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One of the more stunning missteps on big government projects of recent times was the revelation last year that the design of the Uranium Processing Facility would not accommodate all of the needed equipment and processes, and the problem has been traced back to a decision four years ago to freeze the size of the building. The redesign of UPF is still underway at the Y-12 National Security Complex, and the cost of the mistake is estimated at $500 million or more. According to an in-depth analysis of the root causes, the issue is linked to a decision to commit to the size of the building in March 2009—years before the process and commodity design for the UPF was mature— and an ambition to get the project completed expeditiously. “The Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility Space/Fit Issue Root Cause Analysis” report, stamped “official use only,” was completed in December 2012 and obtained this week.

The analysis and review team was composed of experts from Bechtel and Babcock & Wilcox. The team leader was James S. Whitcraft, an Engineering Manager with Bechtel National. “The decision to freeze the building footprint and volume was driven by schedule demands to begin construction of the building in 2012 in order to support operation (Critical Decision-4) in 2018,” the report states. “This required detailed structural design begin in 2009. Since the design of process equipment was immature, there was a risk that it would not fit in the building. This risk was not fully understood, and there was no process to periodically reassess the risk when it was not resolved quickly.”

In addition, management of the space/fit-related issues was “less than adequate,” which created a big delay in understanding the significance of the problem. The root-cause analysis team concluded that this was a condition within the project management team. The project management team was “highly motivated to manage the process design within the building volume, and it underestimated both the probability and consequence of fit problems,” the report said. If risk management had been more effective and if other indicators of fit problems had been recognized, the space/fit issue might have been resolved sooner, the evaluating team reported.

How Early Were Concerns Raised?

There were several unsuccessful attempt to raise these concerns during the project’s evolution. The first risk-management attempt was opened in August 2008. “The risk mitigation strategy was to add mezzanines as necessary to create additional space for equipment,” the report states. “This risk item has been modified several times but is still open and unresolved.” The assessment team said in order to achieve successful engineering, procurement and construction project execution, “design tasks must be performed in a logical sequence.” While some tasks can be performed concurrently, it has to be done with a “clear understanding” of the risk involved and with “compensatory measures” to improve the chances of success. “On UPF, pressure to meet schedule milestones caused the PMT (project management team) to move forward with building design in advance of process design,” the report said. “Although concurrent design of process equipment and the associated building introduced risks that were not recognized as significant until late in the project, it was assumed that process design and associated process equipment could ultimately be made to fit within the building.”

Some former and current engineers associated with the UPF team have said problems were raised and ignored as early as 2004—when CD-0 was approved—and that the overriding theme of those in charge was “make it work.” After the building shell’s dimensions were frozen in March 2009 (at 388,000 square feet, with a building height 12 feet lower than a previous version), a series of events gradually made the equipment fit problem more and more of an issue. “In March 2009, the (3D) model had only been partially populated with equipment and reserved space for equipment, utilities, and access corridors,” the root cause report said. “Consequently, model reviews gave a false impression that there was sufficient space for the utilities, steel, and other components—in fact it gave the impression that the building was voluminous.”

According to the report, in July 2009, the Plant Design group began to have space issues and commissioned a series of “fit studies,” which focused on specific zones in the process work areas. “Throughout 2009 and 2010, some individuals in the Engineering organization felt the building was simply too small,” the report said. “The modelers and layout designers were struggling to fit the internal building steel, equipment and utilities into their allotted space. Model reviews were not always attended by the necessary organizations.”

Adding Mezzanines to Fix Problem Fails

The report said there was a widespread perception that the building size could not be changed, so the attention tended to focus on alternative uses of space. “In August 2009, when the equipment layout was approximately 50 percent complete, the Facility PE [project engineer] made the observation in a project review that the margin for space allocation had been depleted,” the report said. “This recognition was disconcerting because much of the equipment, glovebox, and skid designs were in their infancy. However, the lack of remaining margin was taken as a challenge by the Facility design group and possibly because of previous success and/or overconfidence, not escalated further with the Project Engineering Manager or Project Manager.”

The report said the team adopted a strategy of adding mezzanines as a way of solving floor space issues, although Engineering did not realize that while these mezzanines added floor space they consumed volume in the overhead utility routing zone of the process areas. “The full impact of the additional mezzanines was not recognized until late in 2011 when the overhead space in several process areas was seriously congested,” the report said.

Other Issue Delayed Fixing Space/Fit Problem

In May 2011, the Facility Design group discovered that the process heat load had been underestimated by 50 percent. Fixing that issue consumed “significant resources” and also postponed utility layout work for months. “Once the design team completed the process heat load increase effort and work resumed populating the 3D model with glovebox and skid designs, the severity of the fit issue became clear,” the report said.

The Engineering group concluded in March 2012 that the building needed to change, according to the report. “In March 2012, as the new Engineering Manager attempted to confirm 90 percent design maturity, it was confirmed that the required equipment would not fit in the building in a compliant manner,” the report states. “After study of all practical alternatives, it was concluded by the Project Management Team in July 2012 that the building had to be enlarged. It was decided to raise the building height increasing its volume by approximately 25 percent.” —From staff reports

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