Sandia LabNews

Joint Computational Engineering Lab (JCEL) up and running


Joint Computational Engineering Lab (JCEL) up and running

Sandia’s new Joint Computational Engineering Lab — JCEL for short — was scheduled for an official dedication with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham Wednesday (April 28). But employees didn’t wait for him to cut the ribbon. Much of the building is up and running.

Funded to the tune of $30.8 million by Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) — a program within NNSA — JCEL is home to 175 people in 61,200 square feet of space. It offers innovative secure office clusters, two major computer systems, and state-of-the-art collaborative meeting and visualization rooms.

In short, the newest addition to Area 1 is a long ways from the light labs and offices of Sandia’s past. It meets higher standards for safety, security, and environmental friendliness. And it provides people-friendly spaces designed to attract high-quality new employees to the Labs.

"The building design provides opportunities to marry many different processes at Sandia that will need to be used to revolutionize engineering design," says Tom Bickel, Director of Engineering Sciences Center 9100. "Design-through-analysis is being prototyped within JCEL." This design initiative was fundamental to determining who would work in JCEL, says Tom. Key building occupants are Engineering Sciences Center 9100; Computation, Computers, Information, and Mathematics Center 9200; and Stockpile Resource Center 2900.

"This building marks a milepost along the way to achieving the ASC vision for predictive simulation," says Mike Vahle, Director for the Advanced Product Realization Program (9900). "It enables computer scientists, engineers and designers to interact on a daily basis to apply modeling and simulation to weapons systems."

Staff members began moving into JCEL — numerically Bldg. 899 — in March, as Hensel Phelps completed construction.

JCEL is a "sister facility" to the Distributed Information Systems Laboratory (DISL), under construction at Sandia’s California site. With DISL (expected to be online this year) and JCEL, Sandia takes a giant step toward enhanced design and weapon manufacturing, making use of visualization and collaborative technologies that will provide high-security links throughout the DOE weapons complex.

High-tech facade

JCEL is metal, concrete, and turquoise-tinted glass. Its design, by Benham Companies architects and engineers, combines three towers of offices, with an elliptical front space, housing the computers, visualization rooms, and other common facilities. Glassed-in stairwells flank the east and west ends of the building.

Metal panels and canopied walkways give the building a high-tech fa├žade. Passive solar panel sun shades along a south-facing window wall incorporate an energy conservation system that will provide power directly to the building. It has more than good looks, designers point out. JCEL is the first Sandia building to be rated under a national program to evaluate the sustainability and environmental friendliness of a structure. (See "Green" on next page.)

Adherence to Sandia’s Architectural Surety standards and to IBC 2000, a newly adopted international building code, also defines JCEL. The surety standards address possible terrorist attacks, including blasts and security system compromises. The building code features increased requirements for seismic events, wind loading, and blast damage mitigation. Cast-in-place concrete walls of the three towers provide structural strength to prevent the kind of collapse seen in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Main floor features in JCEL include an advanced conference room with large screens for image projection, automatic window shades and other amenities. The floor also houses two large computer spaces, one for "Renegade," a classified system, and another for "Rogue," its unclassified counterpart. There is also an impressive visualization room with a 24-projector rear screen projection system focusing on an 18-foot by 10-foot glass screen. The visualization room, one of two in the facility, includes conference desk plug-ins for power, phone, and Internet. This allows conferees to project images from laptops onto the large screen during discussions.

Common themes in the building include: wall-sized white boards and automatic shades for conference rooms; conversation niches with tables and chairs incorporated along hallways and in otherwise unused spaces; color coding in floors to help employees and visitors orient themselves; raised flooring for ventilation, power, and high-flexibility in room layouts; natural light in hallways and offices; and unique office clusters.

Need-to-know suites

Many of JCEL’s new tenants have occupied windowless offices in buildings noted largely for their long corridors, says Dave Corbett, Director of Facilities Management and Operations Center 10800. "JCEL’s architectural features were designed with light in mind." Northside towers incorporate windows into the offices, and the towers are joined by glass curtained hallways and stairwells, he notes.

The "need-to-know" office clusters open onto the hallway through a single entrance for security. Individual offices include fiber optic drop boxes with both classified and unclassified connections, part of a 60-mile maze of fiber optic cable in the building.

The cable maze provides the communications link for the building’s world-class 10 gigabit network, says JCEL Program manager John Zepper (9324).

"Engineering sciences and computing sciences have been working together for many years toward the vision of transforming engineering, at Sandia and more broadly, through predictive computational simulations," says Bill Camp (9200). "That’s a huge challenge — one that requires much more than just technical breakthroughs. We also have to learn to integrate the activities of our organizations more consistently and deeply than in the past."

Several years ago the organizations established the Strategic Computing Office on the west aisle in Bldg. 880 to improve interactions. "JCEL has allowed us to take that integration to a new level," says Bill, who will share an office suite with Tom Bickel.

It’s important to note the Stockpile Resource Center role as well, says Rob Leland, Manager of Computer and Software Systems Group 9220. "These three organizations share primary responsibility at the New Mexico site for the Design Through Analysis program." JCEL is integrally linked to the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Application (MESA) efforts. "In JCEL, we are prototyping some of the themes and relationships that will prove critical in MESA," Rob says.

Right people, right time

Jim Dawson, who managed the 17-month construction for Corporate Projects Dept. 10824, encountered more than a few challenges in designing and constructing the unique building. "The thing that strikes me as impressive about this project was the cooperation between the design and engineering teams and the construction contractors," says Jim. "The right people came together at the right time to make the right decisions."

The contract was awarded in July 2002, but early work encountered delays due to a variety of problems, including the location of underground utilities, tie in to existing water lines, and even the weather. Despite 30 "pot holes" to help accurately locate underground utilities, workers found some surprises when building began.

JCEL is structurally unique compared to other Sandia office-light labs, due in part to the 121 piers, ranging in diameter from 18 to 36 inches and reaching 35 feet into the ground. A lattice of concrete beams connects the piers at various angles and elevations throughout the first floor. "The main building structure is cast-in-place concrete and structural steel framing," says Jim. With the complexity of angles in the structure, nearly every concrete-to-steel connection in the part of the building south of the towers had to be separately detailed by the steel supplier, Jim says.

High winds in spring 2003 cost a cumulative three weeks of lost construction time, says Jim, more time than most standard contracts anticipate for bad weather. With crane and steel operations under way, it was unfortunate timing. General contractor Hensel Phelps worked hard to return to schedule, starting some work earlier than planned and working other tasks in parallel with additional crews.

For example, the Sandia team worked closely with the construction contractor to achieve early completion of the two large computer rooms and the first-floor visualization lab. This expedited installation of equipment, which began last November, two months prior to building completion. Construction of the stair towers at the east and west ends of the building, with concrete, steel, and a "curtain wall" of aluminum-framed windows, proved slower than predicted, but an early start helped compensate. Problems with fabrication of the exterior metal panels and a missing section of structural detail on the south side of the roofline sent team members scrambling as well.

Efforts of the contractor to accommodate the plans for equipping and occupying the building mean that the overall project is on schedule and should be completed later this year, says Jim.