Chip fab plant work striking in its scope, complexity

Only last June, the 223-acre site in Luther Forest where the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant is

Only last June, the 223-acre site in Luther Forest where the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant is being built was dense pine forest on rolling sandy dunes.

But since the official ground-breaking in July, progress has been rapid. Construction of the $4.2 billion factory was about 14 percent complete in late January, according to GlobalFoundries officials.

Some 150 acres have been cleared, and a nearly 1 million-square-foot manufacturing building is taking shape, its frame rising nearly 100 feet off the ground.

Workers are on site about 14 hours a day, pushing to have the building ready for microchip production by late 2012.

“We’re on schedule,” said Alan Asadoorian, vice-president and director of construction for The M+W Group, which has the general construction contract worth more than $800 million.

Town officials, who are responsible for the building code inspections during construction, say they’ve been surprised as how smoothly the project has gone.

“They’ve been very responsive,” Malta Building and Planning Director Anthony Tozzi recently told the Town Board.

This winter, the steel shell of the manufacturing building is being erected. There are six to eight enormous cranes operating at any given time, lifting huge steel trusses and concrete slabs.

About 230 to 250 skilled trades construction workers are laboring at the site, a number that will start to climb in the spring. The on-site workforce will then continue to increase through the year, said Asadoorian. “We should reach about 1,500 to 1,600 on site by the end of the year.”

That employment level should last well into 2011, he said, before starting to drop as parts of the plant are completed.

While M+W Group is headquartered in Germany, it has local offices in Albany and Watervliet, and now has a construction office in Malta.

size and experience

The M+W Group — which was known until a re-branding in January at M+W Zander — was the main contractor on the research buildings at Albany Nanotech, and has built computer chip fabrication plants for companies around the world.

Local contractors that M+W Group has retained include MLB Construction of Malta, Jersen Construction of Watervliet, Stone Bridge Iron & Steel of Gansevoort, and The Delaney Group of Mayfield. There’s so much concrete involved that Bonded Concrete of Colonie has built a temporary batch plant right on the site.

Almost all workers on the site are union members or are being paid union-scale wages under a project labor agreement signed last year between M+W Zander and the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO.

The agreement covers about 93 percent of the work, everything but some highly specialized work.

So many workers will be on the site that Schenectady restaurateur Angelo Mazzone, whose businesses include the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia and the food service at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Spa State Park, has been hired to cater food to workers in a large on-site tent.

Construction is scheduled to take about two years, with another full year needed to get the plant’s equipment fine-tuned and into production.

For 2010, the scheduled on-site work includes completing the exteriors of the manufacturing building and a neighboring central utility building. Also, Asadoorian said construction will start in late March on a 230,000-square-foot administrative office building that will sit immediately in front of the fabrication building.

The principle work this winter has been lifting and installing 150-foot-long, 47-ton steel roof trusses, along with the concrete slabs called “waffle tables” that will underlay the future manufacturing floor. That work will continue into the spring, Asadoorian said.

Asadoorian, a veteran of numerous other chip fabrication plant projects, said cold weather doesn’t slowed work much.

“Cold makes it uncomfortable for the workers, but they’re hardy and they’re prepared for it.”

The construction schedule calls for the building to be enclosed by September, with work then shifting to the interior utilities needed for factory work — miles of pipe, wiring and ducts.

That work will start later this year and continue into 2011.

clean room

At the heart of the plant will be a 210,000-square-foot expandable “clean room,” where the air and water have been purified beyond operating-room standards, and workers wear protective garments in a near-sterile environment while working around billions of dollars worth of manufacturing tools.

The “clean room” is where actual fabrication of 300mm disks of pure silicon into tiny computer chips covered with 28-nanometer electrical circuits will take place. It involves delicate applications of light, chemicals, gases and water to etch the tiny circuits.

The manufacturing tools are scheduled to be installed in the third quarter of 2011, Asadoorian said. They will then undergo many months of testing before commercial manufacturing starts.

The plumbing, electrical and air-handling systems are specifically designed for the chemicals and gases used in etching electrical circuits into silicon, and also the large volumes of water, waste water, and electric power needed for precision manufacturing.

“I think overall this has all the elements of the most sophisticated construction,” Asadoorian said.

Utility connections between the factory and the outside world will also take place this year.

Hook-ups to the Saratoga County Water Authority system and the county sewer district will be made this summer. Already, Asadoorian said, about 14 miles of utility lines have been buried at the site.

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