110 blocks bring order to multi-location cabling project
A pharmaceutical company links its many offices with a tidy universal solution devoid of patch panels.
A pharmaceutical company links its many offices with a tidy universal solution devoid of patch panels.
When the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. (www.merck.com) faced the challenge of cabling and recabling its buildings, the company was determined to take a universal approach-one devoid of patch panels-that would save money and improve efficiency.
A worldwide company with 11 major research sites, Merck chose to focus on a structured cabling solution, including the use of connecting blocks rather than patch panels.
Merck's cabling projects began five years ago. Anticipating an expansive capital growth spurt, the company developed a master building construction and renovation plan that is scheduled to be complete by 2012. The project will cover more than 200 buildings at four sites.
The most recent portion of the project has involved construction of a 900-person, 235,000 -square-foot office building in Rahway, NJ known as Building 34-which houses Merck clinical research professionals. The cabling installation covered five stories and involved 1,383 cable outlets-each containing Category 5e copper cables-for a total of 5,532 cables. Instead of specifying one Category rating for voice applications and a separate rating for data applications, Merck converged on Category 5e for all applications.
Its price-conscious master plan followed a universal approach, using the same cabling infrastructure plan for all of Merck's buildings across the globe. The design for a building that was constructed in Boston would look identical to a Merck building in West Point, PA, Whitehouse Station NJ, or San Diego.
To complete the job in a cost-effective manner, Merck's infrastructure managers would:
- Leverage the latest ISO/IEEE standards for Merck's systems infrastructure;
- Adopt appropriate and precise project and vendor management techniques;
- Converge voice, data, video onto a universal blocks-only architecture;
- Put together a team that could run the system.
Keep it neat
As outlined in the plan, installers for the project-Mehl Inc. of Pearl River, NY-were instructed to smoothly ensure the convergence of voice, data, and video cables on a blocks-only platform. The blocks platform is designed to be application-independent, flexible and universal. (See "A neat solution," page 32.) Having voice and data on the same infrastructure meant that the installers would have to complete only one type of punch-down for copper, which Merck believed would allow for quicker and more accurate installation.
Mehl began working on the entire Merck project four years ago. Installers faced the job of completing the inside and outside plant wiring, installing both singlemode and multimode optical-fiber cable as well as copper cabling. Mehl used an installation team of about 20 for the Building 34 project alone. Part of their job was to install all of the utilities, telephone cables, and optical-fiber cables coming in to the building-including bringing in all of the outside plant cables from the PBX room and data center.
In addition to Building 34, installers were to complete inside cabling projects at five major buildings as well as several smaller ones. The copper and fiber cabling work would entail outside plant work, underground cabling through manholes, and aerial runs. (For more information on the overall installation requirements, see "Raising the bar on installation standards," page 34.)
"In the past, if the end user put in two Category 5 or Category 3 cables, they may realize after the fact that they need more LAN connections and have to recable later on," says John Burgoyne, a sales representative for The Siemon Company-manufacturer of the 110 blocks used in the Merck project. "With one universal cable approach, Merck can do whatever it wants with the cabling, and in the long run, it makes the space more flexible."
Merck wanted a universal plan involving 110 connecting blocks that would be identical for each site. They wanted to lower the cost of moves, adds and changes, and also believed a universal approach would also mean lower training and material costs. Burgoyne says the universal approach lets Merck and other customers lock themselves into one type of infrastructure. If moves, adds, and changes are needed down the road, the end user can make only minor changes to the infrastructure and pay less money for those changes.
Burgoyne says this approach follows Merck's standard operating procedure. "I think Merck spends very little costs to go back and recable a space after they initially occupy it," he says.
The universal approach also allowed Merck to minimize the number of contractors who would come on to the site. It was a plan that called for a highly orchestrated effort and one that required redundant testing-and control-from Merck itself.
"We do the application testing, the dial tone testing, and when we have a network circuit, we do the ping testing," says Jay Viszoki, senior systems associate/project manager for Merck. "We know with 100% accuracy that the person moving into the office can plug their PC into the network and it's going to work."
Merck specified The Siemon Company's 110 connecting blocks, which allow for voice or data applications, letting you put terminations into a smaller space. Patton says the team used Category 5 four-pair crossconnects. "If every outlet is wired universally, if you have to make a change, it is as simple as changing a crossconnect," says Burgoyne. "It makes the infrastructure more flexible, and doesn't involve doing recabling."
