Cold Storage Facility: Project Profile

What are the vital statistics of the project? (Project type, size, location, stage of design or construction, project team, etc.) 

The U.S. supply of cold storage facilities is sparse, and despite the demands put on these facilities, most are outdated and lack efficiency. One retailer working to change this recently brought ZELUS in to conduct a floor flatness analysis and complete a site survey to better understand the existing conditions of one of its cold storage facilities in Texas.

The goal was to create a digital as-built model of the existing conditions to:

  • Inform the redesign of the facility, which included integrating an automated material handling equipment (MHE) system
  • Compress the construction schedule and reduce downtime
  • Mitigate rework and reduce the number of site visits

The project involved laser scanning six separate temperature-controlled areas ranging from -20 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, all housed within the 380,000-square-foot facility (Figure 1). The extreme temperatures and transitions between 70-degree ranges required our team to develop a solution that would prevent the hardware from failing.

The on-site team, which included two field technicians, completed more than 900 scans––587 of which were done in sub-freezing temperatures––in two trips. This data was used to produce a point cloud, 3D model, floor flatness map and permanent site survey control of the interior, exterior and roof (fig2). 

What were the main software applications used for this project, and how were they used? (Please include some screenshots of the applications showing their use on the project.)

Using RTC360 scanners and working as efficiently as possible while being diligent to give the hardware plenty of breaks from the freezing temperatures, we were able to complete the scans in approximately 120 hours while the facility was in full operation.

ZELUS delivered Recap point cloud files (Figure 3) and fully developed 3D Revit models (Figure 4), hosted on our secure cloud-based Z Vault. We also used Navisworks for clash detection and virtual flythroughs (Figure 5).

Did the project have a specific approach or methodology for the application of AEC technology?

The operating temperatures within this facility provided a unique challenge that required our team to develop not only a physical solution, but also a methodology for scanning as we moved through various temperature zones. Scanning equipment doesn’t tend to tolerate extreme temperatures and as we researched possible solutions and other use cases, we kept coming up short. In nearly every use case we could find, the equipment either completely failed or didn’t operate correctly.

We were determined to make this a success. And since we were traveling out-of-state for this project, we knew we had one shot to get it right. We tested various thermal protection solutions and methodologies for scanning the facility that would limit exposure to the conditions. The result was a specialty thermal casing (Figure 6), scanning in short sprints, and building in time for the hardware to acclimate to various temperatures.

Would you consider this project to be an example of the cutting-edge use of technology? If so, how and why?

While the use of laser scanners may no longer be considered cutting-edge, the way in which we had to adapt them for use in this environment was. As mentioned, most scanners aren’t built to withstand sub-freezing temperatures, however, with the solution team ZELUS created, we were able to complete this project in a matter of days and with extremely high accuracy.

Because facilities like these are few and far between, each one is a critical asset to the company. Multiple retail locations throughout the state rely on this one facility, so shutting it down for construction would have a major impact on daily operations.

Using virtual design and construction technology will enable the design-build team to conduct virtual flythroughs to compress the construction schedule, mitigate any potential issues that could delay construction, and reduce site and travel expenses.

With the digital as-built models (Figure 7) and floor flatness analysis provided to the client, they will be able to make the modifications necessary to install an automated MHE system and perform cold storage redesign, upgrades and retrofits to make the facility more energy efficient.

What are some of the main challenges you faced in your implementation of AEC technology on this project?

Luckily, the owner of this project knew the value advanced AEC technology would bring to the table and help inform important design and construction decisions. The primary challenge was presented by the extreme conditions of the facility. Most laser scanning equipment is not built to operate in environments below 5 degrees Fahrenheit. This required our team to innovate specialty equipment to keep the scanner in proper operating temperatures. The solution we developed included thermal casings and an exhaust redirection system to prevent the scanner from freezing and reduce condensation as we moved to slightly warmer zones.

Navigating between temperature zones also presented several challenges, creating condensation buildup and the scanner mirror to fog. This required the team to allow the equipment to acclimate to each climate prior to continuing work. There is no manual for scanning in an environment like this, which meant we had to test and prepare as much as possible before arriving on site. On top of the extreme temperatures, the facility was active. We had to operate stealthily and efficiently so as not to disrupt day-to-day operations.

Were there any requirements on this project that were not addressed by currently available technologies?

By solving the challenge presented by the freezing temperatures, we were able to address all of the requirements.

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