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Lean delivery sticks landing at new Bell Helicopter Facility

Lean Delivery Sticks Landing At New Bell Helicopter Facility

by ROB McMANAMY | Nov 17, 2015

"Helicopter parents" are known for hovering too close, monitoring their child's every move. So, are "helicopter owners" the same way on construction projects?

Absolutely not, if you ask the nimble, "design-assist" team behind the recent successful delivery of Bell Helicopter's new, 82,300-sq-ft hangar and assembly center in Lafayette, LA. Earlier this year, the $26.3-million lean project was delivered ahead of schedule and on budget, despite numerous challenges — including 19 inches of rain last summer — that threatened lengthy delays and potential cost overruns.

Funded by the State of Louisiana, the new facility on a 14.5-acre site at the Lafayette Regional Aiport opened in late August and is dedicated to assembling the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, a new commercial helicopter already in high demand. In fact, as of September, the owner had received more than 350 letters of intent from around the globe for buyers interested in its five-seat, single-engine, turbine helicopter.  

"Because of that pre-sales backlog, the owner needed us to complete the project within 10 months," notes Dave Ballew, project executive for BE&K Building Group, Greenville SC. "So, our team agreed to provide 'design assistance', which improved overall collaboration and accelerated the project schedule. We still managed to achieve all of the owner's goals with an aggressive safety program that allowed for project completion on-time and with no accidents, lost-time incidents, or even first aid cases."

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The building team for the construction management at-risk contract also included program manager Jones Lang LaSalle; architect-planner Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford, Fort Worth TX; structural engineer L.A. Fuess Partners, Dallas; civil engineer Domingue, Szabo & Associates, Lafayette LA; and MEP engineer Summit Consultants, also of Fort Worth. Together, they developed, coordinated and implemented a design-assist strategy — closely tying design and construction together to allow work to begin while design development was still underway.

To meet the aggressive schedule while maintaining quality — even as project scope grew nearly 15% — the entire project team followed a proactive plan that "ensured that the pace of work never exceeded the requirements of the quality control program". Led by BE&K Building Group, representatives from the owner, program manager, architect, consultants, subs and vendors all met weekly, sometimes multiple times, to make sure all parties were all on the same page at every stage of the work.

We provided digital field access to project documentation for the entire team through tablets... enabling project deficiencies to be corrected as they were discovered.
— Dave Ballew, project executive

"We provided digital field access to project documentation for the entire team through tablets — equipped with application-based software (PlanGrid) — enabling any noted project deficiencies to be corrected as they were discovered," adds Ballew. "An updated detailed deficiency log was reviewed weekly with the owner, design team and all of the various subs."

The use of PlanGrid provided a common platform for all involved, preventing duplication of items requiring attention. It also provided contractors and vendors with clear, concise details of the areas in need. This organized and efficient approach saved a "tremendous amount" of time for the team and enabled it to deliver the project "one week earlier than required by the original schedule, even despite the significant weather delays," notes Ballew.

Bell 505 Jet Ranger X began high-altitude tests in Colorado last summer. The popular new helicopter is now on track to obtain certification from Transport Canada in early 2016, according to the company. 

Bell 505 Jet Ranger X began high-altitude tests in Colorado last summer. The popular new helicopter is now on track to obtain certification from Transport Canada in early 2016, according to the company. 

Meanwhile, Bell Helicopter this fall is already adding another $11.4 million in equipment and tooling to its new facility. Even without those additions, the project is earning accolades. Earlier this fall, in fact, ENR magazine's regional publication for Texas & Louisiana named the Bell Helicopter Lafayette Aircraft Assembly Center the Best Manufacturing Project of 2015. Next month, the entire project team will gather to formally receive their award Dec 8 at an industry luncheon in Houston, TX.

Perhaps they will arrive via helicopter.

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Below, a gallery of photos from the new assembly center in Lafayette, LA.

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