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Optimizing time and space for biopharmaceutical facility expansion

  • Civil Engineering

  • Gantry lifting

  • Heavy lifting

  • Reduced preparation

  • Protected infrastructure

  • Simplified management

  • United States

Overcoming obstacles one centimeter at a time.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Upper Merion manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania was undergoing an expansion project, as part of the company’s nearly $400 million dollar investment in US manufacturing upgrades.

The site was originally constructed in 1996, and in 2017 the company made the decision to optimize the existing space at Upper Merion for their next-generation facility.

This project would require the installation of many modules under tight restrictions on time, space, climate, and ground forces. Mammoet was the only company that could not only execute the movement of components to their final location, but also provides specialized millwrighting expertise to place, align, and weld each piece with precision.

The project’s scope included the hoisting of modules known as skids to the second floor of the building. This included maneuvering into the building, positioning, final leveling, alignment, and specialized stainless-steel welding of the components to their final assembly. These were complex procedures that required careful engineering to prevent damage to equipment, personnel, and the structure of the facility.

Due to the outdoor elements lifting systems would require continuous protection from moisture, freezing temperatures, and wind. While working inside neoprene plastic-coated machinery skates and non-marking tires, would be needed to protect the floor and the sterile environment.

The customer’s floor loading restrictions also required the use of small electric forklift trucks in the building. Due to height restrictions, engineered lift plans were required for all lifts within the building, and to add yet another obstacle, the movement was somewhat restricted due to structural columns inside the facility.

Early on, Mammoet provided pre-engineering and project management services to ensure alignment with the manufacturing and installation plans. During the initial review, Mammoet proposed an elevated gantry system to receive the smaller skids, as well as the larger super skids.

Using a gantry, as opposed to a crane, would improve efficiency, and reduce costs. Due to the limited space, a crane would not fit in the tight work site. Furthermore, being that such upgrades were being made to an existing facility, normal operations of a nearby active service bay could not be disturbed.

Many skids were delivered in the horizontal position and required to be lifted in the vertical position. Mammoet carefully navigated the tight space of a window opening which was within 10 centimeters (4 inches) of the maximum skid height, and the ceiling height inside the building which was within 10 centimeters (4 inches) of the maximum height of the skids.

Due to the length of the super skids a 22-meter (75 ft) span on the gantry structure was required to hoist the super skids to the elevation. This span increased beam size requirements to maintain structural integrity. Mammoet’s skilled operators used precise movements to navigate the plant’s tight spaces and turns. Each module was precisely positioned, leveled, and aligned before it was welded into place by our expert millwrights. 

With safety in mind, Mammoet installed an engineered scaffold system to ensure 100% fall protection while working at height. Mammoet also developed a detailed schedule to ensure safety and alignment with the simultaneous movements of others during the expansion project.

The larger super skids were initially proposed to be in the magnitude of 18 meters (60 ft) in length, 3 meters (10 ft) in height, and an estimated weight of 45 metric tons (100,000 lbs.). Mammoet’s proposed gantry provided easy delivery of the components to the raised installation opening above but could also accommodate lifts of various shapes and sizes, while still allowing for variances.

Using our customized adjustable gantry, Mammoet successfully and safely installed more than thirty super modules weighing between 8 tonnes (18,000 lbs.) and 9 tonnes (20,000 lbs.). The final weights for the super skids were actually far less than originally anticipated; however, Mammoet’s gantry was able to accommodate lifts of varied weights and sizes without causing any delays to the customer.

Upgrades to this biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant provide jobs for 350 people in the Upper Merion Township. The expansion allows for the faster development of new treatments for diseases such as cancer.


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Watch the pharmaceutical facility expansion project animation