Expanding the World(port): Voit Electric

Following growing demand for its services, international shipper United Parcel Service (UPS) is completing an expansion to its massive air package sorting hub in Louisville, Ky., called the UPS Worldport facility. Upon completion in 2010, the capacity will be increased by 37 percent, enabling the center to sort up to 416,000 packages every hour. The expansion follows the UPS Hub 2000 project, which at the time was the second-largest under-roof construction project in the world.

The $1 billion expansion includes 1.2 million square feet of conveyors and aircraft load and unload wings, making the entire facility a staggering 5.2 million square feet—the size of 90 football fields. It includes 12,874 more conveyors, 60 miles in all, to bring the center to a total of 31,578 conveyors, 150 miles in length. There are now four wings for unloading aircraft, which are connected to the conveyors where parcels are sent to be sorted and redirected. The UPS Worldport facility operated throughout the expansion.

Dozens of contractors brought electrical and other construction services to the expansion. Louisville’s Voit Electric Co. Inc., is a low-voltage, mechanical automation company specializing in power, data, fire and security. Voit has installed generators; stadium lighting; heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC); and emergency lighting for companies throughout Kentucky, took part in the new expansion by connecting the building’s new HVAC control units and automation to the additional wings and sorting area.

For the low-voltage portion, Voit Electric brought power to the building’s heating and cooling system in a contract valued near $1 million. For this project, Voit Electric reported directly to Harshaw Trane, Louisville, the mechanical equipment provider. Other contractors included Lusk Mechanical, which installed the air handling units; Advanced Electrical Systems (AES); Henderson Services LLC; and Delta Services LLC; all are based in Louisville.

UPS Worldport’s supplier diversity program required a percentage of contractors and suppliers to be minority-, woman-, veteran- or disabled-owned. That made Voit, led by president June Becker, a strong choice.

Voit Electric was established in 1955. It has a varied work history, including full-service electrical, power distribution and telecommunications. Recently, the company has been increasing its industrial base, and UPS Worldport is a good example of that effort.

With this project, Voit Electric accepted the task of connecting HVAC units with the center’s thermostats using low-voltage cable. The company connected four building control units throughout the north core addition, which was filled with a network of conveyors, as well as in the E and D wings, where parcels are unloaded from aircraft and sorted.

Oversized package

While the work was nothing new for the Voit Electric crew, the scope was larger than its typical project, and the size of the facility meant much of the work installing the HVAC controls was done on man-lifts, for long continuous distances across the addition and wings.

“We have had projects with the same amount of mechanical equipment, but in regards to the size of the facility, this project was the largest,” said Jason Becker, Voit Electric project manager. Controls needing to serve the 1.2 million-square-foot area being added.

The project began with plans to add on to the original northern core with a new southern core, with more conveyor space and an aircraft wing. However, the project grew after it was first contracted, said Cort Laubach, project manager, Harshaw Trane. The change was due, in part, to continued growth of UPS’s business.

About five months into construction, UPS Worldport chose to add an additional wing and increase the size of part of the southern core addition, extending the project by about six months.

When UPS changed the scope of its plans, Becker said, Voit Electric worked with Harshaw Trane to map out the latest expansion to meet the larger scale.

“The way the project progressed, we were able to handle the challenges,” Laubach said, including coordinating with dozens of contractors on the job.

Part of that amounted to holding weekly safety meetings, and ultimately, the job was free of accidents.

“We had a lot of different trades working at the same time, and coordinating with each other was a challenge for everyone,” Becker said, agreeing with Laubach’s assessment of productive weekly meetings that kept contractors working well together and safely.

Contractors generally need to provide at least some design work when it comes to building controls, and this project was no exception, Becker said. Installation drawings for most projects using direct digital controls (DDC) are as-built in the field.

In this case, Voit Electric had access to engineered drawings regarding the DDC products and how they were to be wired. From there, Voit Electric was responsible for making it happen. Despite some eleventh-hour planning, there were few change orders, Becker said, but Voit had to show constant flexibility to work around the electrical contractors doing the base electrical work. It was often a matter of determining whether cable could run on the electrical contractors’ racks or if Voit Electric would need to install its own racks for its conduit.

When starting a project such as this, Becker said, you know where the mechanical equipment and the thermostats will be, but the connection between the two requires some creativity on the part of the installing contractor.

Typically, electrical construction can include fairly rigid installation planning, Laubach said, but controls are much less so, and with that flexibility, Harshaw Trane needed a subcontractor with enough creativity to make the installation happen with the maximum possible efficiency, while working around the electrical trades as well.

“There are a lot more gray areas when you’re doing controls,” he said.

The facility’s size required more ceiling work than other typical projects.

“Typical installations of HVAC controls do not involve working on man-lifts for long continuous distances,” Becker said.

The man-lifts had to raise electricians about 40 feet up to the ceiling where they brought up as much conduit as they could and ran it foot by foot across the length of the expansion.

“Any time you work in a warehouse-type setting, you might be on a lift for one day or two,” Becker said.

In this case though, the men were there every day for months, Becker said.

“[However,] our past experience of installing raceway systems for higher voltage electrical systems kept these tasks from being an obstacle,” Becker said.

First-class delivery

When the project was finished, Voit Electric had installed the DDCs for the new HVAC building automation system, which included 33 rooftop units for heating and cooling. Workers built in 23 air-handling units for constant volume (as opposed to variable volume) with chilled water coils. The company also installed five air-handling units with condensing units, five split-system (CRAC) units and direct fired units, 38 exhaust fans with motorized dampers, seven blower coils with motorized dampers, six chillers, and a pump control panel.

The company also installed building control units, connected with Cat 5 cable, and unitary controllers for all of the mechanical equipment. Voit Electric used low-capacitance network cable—22 gauge 1 pair cable, altogether running approximately 22,000 feet of network cable.

By the time the project was finished, Voit Electric had connected about 1.2 million linear feet of ductwork back to the Harshaw Trane equipment.

Voit Electric began its work in October 2007 and turned the keys over in December 2008, on schedule and within budget.

Altogether, the work was done with just eight workers at peak, Becker said, under Voit’s project manager, Jack Brown.

Since finishing the project, Voit Electric turned the maintenance task over to Harshaw Trane, which employs its own service technicians who will provide support of the installed system for UPS Worldport.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.

About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com .

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