Patton says the plan called for bringing all of the cables off an overhead ladder rack down to the 110 block. "All the cable is straight. It not only is very manageable, it looks very manageable and neat," he says.
Brian Milligan is senior associate editor for Cabling Installation & Maintenance.
A neat solution
Connecting blocks-often called IDC blocks-allow insulation material on the outside of the copper wire to be displaced during termination, making a copper-wire-to-metal-connector. The termination, or punchdown, calls for the cable installer to separate the wires in a cable, placing each wire against a contact on the block and then, using a punchdown tool, to press the wires against the contacts.
Dan Patton, site foreman for Mehl Inc., says Merck chose the blocks because patch panels would have been messier to deal with. This would have led to differentiations at each site, and would deviate from Merck's universal cabling plan for all of its building.
"You can make them [patch panels] look pretty good starting out, but when you get different people in doing patching, you end up with cables everywhere," says Patton.
"Patch panels tend to be less neat. It's too easy to remove and add cords," says Viszoki. "Anyone can do it, and people have different degrees of thoroughness."
John Passanante, associate partner for Syska Hennessy Group, the consulting engineer for the project, says that if Merck had used patch panels, it would have been too easy for people to go into the closet and reroute services. "But when all terminations are done at a 110-block solution, it requires a technician with knowledge to use a punchdown tool instead of just an RJ jacket," says Passanante.
Raising the bar on installation standards
In addition to adhering to strict industry EIA/TIA standards, Merck promoted its own high standards for its multi-building installation project-and the installation team was expected to live by them. John Passanante, associate partner for Syska Hennessy Group, the consulting engineer for the project, says he was surprised by the extent that Merck enforced its standards. "We've never seen it to the extent and enforcement like Merck does," says Passanante.
Merck's plan took a cookie-cutter approach that was designed for efficiency. Jay Viszoki, senior systems associate/project manager for Merck, says the company would work with purchasing and keep close tabs on the project's costs yet assure that end users received a highly functional system. "We try to standardize as much of the process for each aspect," says Viszoki. "We can track the commodity cost, build a database of metrics per project, and show cost per square foot to make sure we are on the mark."
One of Merck's highest demands was that the contractors and installers had to stay on schedule. Merck was determined to pay close attention to the timeline from the beginning of the project until its completion. This meant spelling out exact specifications for the job, and then holding both supplier The Siemon Company (www.siemon.com) and the Mehl Inc. installation crew to them. As the end user project manager, Viszoki and his team would conduct walkthroughs regularly to monitor progress and make sure the project was on schedule and universal in design.
"You can stand in any telecom room on any site at Merck and not know which building you are or which site you are on," Passanante says of the universal design. "Every closet looks exactly the same."
Explains Viszoki, "If we get a trouble call in New Jersey [from another Merck facility], we can walk them through it and know how their infrastructure is in place. We can help them troubleshoot their problems. We don't have to reinvent the wheel."
Viszoki says Merck chose The Siemon Company's structured cabling products because of its customer focus and commitment to standards. The Siemon Company has a certified installer program, where contractors must attend a five-day class, while the project manager must attend a five-day design course.
"The Siemon Company takes the industry standard and makes them installer friendly," says Viszoki. "By the time the installers leave that course, they are well-prepared for a very good job."
What's going on inside
The inside plant work at Merck's buildings has involved both the installation of station and riser cables. Work has consisted of constructing the communications service room (CSR) with ladder racks and support hardware for cable. All of the testing and labeling for the stations and risers had to be completed according to Merck standards, which included a comprehensive labeling scheme. As part of this plan, everything that could be labeled was labeled. This was intended to make post-installation troubleshooting easier, and result in long-term maintenance savings.
Each label identified the building, location in the building, station and port, and each item was documented in a database. Labels were placed in workstations on faceplates, on each cable, frames, phone, risers and campus fiber.
"Merck even specified standards for labels themselves," says site foreman Dan Patton. "You had to have a certain size font for everything. The labels would have to be applied, with no fingerprints, and they would have to be applied in a certain position on the LAN cord so when you walked in, every label read the same way."
All stations had to be tested with a Category 5e tester. Patton says his crew had to pay careful attention to aesthetics. This meant, for example, that cables in CSRs could not be bundled on a ladder rack, but had to fall in place neatly straight down the rack.
Merck had an even higher internal standard. Members of each contractor company must attend site safety training. "Merck has tough standards," says Patton. "They are tough people and they know what they are doing. They know what they want, what works, and they incorporate it into their standards."