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Today, the world is generating, collecting, and analyzing data at an astonishing pace. It’s hard for data-hungry businesses to get data centers built fast enough. But what if they could turn to a framing system that arrived at construction sites ready to go and went up quickly? Would something like that take designs in “boring” directions? ConXtech is answering those questions. The company innovated a chassis-based structural steel framing system that uses Building Information Modeling (BIM)-powered design and manufacturing to enable almost infinite configurability.
Many considerations affect how data centers are designed and built, but a common experience is that it’s a slow and highly iterative process. Lack of available land in places with a skilled workforce is pushing facilities vertically, and structural robustness is imperative due to significant loading. The faster and more predictably structures go up, the better. And that’s true of all construction.
Robert Simmons, CEO and CTO of ConXtech, explains, “In Silicon Valley, we recently erected a 4-story, 230,000 sq. ft. data center in just 15 days. Our system and lean processes deliver safety, speed, and structural integrity. But we also deliver predictably, without compromising design creativity. That’s because we offer a modular system built around standardized and configurable structural assemblies that allows BIM to play a significant role very early in the concept stage.”
In founding ConXtech, Simmons and his team wanted to develop a configurable structural framing system that was faster, better, and safer. As they saw it, conventional construction was too complex—every building generated reams of drawings containing a seemingly infinite number of details, and required too much onsite craftsmanship. And, traditional steel framing came with a significant safety downside as ironworkers face substantial risks as they weld and perform complex tasks in the field.
On safety, Simmons notes, “We saw that standard connections that assemble easily and fit every time could make our system just as revolutionary for safety as for configurability.”
ConXtech developed ConX, a connection system for steel framing that allows ironworkers to quickly lower and lock beams into place. But for beams to fit properly, ConXtech needed to manufacture to tolerances unachievable with traditional methods. So they turned to technology—CNC milling, robotics, mating surface simulating fixtures, and BIM—to deliver the required precision. Designers use digital libraries of standard components during the BIM design process. Those components reflect exactly what ConXtech will manufacture in its factory.
“Our end product is a simple brace-free structural steel chassis, but we start with a 3D digital chassis,” says Simmons. “BIM models used in design accurately represent, both dimensionally and spatially, the precision we need to achieve in manufacturing.”
ConXtech doesn’t build only data centers; the company’s structural systems are commonly selected for healthcare, commercial office, hospitality, and high-density residential structures where design creativity is essential. “To many architects, modular means inflexible,” says Simmons. “We wanted our framing system to be infinitely configurable. You get more creative outcomes when designers focus on doing their best work, not on accommodating cookie-cutter modules.”
The Silicon Valley data center illustrates ConXtech’s game-changing approach. A team of 16 ironworkers assembled in 15 days what would have taken as long as 10 weeks with conventional methods. The lower-and-lock assembly meant no onsite welding.
“Buildings go up faster and with less risk,” says Simmons. “It’s our goal to be the structural technology that enables efficiency without constraining the architecture. BIM is enabling for us. It connects the way we deliver to the design process. We couldn’t do what we do without it.”