Project Delivery & Contracts

Flexible Facility Development for the Manufacturing and Life Sciences Sector


Project teams in the Manufacturing and Life Sciences (MLS) sector must contend with significant uncertainty early in the project development process. Fluctuating market demand and evolving manufacturing technologies can have substantial cost and time-to-market implications for the development of new facilities. One method of accommodating this uncertainty, while avoiding delays in the delivery of the facility, is through the inclusion of flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to change or react with little penalty time, effort, cost, or performance.  Thus, a flexible facility would support reconfiguration and scalability, such that the facility itself does not become the limiting factor in the manufacturing operation.  The purpose of this research was to explore the application of flexibility in the MLS sector and create a structured approach for developing flexible, long lead facilities without full knowledge of the facility requirements or the product manufacturing process housed within.


The Construction Industry Institute (CII), Research Team MLS-01

Research Questions

  • How can flexibility be incorporated into the design of manufacturing facilities?
  • What method can owners and designers follow to develop a flexible, long lead facility when facing programmatic uncertainty?

Research Methods

This research was performed through 15 in-depth case studies of flexible facilities that represented a cross-section of manufacturing products, from aluminum cans to pharmaceutical drugs.   The data was collected through semi-structured interviews with project stakeholders, document review and onsite visits to the completed manufacturing facilities.  The goal of the case studies was to identify the product being produced within the facility, the potential changes that the facility was designed to accommodate, and how the design was meant to achieve that desired flexibility.  The data was analyzed using a two-step clustering process of design features found with the cases to reveal common strategies for implementing flexibility.  In addition, the research team identified decision points where the consideration of flexibility has the greatest impact. For each decision point, a unique implementation tool was developed and piloted. Together, these three tools are a resource that provide an objective, fact-based means of managing and adapting to project uncertainty


Three facility design approaches were identified: general purpose, scalable, and dedicated. Each of these approaches represents a combination of design features that enable a facility to respond to specific uncertainties. General purpose facilities are characterized by pre-invested foundations, along with open floor space and a planned transition of space. As such, these typically open-concept designs offer the greatest ability to accommodate high uncertainty in the manufacturing process and reliable increases in product demand. Scalable facilities incorporate additional floor space, modular production areas, and pre-invested utilities to allow for rapid increases in production capacity.  Lastly, dedicated facilities are designed around the immediate product and process needs and are characterized by large column bays, additional height, and fixed utility routing.

The three tools developed during the research form the Manufacturing Facility Flexibility Decision Support Suite.  A summary of the tools is provided below:

  • Strategy Selection Guide:  This tool uses the Choosing-by-Advantages system to recommend the best facility design approach, given the importance of different factors to the project team and a rough order-of-magnitude estimate for the facility. The tool also recommends specific tactics at the building system level, to create incremental flexibility within a given strategy.
  • Cost Evaluator: This tool uses a  basic ASTM UNIFORMAT cost estimate and the user-defined scenarios to produce dynamic cost models that approximate the relative cost investments for varying levels of flexibility. The cost models are reported on a dashboard and costs are separated by building system, allowing owners and design teams to quickly explore multiple scenarios based upon the current and future needs of the manufacturing system
  • Flexibility Idea Generator: This tool is a construction industry-specific application of another proven tool called TRIZ, or the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. When the user enters a feature to improve and a feature to maintain, the tool returns descriptive and photographic results of inventive principles that could satisfy both features. The tool helps project teams consider possible solutions rapidly and reduces the time it takes to solve design challenges in flexible facilities.


Status: Completed


Research Team


  • Gül Okudan Kremer
  • Keith Molenaar

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