Offshore, Nearshore, or Reshore: an Architect’s Perspective

Leah Archibald

There’s a lot to consider when you decide where to design, test and produce your products. Labor cost is a major factor today, as well as the effects of shipping on both cost and on carbon footprint. But how much do you consider the architecture of the sites available to you?

Todd Drouillard is an expert on what types of facilities companies need to create innovative products, test them, and manufacture to scale. Todd works for HED, one of the largest architecture and engineering firms in the country. There, he designs spaces for manufacturers ranging from aviation to automotive to industrial goods. He’s going to tell us what we need to know about architecture before deciding where to build. Todd Drouillard, welcome to the podcast.

Todd Drouillard: Thank you. I’m glad to be on.

Where Does Architecture Fit into Offshoring, Nearshoring, and Reshoring in International Business?

Leah Archibald: Let’s start at a high level: where does architecture fit into the offshoring, nearshoring, or reshoring calculation?

Todd Drouillard: We fit in at the very beginning of a project because we can help steer the project from experience. A lot of times, companies aren’t in the business to build buildings. They’re in the business to build products. So when it comes to the building, they think, “Well, we’ll just get one.” But it’s a little more complicated than that.

Leah Archibald: So what might be surprising to manufacturers about building buildings? In other words, what kind of questions do you have to raise that we might not have thought about otherwise?

Todd Drouillard: The biggest one right now is equipment lead times. Having those conversations upfront can help steer a project in the right direction. You can order most of the equipment before the building is fully designed to get you on a great start. If we get in there early to plan it out, spending a little time upfront can save a lot of money down the road.

Leah Archibald: And where would that money get stuck? In other words, where might the manufacturer get locked into a building design that’s perhaps unhelpful in the future?

Todd Drouillard: One of the biggest pieces is not building enough space for future growth. And it’s important to understand where you want to go, maybe not in one or two years, but maybe in the 5 to 10 year plan. The most successful projects that I’ve been involved in have had some level of expansion. You plan space ahead, and then what you do is make sure that there’s nothing in the way. So when they want to build on, it’s a much easier process. There’s elements in our building design that we can implement early in the first phase, so when the second phase wants to get built, it’s like a bolt-on application. There’s a large movement towards a modular approach. That has not only saved time, it saves a lot of money as well, and it makes the building a little more predictable. When things are technically predictable, it can be more cost-effective.

Modular Designs Help Both Product Design and Building Design

Leah Archibald: So we want to build the right size for now, and we want to have the ability to increase size in the future. What else? What other aspects of architectural design facilitate innovation?

Todd Drouillard: Really, it’s in being flexible around the process. Building is really interlocked or complementary to the processes that go on inside. There’s some architecture there that can be helpful. Things like being able to remove portions of the wall to bring in equipment, rather than having to make super large doors or something of that sort.

Leah Archibald: In the digital transformation of manufacturing, we’ve seen a lot more processes modeled in virtual factories before they ever hit the factory floor. Like in the aPriori model, you can create your digital factory, you can evaluate machines against one another, and maybe you don’t have those machines yet but you can bring them in later. Is that similar to the plan that you would go through with manufacturers as you’re designing a site? Is the architecture industry also being transformed digitally in the same way?

Todd Drouillard: Absolutely, everything that we do in our world, at least at our firm, is all done in a 3D-like environment. So even though when we’re done, you’ll see the 2D prints, in the real world we’re actually building models: structural, mechanical, they’re all there. And really that solves problems before they become a problem. What it really helps out is during construction, when you have to coordinate between all these different trades. If everybody’s building to the 3D plan, there should be no issues because it’s all figured out before it gets built. So, it really takes a lot of risk out. And when you take out risk, you take out cost.

Leah Archibald: I’m seeing a similarity with the innovation in the field of architecture and the innovation in the field of manufacturing processes. Because I talk to a lot of manufacturers, and they’re talking about how to design products that are more modular – how to make their processes modular so that they can scale up or down based on the amount of demand in a certain area. And what I hear you talking about is actually very similar – making the spaces where these products are designed and manufactured also flexible, also modular, so that manufacturers can have the similar level of choice and quick decision making in their buildings that they have in their products and their processes.

Todd Drouillard: Yes. There are companies that actually produce buildings like a manufacturer. They’re manufacturing walls in a factory. So, it’s factories building factories. It’s kind of crazy.

Access to Labor, Land, and Transportation Affect the Offshoring Question

Leah Archibald: So we started off with the question, where does architecture fit into the offshore, nearshore or re-shore decision? And what I’m hearing is actually, when you dive into that question, you’re really looking at architecture as facilitating your success in whatever location that you choose to manufacture in.

Todd Drouillard: Yes.

Leah Archibald: So if you’re taking it overseas, you want to make sure that you have the access to infrastructure that can allow you to scale up. You want to make sure that you have access to building materials or prefabricated parts of buildings that can be modular. And the same thing if you’re nearshoring somewhere where land is more expensive, you want to make sure that you have the possibility of upscaling in the future. So I don’t think there is an easy decision that I’m coming away with, but I think there’s appreciation of the process of vetting these sites for how can architecture support your long-term goals.

Todd Drouillard: Absolutely. Obviously, there’s no perfect site and there’s always going to be some type of challenge. But I think there’s a lot of things that go into a site that might make it more like a better fit. It could be workforce, it could be location to transportation, it could be just being near an industry that is complementary.

Leah Archibald: What do you hope non-architects would come to appreciate from this conversation?

Todd Drouillard: One of the things that I would want to make sure is to try to get us involved as early as possible. A little bit of pre-planning upfront could save a considerable amount of time and money down the road.

Leah Archibald: What we say at aPriori is that 80% of the cost is determined in the design stage. So I hear this being true about building design as well.

Todd Drouillard: Yes. Change is constant and we’re used to having last-minute change. It’s always less expensive to do it in the model then when it’s finally built.

Leah Archibald: Change is constant, but you want to build for change.

Todd Drouillard: That’s right.

Leah Archibald: Todd Drouillard, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Todd Drouillard: Thank you.

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