Sparking Connections

Acquisition of AZCO enhances construction capabilities for heavy industrial projects.

Great people make great projects. Behind that simple adage lies one of the more challenging aspects of modern construction: finding and retaining the right people with the right skills and mindset to get the job done.

With the acquisition of AZCO, a premier industrial construction company, Burns & McDonnell has expanded its approach to that challenge. And that’s just the beginning of the potential this corporate marriage brings to some of the most complex heavy industrial facilities and projects.

The Direct-Hire Difference

Heavy industrial facilities are complicated spaces woven through with intricate, essential details. Putting the pieces together on overhauls, upgrades and retrofits depends upon a combination of big-picture understanding with detailed focus on each element.

Bringing these projects in safely, on schedule and on budget is one of the biggest challenges out there. With AZCO’s in-house fabrication and direct-hire construction as options available to deploy, depending on circumstances, project teams gain more control over some of the countless variables that can make or break a project.

Like Burns & McDonnell, AZCO is an employee-owned firm. That means their construction professionals bring the same ownership mentality to every job, recognizing that success is more than finishing the job, it’s making sure the customer is satisfied every time.

Adding a direct-hire arm gives Burns & McDonnell additional flexibility in project delivery. In regions where labor availability is scarce, this option makes it easier to get supervision locked in early, identifying and recruiting skilled craft.

“Direct hire gives us the ability to select our supervision from general foreman down out of the local union halls,” says John Trottier, president and CEO of AZCO. “A lot of that supervision is key to productivity, safety and quality.”

Lining up that craft early can result in reduced ramp-up time when a project hits the site.

“One of the ways to mitigate the risk of finding qualified available labor is to reduce the total direct craft headcount needed to execute the project,” says Joe Podrebarac, construction director at Burns & McDonnell. “Since we don’t often have the luxury of extending the duration with a later finish date, we look for ways to start the work earlier.

“Direct hire can allow you to lock in the craft early and start preparing scopes of work as they are defined in lieu of waiting for a full subcontract package to be defined and bid. That can be a big benefit to the direct-hire approach in some scenarios.”


Early Informed Insights

Some efficiencies enabled through AZCO derive from being able to push personnel and planning insights earlier into the project development process.

“One of the things we’re doing in devoting focus to risk mitigation is driving procurement and execution into the early planning stages of the project,” says Scott Strawn, a principal at Burns & McDonnell.

“Our No. 1 goal is to know how the project goes together before we’re on-site,” he says. “If we can incorporate tools and the people responsible for construction and management of personnel — the people overseeing delivery of the project once it’s on-site — during the early stages of engineering on the project, the risk of total installed cost going over budget is significantly reduced.”

By incorporating AZCO into integrated project teams on certain projects before they are mobilized in the field, project delivery becomes that much more efficient, Strawn says. Projects get delivered smarter, safer and faster, with reduced overall risk from both a schedule and cost perspective.

Integrating Design and Fabrication

AZCO’s highly regarded, state-of-the-art fabrication facilities are another option for potentially delivering efficiencies. Burns & McDonnell will continue to pursue competitive bid options in some circumstances, but when a client is open to the firm sole sourcing with AZCO, the benefits are clear.

“Not only do we pull key construction personnel in early to enhance constructability, but we also are investing in technologies that interface with our design and execution advancements,” Strawn says. “So there’s a seamless transition from designing complex pipe to when it is sent to the fabrication floor and shipped to the site. We efficiently spool to reduce welding in the field and in a manner that when it hits the site, it’s ready to be installed as designed with no surprises.”

Getting the right materials produced with attention to both quality and timeline is critical for these large-scale, heavy industrial construction projects. It has the potential to reduce expenses and schedule.

“From a fabrication standpoint, we can control the deliveries of fabricated products to site to meet schedule needs and engineering needs,” Trottier says.

One piece of the execution efficiency puzzle is a tightly choreographed sequence of prioritized work in support of compressed schedules. This in turn depends upon getting materials from the fabricator on time and in the right sequence.

When AZCO performs the fabrication, “We can better maintain prioritization all the way through fabrication so the right spools are coming at the right time,” Podrebarac says.

What and how materials are fabricated makes a difference as well.

“This gives us the ability to take complex systems that normally would require multiple trades working on top of each other in the field to construct and redefine how that equipment is delivered to the site,” Strawn says.

By modularizing intricate components, site congestion associated with installing complex equipment is reduced.

“More modularization will save on time, schedule and improve on quality because all that is done in the shop environment,” Trottier says. “I think it’s going to be extremely beneficial.”

The Promise of Predictability

“Being predictable by way of cost and schedule is one of the most important things our clients expect of us,” Strawn says.

Burns & McDonnell maintains steady repeat business because it has a reputation for bringing an owner mindset focused on efficiencies in whichever project delivery environment its customers prefer. By adding AZCO to its suite of services, the company’s capability to deliver flexible, timely, cost-effective solutions has grown exponentially.

“Any time you can limit layers of fees and supervision, you’re more cost competitive and efficient,” says Jon Wright, a vice president at Burns & McDonnell who works in the food and consumer products market.

“A lot of the work we do is fast and can be around the clock, so we can’t afford any of our trades to fall behind because there’s not enough time to recover,” Wright says. “Having more control of staff and schedule is one of the biggest benefits when direct hire makes sense. If we have visibility into their progress, we’re better equipped to make decisions.”

Putting the right people in place as early as possible, communicating upfront and continually, is the key to maximizing benefits for customers with complex and large-scale challenges.

With a shared focus on delivering high-quality projects with safety as an essential priority, Burns & McDonnell is enhancing its construction execution model to provide more predictability and better control to every aspect of project execution.

The Empire District Electric Co. hired Burns & McDonnell as the engineer-procure-construct (EPC) contractor, along with AZCO as a subcontractor, for the $168 million Riverton Unit 12 combined-cycle power station in Riverton, Kansas. It was completed under budget and ahead of schedule in 2016.

See how this power station came about here.