Rob Watson, Vessel Scanning, Ship Scanning, BoatBuilder, Yacht Designer, Custom Yacht Design, PassageMaker, Passage Maker, Custom Yacht Design, Custom Design, Boats, Marine Designer, AutoCAD, Drafting, Lofting, Deck Plans, Part Drawings, Mechanical Animations, Processes, Safety and Training.© 2006 - C.R. Watson, Watson Enterprises

by: Charles Rob Watson
updated: August 2014

With an ever expanding global customer base and plans to open new offices around the world Thrustmaster products were becoming larger and more sophisticated. The company was growing by leaps and bounds and this meant a broader marketing plan. Although I was technically hired to market the company I was formally hired as a Project Manager for any assignment deemed important by the owner.

Principles of this type Project Management require a broad understanding of the different skills and trades for which the complex is being built. While a degree in Industrial Engineering is helpful a broad experience base can also work to one's favor. Especially when that experience leads to understanding how to develop areas for efficiency before the first chips are turned from the machine tools or the raw materials are delivered. During the course of this project I had a major concern. That being to insure that we did not cause any work stoppage as a result of labor issues, OSHA violations, or environmental involvement. One that I could not control was Hurricane Rita (slide 21) and the impact it had on delivery of our transformers.

Thrustmaster boasts one of the largest dedicated thruster factories in the world and certainly the largest (and only major) in the US! Seventeen and one half acres of manufacturing and office space on 50 plus acres of property, the installation of new CNC machines, cranes up to 100 tons, and a proposed 15 million gallon test pond was on the board. Project planning had already started but was being stalled for several reasons. I was given the task of finishing the plans and seeing the job through to permitting, construction, the inclusion of a completely self-contained water well, septic, and fire suppression system. Below is a pictorial account of some of the highlights of the project.

  1. When I took over the project the entire 54 acre tract was wooded pasture. Cows ran the property and the landscape ranged from swamped gullies to woods to open pasture. The carcass of a cow led me into an area where the long dried bones of other dead cows was scattered throughout the thick underbrush. This property had long been used for agriculture purposes for running cattle and I didn't want someone to later say that we had harmed the cows so we added fencing and even stretched barbed wire ourselves to separate the cows from the construction site.

2. During my original review of the property I found evidence of an old telephone line. The easement only ran a few hundred feet and then terminated near the middle of the property. Practicing "due diligence" and just for good laugh I called the Operator and asked for "Enterprise 9800."

We did eventually get a release of the easement made necessary because it continually showed up on the plats causing problems with getting later easements that were necessary for our electrical service.


3. This is my trusty "side-kick". This is the guy that makes sure that the people on site are doing what they say they are. Be it at 3:00 am, on the weekend, or until "dark-thirty", hiring Roy Weisinger was one of the best moves we made. With over 50 years experience Roy proved to be a major asset as contractors sought his advice and site workers took his direction without complaint.

Here Roy has mounted a digital camera on the end of a PVC pipe. He's set the timer on the camera to snap after 10 seconds. Inserting the camera down into the boring holes he took pictures of the conditions near the bottom where light wouldn't shine so he could insure that the footer had been reamed properly.


4. Proving that you have to keep an eye on everybody. I had ordered all 54 acres completely cleared. As the excavators and bulldozers were nearing the end of their clearing stages this one tree stood out day after day. I asked the operators why it was still there. Answer, "We didn't want to clear it because it "spoke to us."

My answer was to ask, "When it spoke to you, did it offer to sign the check for your services?" Needless to say the tree was gone the next day.

  5. The property had been surveyed a few years earlier but I considered it my responsibility to know every inch of this project. Using the survey map I walked to every marker. Once found I placed my own marker and tape so that I would know and could be confident in pointing out where the property lines were. This helped tremendously as both County and State inspectors and officials came to the site later in the project to determine our status of construction and to fulfill their roles.
   6. With the land cleared we held a ground-breaking ceremony. Not once, but twice. The first was for county dignitaries and longstanding customers. The sign in the background was the one at the entrance on FM 529 announcing the project. I moved it back to the groundbreaking and then returned it once we had completed the ceremonies.
  7. The second was for the employees whom the owner attributes much of his success. (Who wasn't in this picture? As a matter of fact, who wasn't in almost every picture? Your truly. As usual I was the one taking the pictures.)
8. Picking a location on the site where no buildings were slated to be built a deep pit was dug. During the clearing process trees and brush were piled for several weeks to dry out. Under authority of a county permit the brush was burned in the pit under controlled conditions. The fire pit, becuase of its proximity to the water table, can not include anything but natural shrubs, trees, and brush. No chemicals, no man-made matter, no cattle remains. Nothing that seepage could take down the remaining few feet to contaminate the water. With the property finally clean the back-hoe operator covers the fire pit and packs it down until there is no evidence it was every there.
9. Here the property is finally cleared and ready to begin construction. During the process of clearing and making the ground ready there were many meetings and details to attend. Working with the Civil Engineers, Architects, banking officers, nearby property owners, and MUD (Municipal Utility District) officers were just a few. There are some environmental concerns I can not disclose on this project. Nothing major but still affecting the schedule.

