At Midway Point, Swap of Facilities Going Well

Hank Kaczmarski and Mike Smith supervise the loading of the Cube walls onto a flat bed truck for transport to their new home.

It will cost around a million dollars and take more than a year to complete, but the ongoing swap of two of the three primary Beckman Institute service facilities from one end of campus to the other has so far taken place without a snag.

Hank Kaczmarski watched as a million-dollar-plus supercomputer was being moved via hydraulic lift from a flatbed truck to its new home in the Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC) on the south end of campus.

Kaczmarski, Director of Beckman’s Integrated Systems Laboratory (ISL) that features advanced virtual reality environments like the CAVE and the Cube, said watching the supercomputer that powers the CAVE going from truck to hydraulic lift to inside the BIC building caused him more than a little concern.

“If that drops there is no money anywhere in the budget to replace it,” Kaczmarksi said.

Moving the vital computing equipment and Kaczmarski’s trepidation about it represented just one episode in a more than year-long elaborate saga surrounding the swap of BIC and ISL, two of Beckman’s three service facilities, that has unfolded – at least so far – like a well-plotted novel.

"This is a massive endeavor."
– Mike Smith, Associate Director for Operations at the Beckman Institute on swapping locations for the Biomedical Imaging Center and the Integrated Systems Laboratory. 

Planning for the move began in the early spring of 2007 when Beckman Associate Director for Operations Mike Smith was charged with the task of switching the two facilities – all the while trying to maintain service to the many researchers who use the advanced technologies at BIC and ISL for a broad range of projects.

“We are,” Smith said, using his arms to demonstrate the switch, “for all practical purposes, picking up the Biomedical Imaging Center, putting it in the air, picking up the ISL, putting it in the air, doing this (crosses his arms) and with no interruption of service to those two groups or anybody around those two buildings.

“This is a massive endeavor.”

Smith said the switch was made necessary for several reasons. One of the main motivations had to do with locating BIC’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) magnets in a setting that would allow researchers and BIC engineers to fully exploit the instruments’ potential.

Smith said the BIC facility is not a capital structure (one built to last 50 years or more) and does not have access to the campus chilled water and steam systems, a discrepancy that required the use of humidifiers in the building. Another issue involved the building’s power supply, which relies on pole access and has to be augmented by back-up batteries to prevent outages during windy days.

“MRIs by their nature are high humidity machines,” Smith said. “To be operated effectively they have to be run at a very high humidity. You create humidity with steam and take it away with chilled water and BIC didn’t have either. Everything is done via electricity there, which is extremely cost prohibitive and not very effective.”

Also, it was thought that in the long-term, an expanded future for BIC that included more users from the northern, or engineering, side of campus could be accomplished with the move. So, in order for the BIC to fully reach its potential as a premier magnetic resonance imaging center, Smith said, he and former Beckman Director Pierre Wiltzius began discussions about moving BIC into the Institute.

The first step toward making the move came with Smith’s diagram for reconfiguring the basement to create spaces for BIC’s two current magnets, as well as space for a new whole-body magnet due to be installed in July of next year, and possibly in the future, an animal magnet. The plans also had to take into account special requirements for housing magnets, including threshold limits to ensure safety for people with pacemakers, as well as concerns about the vibration effects of the machines.

The switch of BIC and ISL has had an impact on one-half of Beckman’s other service facility, the Imaging Technology Group’s Microscopy Suite. The Microscopy Suite is located in the Beckman basement, where a trio of BIC magnets will eventually be located. Further complicating the move is the fact that both the Microscopy Suite and BIC are in the process of acquiring major new pieces of equipment.

In order to pull off this tightrope act, a comprehensive plan for the move and close collaboration among Beckman personnel were required. Once Wiltzius approved Smith’s plans, the project began with Beckman workers making renovations in the Institute and at BIC. A full-scale renovation by an outside firm of basement space for housing two 3 Tesla MRI magnets will start in January.

So far, at about the midway point of the project, one magnet has already been moved into the basement while the CAVE and the Cube have been moved into the BIC building and a room was created for new Microscopy Suite instruments. Construction and renovation work has been ongoing at both BIC and Beckman, and will continue until the last pieces of equipment and personnel are in place.

Smith said the cost of the project will probably come in at less than a million dollars due to having much of the work done in-house. The only part of the project that has been bid out is the basement space for the two 3 Tesla MRI magnets. Smith calls it the nine pillars project because of the nine Beckman support pillars that ring the spaces for the MRI magnets.

“I’ve compartmentalized it,” Smith said of the construction work. “The outside contractors will not touch anything outside of the nine pillars. So by not having them do anything outside the nine pillars I was able to get two million dollars worth of work done down to about a million dollars.”

Smith said regular meetings with all of the people involved in making the move happen – including faculty members such as BIC director Art Kramer, personnel from the three facilities, and Wiltzius and Interim Director Tamer Başar – have been held since the project’s inception.

“Under Pierre’s leadership, and it has continued under Tamer’s leadership, we’ve been meeting regularly with anybody who has a shareholder’s stake in this, so if there are any problems we the management team work it out in real time before we leave,” Smith said.

The people who oversee the day-to-day operations of BIC, ISL, and the Microscopy Suite   say that the transition of moving and renovating – all the while continuing most operations in all three Institute facilities – has taken place with hardly a snag.

Scott Robinson, Manager of the Microscopy Suite, said the preparation for this undertaking is a key to its success.

“The planning has been really well done,” he said. “This is like a complicated 3-D puzzle and they are doing a great job.”

BIC Associate Director Tracey Wszalek said she has been impressed with the efforts of her staff and people from the other Beckman units involved. 

“All of our staff has been beyond believable,” Wszalek said. “I think people (at Beckman) have been very generous. It’s very complicated and it’s stressful. The communication has to be really broad; we find ourselves sending e-mails to a lot of people, like (information technology) because there are a lot of networking issues that have to be addressed, and all of it has to be coordinated. It’s a very, very complicated dance and I think for the most part it’s gone very smoothly.”

Kaczmarski said groups like ISL and BIC that rarely interacted before have had to work together in order to make the move happen.

“We’ve each grown and each learned to be more flexible,” he said. “I think sometimes we form ideas about how workflow should happen or work for us, but not necessarily for other people because we don’t have to work with them. But now that we do, I think we all have loosened up our idea of what collaboration should be. I think we’re all going to be the better for this at the end.”

Continue Reading: Moving BIC into Beckman