Improved Project Delivery Through Innovation
RELMEC Mechanical LLC is a mechanical contractor specializing in commercial Plumbing, HVAC and Piping Services, based in Cleveland, Ohio. This contractor’s work can be seen in buildings across the city’s skyline as there are very few buildings in which it did not provide the mechanical installation. The forward-thinking company strives to help other companies to improve the city it calls home. Business in Focus spoke with its President Layne Kendig.
RELMEC began in 1933 and has seen many owners and name changes over the years. One thing that has been consistent is the yellow diamond in the company logo which is a symbol of its commitment to excellence in quality and workmanship.
This company is the contractor of record on thousands of projects across the Cleveland horizon. One of its significant projects was work on The Key Tower, which is the tallest building in the city. It also worked on Progressive Field, the home of the Indians baseball team; FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns football team; and the Quicken Loans Arena, the home of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.
“We pride ourselves on working and participating in the larger, big commercial projects. It helps to define the capability of RELMEC and our ability to coordinate, construct, and complete large commercial mechanical and plumbing systems,” says Layne.
For the last ten years, RELMEC has focused on the healthcare industry, and work in this area comprises most of the larger commercial projects in Cleveland presently. There are several healthcare systems in the city and RELMEC performs work in all of them including the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals of Cleveland and the MetroHealth Healthcare System.
University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic have both completed the expansion of their campuses with the construction of several new buildings over the last ten years. Much of the recent work at University Hospitals has been renovation of existing buildings. RELMEC has just recently completed the Mechanical and Plumbing for the two new Cleveland Clinic building.
“Part of this is because the Cleveland Clinic has really embraced the concept of design and assist and are partnering with a complete team, instead of plan, spec and lump sum bid. They have included RELMEC as part of the team,” says Layne. A single lump sum bid for a project covers all costs without specifying each one. The key is picking a team early in the process and having the architects, engineers and trade contractors work together as the project develops.
Both hospitals have been increasing infrastructure around the city of Cleveland. The Cleveland Clinic’s Richard E Jacobs Health Center in Avon, Ohio added a 126-room, five-story tower connected to the facility. RELMEC installed the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and plumbing systems on that building. This project began a few months before The Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute project. RELMEC was involved in both from the early stage when the preliminary drawings were shown.
“We were selected on both projects as the pre-construction design-assist mechanical and plumbing contractor to work with the architects and engineers simultaneously. The Avon tower was off the ground six months ahead of the cancer center, so the completion of the projects did not overlap. They are two very different types of buildings,” says Layne.
The tower in Avon involved prefabricated components, and RELMEC’s use of that technique is respected by the Cleveland Clinic. RELMEC prefers prefabrication, especially in large mechanical rooms. It will fabricate any large header and piping assemblies for boilers, chillers, air handlers and equipment pieces.
RELMEC fabricates these items in its shop and ships them to the job site for reassembly in the field. Layne claims that it is a lot more productive and efficient to work in the shop, doing welding, grooving or press fit assemblies. It makes the schedule more attainable.
“We can have areas completely fabricated before sections of the building are even built. The minute the building is ready for those items, we can ship them to the site, get them installed and keep a project on schedule,” says Layne.
Prefabrication has been common in the sheet metal market for years. The company had been detailing and fabricating piping assemblies in the shop, and RELMEC has taken some of those concepts and applied them to more aspects of the building. For example, on both the tower and cancer building, sections of corridors where the services are most heavily concentrated were prefabricated.
RELMEC can make twenty-foot racks with all of the piping and ductwork. Electricians, drywall contractors and everyone else works together systematically to build entire corridors of above ceiling work in warehouses and then disassemble them in sections, ship them to the job site, roll them onto the floors, raise them into the ceiling and reassemble.
“It is a huge schedule savings, but not so much a cost savings due to the double handling of the materials. However, the quality is higher, and you have greater control of the installation conditions. Safety is improved by doing all of the fabrication in a warehouse,” says Layne.
“The Cleveland Clinic has gone national and global and comprises a significant percent of our business over the last ten years, along with the other hospitals work. Over $1 billion has been spent on new buildings, and we have been involved in every one,” says Layne.
The remaining twenty-five percent encompasses some commercial projects, food service work and projects for the industrial and educational sectors. This includes some large HVAC and plumbing services projects for schools both within the Cleveland school system and around Northeast Ohio over the last few years.
Achieving project budget expectations are a challenge for all contractors. RELMEC approaches design-assist projects with full transparency. Everyone shares information from the projected square footage of a building to how many patient rooms are needed and more. RELMEC works with the construction managers, architects and engineers and the budget is created. However, much of the time, the budget is difficult to conform to.
The only options at that point are to increase the budget or eliminate an entire floor or create a shell space. Projects that are completely funded are a rarity and having RELMEC included in the early design of a project can help bring the project into budget without sacrificing quality, while maintaining the owner’s expectations.
“The whole idea is to build projects of the highest quality and the greatest value, without cutting corners and doing it on the cheap. Provide what they can afford, but also make it a quality project,” says Layne.
Being a large mechanical piping and plumbing contractor, RELMEC deals with the big equipment suppliers for air handlers, chillers, pumps and boilers and medical gas equipment. Locally, it deals with pipe, valve and fitting suppliers, and relies on the pre-purchase of everything in bulk to accommodate all of the pre-construction needs.
With several major projects going on, RELMEC can combine orders and buy larger quantities to save costs on copper and other commodities. It can also, at times, combine equipment orders and work with equipment suppliers. A better price means savings for the owner and helps to keep the project within budget.
The company is using different delivery methods for projects. It has close ties to the Cleveland Plumbers Union Local 55 and Pipefitters Union Local 120. This involvement with local unions is beneficial on many levels.
“We work closely with the unions and through their trades, training and apprenticeship programs, we are becoming more and more aware of the latest innovations on what is happening in the construction field, and work with the unions to bring new innovations into their organizations and start training apprentices,” says Layne. He is discovering that younger workers are more adept with the newer technology. Everyone is using more tablets or computers in the field to read blueprints and follow instructions.
RELMEC is a member of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), as well as the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), and a commercial real estate development association called NAIOP.
“Our service department works with a lot of these organizations as far as getting into their buildings, doing energy evaluations and making modifications, helping with their building maintenance, putting together programs in all of the buildings for the clients that we work for,” says Layne.
On the construction side, RELMEC installs new plumbing and mechanical systems then follows up with its service department to help maintain the structure for the life of both building and the equipment. The service department uses the latest diagnostics technology.
The company has clients it has served for over thirty years. The aim for the future is to try to employ the concept of partnering, design-assist and pre-construction instead of the traditional method of lump sum bid.
“Just being able to partner with a client and an owner and actually be part of the team makes everything so much smoother, and it starts to make construction fun again because you are not adversaries. We are all working together towards a common goal of trying to build something on time, on budget, with the highest level of quality,” says Layne.
To that end, RELMEC is now a member of a new organization in Cleveland called Cogence Alliance, a group of owners, architects, engineers and contractors. Bi-monthly meetings include sixty to eighty members, and the goal is to change the marketplace in Cleveland, then branch out nationally. Like-minded people are looking for an alternative to the adversarial way of contracting.
“We are really talking and meeting on a regular basis on ways to transform the industry. We are trying to build better projects, on time, on budget and have everybody from the contractors to the owners and construction managers coming away with a pleasant experience,” says Layne.