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This month, we’re spotlighting Southland Industries’ engineering side, and how the company, which began as a Southern California-based supplier of residential heating solutions, has grown to encompass a variety of markets and industries.
Southland Industries was founded in 1949 and built around a design-build-maintain model, which allowed for greater project customization. The model served as the building blocks that would offer customers practical, individualized solutions, and earn Southland a reputation as one of the top design-build firms in the nation.
Southland Industries’ engineering business — Southland Engineering — provides mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEPF) engineering services for hospitals, data centers, manufacturing facilities and more. The team has offices in seven locations including Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix; Las Vegas and Cleveland, totaling more than 300 employees.
Southland Engineering offers consulting services that span the entire life cycle of a facility including master planning, engineering and system design, detailed coordination, construction administration and commissioning. It leverages technology such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), energy modeling and computational fluid dynamics to inform decisions and streamline workflow. The team prides itself on “creating innovative engineered solutions that are cost-effective, construction-ready and maintainable.”
Plumbing Engineer spoke with Mike McLaughlin, who is an executive vice president of Southland Industries and responsible for leading Southland Engineering.
Plumbing Engineer (PE): What prompted Southland to start an engineering firm? Walk us through its inception.
Mike McLaughlin (ML): For over 30 years, Southland has had in-house engineering capabilities that have helped establish it as a premier design-build contractor. We recognized that some clients were not ready to engage Southland as a turn-key design-build contractor, but were still in need of our unique engineering capabilities to help shape their projects and solve challenging issues. To meet this need, we created Southland Engineering.
PE: Since your recent startup, how has Southland Engineering already begun to position itself as an engineering firm that seeks to break traditional molds?
ML: Southland Engineering creates solutions that are innovative, cost-responsible, constructable and maintainable. We do this with in-house capabilities not available to the traditional consulting engineer. First, we have access to real-time cost data, which informs and enables our teams to design solutions to meet the budgets of our clients — no surprises. Second, our legacy and expertise in construction informs our designs so they are easier to build and safer to install — resulting in lower first costs. Third, we integrate feedback from our facility operators to ensure our solutions are energy-efficient and easy to maintain and operate. Together, this knowledge allows us to be innovative and create solutions that achieve the performance expectations of our clients at the lowest total cost.
PE: Can you take us through some of your team’s biggest challenges over the last couple of months?
ML: Most people know Southland as a design-build contractor and are not yet aware that we are offering engineering services independent of our construction and facility services. Getting the word out about our unique engineering offering has been challenging, however, we have added dedicated engineering business developers that will improve our contacts in the AEC industry.
PE: Discuss a recent project(s). How did you work with the customer through their goals of performance, energy, sustainability, quality, time, and resources, etc.? What was unique and challenging about the project(s)?
ML: We had a data center client that engaged Southland Engineering for mechanical engineering services for new 22 MW facility. Their initial request was to utilize the mechanical design that was used on a previous facility. When our team looked at the proposed design, they recognized that the client was missing out on potential benefits and cost savings, and suggested a different mechanical system with improved performance. The owner commissioned a study to investigate the alternatives and as a result, we identified a new mechanical and electrical solution that saved $20 million in construction costs for the owner, while improving system performance, reliability and reducing ongoing operating and maintenance cost. Southland Engineering’s willingness to reassess the project and propose new solutions to the client — informed by the technical, cost and construction expertise we bring to our work — resulted in a long-term partnership with the owner for their subsequent facilities.
PE: What values and philosophies are most important to your firm?
We have seven core values that guide our business: People, Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Safety, Innovation and Sustainability. Taken together, these values inform a company-wide culture that compels us to help our clients solve their most difficult challenges by understanding their needs, using a collaborative process to find the best solutions, and holding ourselves accountable to do what we say we will do.
PE: What are some of your capabilities in areas like computational fluid dynamics and BIM? How do they stand out?
ML: We have a dedicated in-house staff of computational fluid dynamics CFD experts that use this technology to validate some of our innovative solutions. One example is our use of CFD on the new Mercedes Benz Stadium for the Atlanta Falcons. The original design distributed air through large ductwork located directly above the playing field (nearly 300 feet in the air). Through CFD, we modeled an alternative distribution approach that confirmed the thermal performance of the system, but saved millions of dollars in cost and allowed for a safer installation of the ductwork by installation crews.
We have invested substantially over the years to leverage the full power of Building Information Modeling across all phases of a project cycle. This includes using a single model for both design and construction, and eliminates significant waste in the value stream for the client as well as model content of real parts and pieces — improving our coordination capabilities. The single model approach also allows our engineering team to integrate construction modelers to improve the constructability of the design.
PE: What has been some of the overall feedback so far?
ML: Most of the feedback is very positive. Architects and owners have grown tired of the traditional design-then-value engineer approach of most projects. They are looking for a partner that is more collaborative, provides leadership and delivers results that are good for the client and the entire team.
PE: There are a lot of moving parts in light of recent national (as well as international) conversations on sustainability. What are some recent industry conversations you’ve been apart of that you can share, and what is your position?
ML: We are committed to making decisions that enable our clients to achieve the goals they desire. As an organization, we are also committed to conserving our natural resources as we believe it is the right thing to do. We have found that through an innovative, collaborative approach, we typically can satisfy often-competing goals of conservation and cost, without sacrificing quality or performance.
PE: Are there any recent developments, events, training, etc. that you’d like to share?
ML: We are big advocates for Lean and are an active member of the Lean Construction Institute. I encourage everyone to attend the LCI Congress in Anaheim, California where they can hear first-hand about how we continue to adopt and implement lean thinking throughout our business.
PE: What is in the woodworks for 2017? What are some of your goals?
ML: Our goals for 2017 include expanding our presence in the health care, data center and manufacturing markets. Southland has significant experience in these areas and can help owners and architects create better value.
PE: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
ML: Thank you for the help in getting the word out about our new approach to engineering. Southland is always seeking top-shelf employees that share our mindset as we continue to grow, and look forward to discussing our capabilities with clients who are looking for something new.
For more information visit www.southlandeng.com.