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The Calculus of Master Planning an Industrial Site Project

Effective master planning results in seamless construction projects and builds the momentum for lean, concise operations and continued success.

Q4 2018
Companies are sensitive to the way the public perceives them. The design of a building, such as this Mercedes-Benz facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can enhance the desired perception of the company, its products, and facilities as part of a contiguous brand message.
Companies are sensitive to the way the public perceives them. The design of a building, such as this Mercedes-Benz facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can enhance the desired perception of the company, its products, and facilities as part of a contiguous brand message.
While planning major manufacturing projects includes a calculus-level formula of variables — speed to market, multiple communities competing for the project, and final site selection, as well as brand image and analysis through project decisions — it is important to have a clear, comprehensive plan that gives direction to a project from conceptual stages to the moment the first product comes off the line.

Master-Planning Strategies
Master planning is both an art and a science, especially in manufacturing, where speed to market is critical; no product can be built and sold until there is a plant. Project team master planners have a unique ability to deliver design in an integrated way, assimilating design activities to speed up construction in the field very early in the project.

Today, one example of this strategy is unfolding in South Carolina at Volvo Cars’ first U.S. manufacturing plant. The initial planning efforts focused on the construction of the 1,600-acre, multi-building industrial site, which includes body and paint shops, as well as final assembly.

The plan is already evolving as the plant — originally slated to manufacture just one vehicle — has doubled in size to accommodate two to three more models. With this change, additional buildings were planned for the site, including a headquarters office building and welcome center with a Volvo museum. These will join body, paint, and assembly shops, a vehicle processing center, administration building, and maintenance support facilities. A detailed master plan was a critical first step in this large-scale undertaking, and proven planning strategies were agile as the project parameters quickly changed.

Another groundbreaking automotive facility in Vietnam is posing challenges on multiple fronts. An Asian automotive startup company is constructing a new plant to build cars and scooters. The 10-million-square-foot project has unique goals and construction methods. The site, located in the bustling port city of Hai Phong — marketed to developers as an industrial, tax-free zone — is at least partially under water. Construction crews are driving drill-cast piers 150 feet down to bedrock to reinforce the building pad. Massive amounts of fill have enabled them to move the sea wall out four miles from its original location.

In addition to the unorthodox construction, the project also has an extremely aggressive schedule, making a savvy, detailed master plan vital to success. At both of these sites, developers are changing the face of the region. Large manufacturing plants and the suppliers who build near them provide a multitude of jobs, drawing population, which in turn creates a residential construction boom, increasing retail and municipal traffic.

Often, multiple communities compete for such an opportunity, and they are willing to provide very attractive incentives to the manufacturer. In the case of the Volvo site, the state of South Carolina provided the land at no cost.

Brand identity sets the stage for the site selection process with criteria that reinforces the brand informing decision-making. Brand Image + Analysis
With such significant investment, site selection becomes a critical part of the early planning equation. And, while key decisions begin as companies are trying to decide between multiple potential sites, branding activities are one of the very earliest components of a truly cohesive master plan to materialize.

Brand identity sets the stage for the site selection process with criteria that reinforces the brand informing decision-making. For example, a company that is seeking visibility may choose a site on a major freeway, whereas a facility with many proprietary processes may be more ideally located in a remote or rural setting. Especially when entering a new country or region for the first time, physical expression of the building is extremely important, as well as the campus environment.

These considerations are all part of a much larger, macro-analytical evaluation — a process called “image analysis” that is central to a successful master-planning process. Image analysis is multifactorial, including public sensitivity to the physical design, as companies are sensitive to how people perceive them. The design of the building can enhance the desired perception of the company, its products, and facilities as part of a single, central, contiguous brand message. In the Volvo example, the design team expressed the brand in the building through clean, modern Scandinavian design, using materials like steel, glass, and wood, which are found in the interior of a Volvo.

To develop a unified brand message, the planning team engages key stakeholders in an interactive session. Building relationships with leading decision-makers is critical to gaining clear, precise insight. Developing consensus in decision- making and showing respect across company culture by including representatives from many areas of the company within the design process will allow communication to develop organically throughout the project.

As the planning team is immersed in the company culture, decision-making is further streamlined as the planning becomes more refined. Good relationships and good communication together enable a master-planning process to respond to the latest input. Company culture comes out in the discussions that ensue and team-building is an important part of a collaborative design process.

Decisive Advanced Project Planning
One of the early keys is understanding the stakeholders’ goals and where they are headed, which comes back to communication. Going beyond communication with leadership, successful negotiation with regional and civic decision-makers is important in projects of this scale.

To develop a unified brand message, the planning team engages key stakeholders in an interactive session. Building relationships with leading decision-makers is critical to gaining clear, precise insight. With a large facility like Volvo, the entire region is affected through population growth, traffic patterns, and logistics. In the case of incorporating rail for shipping/receiving, project leaders need to carefully navigate the significant local impact. Traffic will surge at peak commute times, and minimizing those disruptions fosters a positive ongoing relationship within the community.

To prioritize key decisions at each stage of such a large and complex project, savvy master-planning teams use a tool called Advanced Project Planning (APP): a tool that orients the plan from the initial conceptual stages literally through to the moment the first product comes off the line.

Using this sophisticated tool, project teams can not only uncover key issues but also minimize rework, ultimately rendering a leaner yet more comprehensive, proactive planning process. Just-in-time decision-making allows the proper amount of research and background before decisions are made, avoiding the waste and undesirable consequences that result from late decisions.

Consider a case scenario. At one site, while truck docks had been planned in a location that was immediately convenient, their location precluded future expansion. The planning team proposed another location that could accommodate expansion, rather than going to the trouble and expense of moving them later. Examining questions like this enables the team to take a broader view of the project in the context of the project’s overall goals to avoid making decisions that can be limiting in the future.

The APP process is a vehicle that prompts these types of conversations, bringing relevant stakeholders to the decision-making table — a critical feature of an effective master-planning process. Collective, collaborative decision-making ensures that all facets are represented, and key project needs are considered. The planning team and its agenda becomes a unifying force that synthesizes these naturally competing interests.

Using APP, the timeline clearly defines the schedule, and the master plan is broken into smaller, more manageable components. As the project goals and program are incorporated into the schedule, milestones are created for decision deadlines, and a decision tree helps manage interdependencies ahead of milestone deadlines to meet the target end date.

Comprehensive project planning, the APP process, and execution strategies such as these guide project teams to completion through effective teamwork and communication. This collaborative effort results in campuses that strengthen a company’s brand and image, while bringing jobs to the communities in which they reside.
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