10. There were quite a few times that someone at the old office would comment that nothing was going on at the new site. A LOT was going on, they just couldn't see it.

After all permits and plans have been satisfied with the county the laying of storm sewer is usually a hidden process. I say "hidden" because folks passing by the site on the highway don't see the workers. They are down in the holes digging trenches and laying the lines and tanks.

11. As a fisherman I say, "Pollute it now..., eat it later." This was just the first of half a dozen truckloads of underground conduit and junction boxes that are typically buried under parking lots or buildings. A site that was once capable of absorbing rainwater now has to shed that water and do it so that it does not create flooding conditions elsewhere around the property. The amount of water has to be calculated and then diverted to receiving areas of run off. Typically ditches or other forms of drainage systems that are all part of the regional flood control program. During and after installation the project is monitored by county officials to insure that the plans are followed to a T.
12. Furthering that thought we don't typically consider that the parking lot has to be designed so that run off is at a controlled rate. Based on the amount of water, planning for a rain event starts at where the water enters the highest drain. From there the remaining components must be positioned so that the last place the water leaves at the last drain is at or lower than where it started from. Otherwise, water backs up into the drain causing stagnation and foul smells to constantly waft from the holes.
13. Because this factory building and office is so large each column requires a pier with footer. These holes and the concrete are typically drilled down to "load bearing" surfaces. Sometimes it is rock. Other times (as in our case) it is packed clay down between 10 - 14 feet.

14. To make the process more efficient three crews work together. Referring to the plans the drilling crew first digs the hole using an auger. They then move to the next hole while the bell crew reams the bell at the bottom of the hole. Once that is done they move to the next hole location and the concrete crew follows immediately behind. In this shot the belling crew is barely clear before the concrete truck is positioned to start pouring.

Another aspect of this level of new construction as might be seen later is represented by this picture. Any time you move dirt you have one of two options. (1) reuse it, or, (2) relocate it.

15. Having preplanned the location of heavy factory machines the workers begin digging out squares where thicker concrete will be poured. This is a monolithic slab where the thicker concrete sections are poured at the same time as the floor. The thicker concrete provides much needed support for the heavy machines that would break the standard concrete floor. It also allows anchor bolts to be drilled and firmly seated so that the machines do not "walk" as might be caused by machining vibrations.

These particular monolithic pours are much shallower and very different from the machine foundations shown later.

16. Once the monolithic slab holes are dug the rebar has to be specially fitted to include the additional concrete. It appears obvious that drilling into the concrete for the purpose of installing anchor bolts would be hampered by all the steel.

17. The general contractor decided to pour segments lengthwise rather than across the shorter width. In the beginning I didn't see where it made any difference so I observed the process very closely thinking I was going to learn something new. In the end, I still say it didn't make any difference.

So, in the terms of project management this is one of those times when you simply don't make an issue of it and let the GC work the way they want to.

18. It's 3:30 in the morning. As I said previously Roy Weisinger is on scene ahead of the concrete trucks. They are ready their pour - but, within minutes Roy has a sample of the concrete and immediately calls a halt.

These chunks of concrete rip-rap were in the mix. This just proves why you need someone on site, at all times and why you take samples of EVERY load. The samples with their pour location were retained by the contractor (for a small fee) to be held for a specific period of time. Should we have failures of the concrecte we could pull the sample and see the density and fill, etc., to determine if it varied from the contract quality.

19. In addition to the concerns of underground runs for your own site services you have to make certain to include those services that come from outside resources such as the Electric Company, the Telephone Company, the Gas Company, and Water/Sewer, etc.

Point: As the project manager you have to make certain that YOU are aware of every service run, that you know where they are coming from and where they are going, and how they plan to get there. You cannot leave it to chance nor can you leave it to them to figure out and do as they please.

