Modular design and construction are the answer to the speed of deployment challenge to the market.

Thinking

Modular data centre design and delivery key for competitive advantage

Today we are more interconnected than ever before and our appetite for data, which underpins this interconnectivity, has driven significant growth across the data centre sector. This increasing consumer demand and rapid industry growth, coupled with rising energy and construction costs, is seeing data centre owners, operators and contractors seek more efficient, and faster data centre solutions.

On top of reliability, resilience, flexibility and high-performance, now also speed of deployment and ability to scale with confidence are fast becoming the critical must-haves to gain a competitive advantage.

Those staying ahead of the curve are often turning to modularisation – where modules are designed, then constructed in an off-site fabrication facility (including slabs, columns, façade, plant, switch rooms, generators and all internal mechanical and electrical reticulation), before being installed on-site.

Global boom for modular data centres

Globally, the prefabricated modular data centre market is predicted to reach USD17.2 billion by 2027. In many countries across Asia, such as Singapore, a modular approach to design and delivery of data centres is booming, and in Australia our data centre industry is seeing greater uptake in modularisation as the supply chain matures and the benefits become clear.

From improving productivity and bringing greater reliability, to offering scalable capacity, creating less waste and highly resilient low carbon facilities that are secure and sustainable long-term, the benefits of modularisation are many. But ultimately driving the rise in popularity of modular data centres across the globe is the rapid realisation that modular design and construction can be safer, better quality and can get to market sooner than traditional approaches.

As data centres need to become more flexible, fit into tighter spaces and be located in more remote locations, modular design will bring high reliability, robust construction and testing and reduced project deployment time.

Modular design and construction is the answer to the speed of deployment challenge – the more you can modularise and fabricate offsite, the faster will be the process. By standardising the design, design time is reduced and supply chain efficiencies are created from repetition and forward planning. Tasks and workstreams can be paralleled, taking out the sequential flow that occurs in traditional construction methods.

Case study
Global Switch Woodlands Data Centre, Singapore

On Singapore’s Global Switch Woodlands Data Centre, over 60 per cent of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing service modules were constructed and pre-commissioned while the structure was coming out of the ground. Working with Gammon, Aurecon’s modular approach of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) reduced the programme by 30 per cent (from 18 to 15 months).

Together we reduced onsite plant and labour by 20 per cent. With much of the assembly undertaken at ground level before moving to site, we reduced the number of trades on site and cut down the amount of activity at heights to improve safety and reduce risk.

Our modular approach also reduced the potential for quality issues. Components were pre-integrated and pre-tested in a controlled factory environment using more comprehensive testing equipment, which enabled more rigorous testing and commissioning than is possible on-site.

How do we achieve speed and efficiency in data centre design and construction?

Singapore’s Global Switch Woodlands Data Centre is one of many examples from across Asia that can teach us a great deal about designing and building data centres quickly and efficiently. But what’s needed to do this and achieve the maximum benefits that modularisation can bring?

For data centre owners, operators and contractors, to realise the full potential of modularisation, it’s vital to embrace two key components from the project’s outset: a modular mindset and a virtual design environment:

Embracing digital for data centre design and construction

Also fundamental to success is embracing digital delivery from the initial design, through to construction and beyond. Using digital tools and technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), building information modelling (BIM), onsite laser scanning and digital twins, enables deeper collaboration and creates a highly detailed, truly integrated, data-rich design which provides design and construction certainty and confidence.

Digital in design

VR based tools, such as Sitelab, allow better design appreciation, and quicker, smarter and more cost-effective decision-making. Users can interact with rich real-time design visualisations to more clearly understand what will and won’t work, and why.

Operational teams can walk through a facility, identify issues and make decisions and changes before it’s too late. Contractors also use VR to develop work methods and understand the full gamut of what specific tasks involve.

Digital during construction

Digital tools and technologies (such as QR codes, RFID tags and onsite laser scanning) are used to track modules and give real-time updates. Using digital tools in this way creates confidence that the virtual and the reality are seamlessly integrated and aligned – which is often a challenge with more traditional construction methods.

This certainty and confidence opens up opportunities for owners and operators to consider new digital technologies, like blockchain and robotics, to further enhance their operations. It also paves the way for the use of a digital twin in ongoing operations which will transform how the facility and assets are managed into the future.

Adopting a modular mindset

Designing for modular from the start is crucial. Every decision must tie back to what is best for modular construction. From building planning, design of structures, services and façade, starting with a modular mindset is the most effective way to maximise the benefits modular methods can bring throughout the entire design and construction process.

Data centres of the future

In today’s data driven world, being able to design and deliver data centres at speed, efficiently and cost effectively is essential for competitive advantage. Those not considering modular design and prefabricated construction risk being left behind.

But those re-thinking conventional approaches to data centre infrastructure and design, embracing a modular mindset and digital design environment are well placed to meet the challenges and changing needs of data centres, meet increased demand for data and ultimately get to market faster in this rapidly changing and competitive digital age.


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About the Author

Phil Motteram leads the design of large and complex building projects for Aurecon clients across Victoria and South Australia, specialising in data centres and essential social infrastructure. Phil previously led Aurecon’s data centre business in Asia, leveraging over 20 years’ experience in the design of highly reliable, energy efficient data centres.

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