Research and development facility opens

The University of Warwick opted for an off-site approach for its new institute researching and developing nanocomposites manufacture

The Portakabin Group has handed over a research facility, constructed using a Yorkon off-site solution, for the new International Institute for Nanocomposites Manufacturing at WMG at the University of Warwick. The off-site approach reduced the programme time to 14 weeks on site, several months fewer than originally envisaged.

The new institute develops manufacturing technologies to enable industry to make large-scale nanocomposite parts for products in sectors such as telecommunications, electronics, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automotive, security and medicine. A team of 50 nanocomposite researchers works from the building on research projects with other academic groups and partners from industry, both in the UK and internationally.

Designed by Cullinan Studio, the two-storey £2.3m scheme was manufactured off-site at the Portakabin Group’s production centre in York and craned into position as 28 steel-framed Yorkon modules with fume cupboards and extraction system pre-installed for the laboratory areas. The exterior walls of the modules have been arranged to create a dust-free, clean and easy-to-maintain environment for nanocomposite testing.

The building houses advanced R&D facilities with complex M&E services and use of renewable technologies to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. It has three laboratories with factory-installed Yorkon high-performance concrete floors and full-height uPVC hygienic wall linings. There is a 9m-high central processing hall with an in-situ poured concrete floor to support specialist equipment, offices and an open-plan research space. A swipe-card access control system has been installed to each room for security purposes.

Steve Walker, senior project manager at the University of Warwick, said: “Considering the extremely challenging timescale we were working to for this project, the whole process was made very straightforward for us. We needed the facility to be up and running as fast as possible and this was achieved.

“The laboratories are spacious and the performance of the building overall has exceeded our expectations. It is as good as any site-based building project. Off-site construction suits nanocomposite manufacturing very well and we would definitely recommend the Yorkon approach.”

Wen Quek, project architect at Cullinan Studio, said: “The use of a Yorkon off-site solution was an ideal choice for this project because it is fast, efficient and cost-effective. We were also impressed with the sustainability advantages of the approach, particularly the fact that it produces up to 90 percent less waste to landfill than on-site building methods and uses less embodied energy.”

The facility’s renewable technologies generate 18.9 percent of its annual energy requirement. These include: 100m2 of photovoltaic roof panels which will produce around 11,400kWh per year and save in excess of 6,000kg of carbon emissions; efficient low temperature hot water (LTHW) inverter-driven heat pumps to heat the process hall; efficient variable refrigerant flow (VRF) inverter-driven heat pumps to heat and cool the laboratories, offices and meeting rooms. Other energy-efficiency features include: heat recovery ventilation (HRV) for all air supply systems to recover 80 percent of the heat from extracted air and reduce heating requirements; daylight dimming of lighting with occupancy sensors to reduce the reliance on artificial lighting and maximise energy efficiency; gas and electricity meters linked to the building management system with ‘out of range’ reporting if consumption exceeds pre-determined limits; power factor control equipment to ensure that electrical consumption is as efficient as possible; automatic window ventilators in the process hall for cooling during the summer months to help maintain a controlled internal environment.

Externally, the scheme has secondary perforated cladding for a high-tech appearance and a feature mono-pitch roof. Portakabin provided design and construction, module manufacture, fitting out, landscaping and car parking for the scheme.

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