness Medical Group's mission statement reads, in part: "We apply the exacting standards of pharmaceutical quality to everything we make, and the highest standards of integrity in everything we do."
That might sound as if it would make them a tough customer. The people at Trimech, however, know a little something about quality and integrity in their own right. "Our slogan has always been 'value through excellence,'" says Smith. "We really strive to understand the client's needs so we can design the right job and deliver it as efficiently as possible. Our work at Intergel is a good example of that."
The result is good medicine, courtesy of the Design/Build process.