20. Part of this project included the development of Thrustmaster Drive. First slated to be a county road along private property with an easement that would have provided a payback, the city and county planners both eventually got involved. What started as a simple road to allow access with large truck traffic turned into a major county road. In addition there was another intersecting road that went nowhere except to split the property into two sections. Literally, it was only planned for the future and did nothing for the next 20 years. The owner then decided to pay for it himself and in exchange, had the road named according to his desire. Thrustmaster Drive.
21. Hurricane Rita heads for the Gulf Coast. Needless to say construction is put on hold as workers from around the Houston area turn their attention to taking care of family and homes. Our family covers from Orange County to Harris County so regardless of where the storm hits, we are all going to be affected. And we were. But, thanks to the Lord that no one was hurt we all pulled through and within a couple of weeks were back up and running full steam. We knew in advance were we could aquire the generators we need to keep the factory running.
22. Thrustmaster decision makers pull in a MEGA-GENERATOR and connect up to the main power. Manufacturing keeps running for days as this monster pumped out the kW's. Those tanks in front are diesel fuel which was consumed at about 250 gallons per day of operation.
23. Finally, the first steel is erected! As you can see in this photo the first column on the north-east corner goes up without much fanfare. If you look closely you can see that there is a lot of concrete on the ground.
24. With the foundation established the frame structure begins to move very quickly as the frames and beams were all pre-fabricated to fit. It is far from an erector set which has holes strategically placed to allow for a variety of assemblies. In this case if a set of holes are off my mere inches there is going to be trouble down the road. Either the holes have to be fixed on site, or the holes have to be fixed on site. In other words, when you start assembling this kind of structure there isn't much choice.
25. Out front the factory office building continues at a much slower pace. In part because the same workers and equipment needed for the office are working on the factory. Part two, because the office building is far more complex in the amount of "layers" it will take to build it.
26. Finally! The steel for the office building arrives. In this photo I pulled one of my no-no's and accidentally got my shadow in the picture. The four truckloads were the first round of three more deliveries that would come over the next two weeks. This photo was taken on Jan 15, 2009.
27. Second no-no. Did it again! Or did I? One "tell" is the date. This photo was taken by Roy. This photo can also indicate the approximate time. If you know that (1) Roy is facing west north west, (2) the sun is rising directly behind him, and (3) the long cast of his shadow you can tell that the sun is just coming over the horizon so it's very early in the morning. This is the condition of the site on Jan 21, 2009.
  28. On Jan 21, 2009 you can also see progress of the factory.  More importantly for us, after the hurricane our electrical service was put on the back burner by Centerpoint as their crews were tied up repairing downed and damaged power lines around Harris and Ft. Bend counties. This photo shows that by mid January we have the poles and hardware in place, however, the service is still not ready. Throughout this time the general contractor is working with one single electrical service point between the buildings. The extension cords are getting too long so generators are deployed to supplement the lack of electrical services.
29. A concrete pump truck moves into position. In the background you can see that the building is coming together. This is on February 12, 2009 and the second floor is getting ready to be poured. One thing about this project is that the General Contractor kept things moving. When we couldn't work on the building, or he had an excess of manpower he put them to pouring or getting the site ready for parking lot pours.
30. Finally, Centerpoint arrives with the the main factory transformer. These transformers have to be ordered 6-9 months in advance so when you start such a project you want to determine your anticipated power usage and get the electrical provider on the line early and get this one item ordered as early as possible. Another early stage item is to understand the requirements for the pad, and for the barriers. Here you can see that we've already set inserts for the barriers so that we could pour the parking lot. The pipe barriers would be inserted into the sleeves and cemented in later.
31. Yours truly standing with the pump truck operator as we pour black concrete on the second floor. Although warned that the concrete would crack, and were even taken to another facility and shown the results, it was decided to go ahead and pour anyway. The concrete did just as promised and the cracks were just too much so the second floor was finished with carpet and tile. It turned out beautiful.
32. The factory is progressing quick although we would like to have made it much faster. We were working against a production deadline as well as a construction loan deadline and regardless of the affects of the hurricane, we needed to be in and cutting steel within the next 4 months.
33. Timed with completing the roof the first phase of building a foundation for a CNC Machining Center is built. The leave-out and resulting excavation for this project was larger than my first home.
34. Workers in this scene give a better perspective of the depth of this tiered hole. The worker standing at the bottom represents where a solid concrete monolith will be poured. This will serve as the foundation for the new CNC machine.
35. The form is being set for the first pour. That block will be isolated by a 3/4" fiber shell and the next layer poured. Then a third until the foundation is completed by the "apron".
36. A contract sign painter outlines the unique Thrustmaster logo. Not such an easy task on a corrugated wall. I had just completed converting the raster image into a vector file in AutoCAD and Illustrator. The sign painter used that file to layout his pattern for painting the logo onto the building.
37. The Thrustmaster logo is finished. We thought about painting that logo onto the roof so the next time a satellite passes to take a photo and replace those on Google (TM) and such sites the building could be seen from space. As it is you can Google(TM) the address and see it clearly. Furthermore, we were teasing the idea of putting photovoltaic cells on the roof so the sign would have been a waste.
38. Obviously, in building construction the project is the entire building, not just one floor. There is no such thing as any single floor affecting only itself. Likewise, the elevator shaft, AC ducting, chases for wiring and plumbing, and stairwells are examples of the kinds of "multiple floor high impact" issues construction projects face. Our design on this elevator shaft is to also include the circular stairwell between floors. This minimizes the amount of space needing to be dedicated to both since they share the same opening and footprint. (The stairwell was eventually squared but still went around the elevator shaft.)
39. Barely down 8 feet and we are seeing water in the clay. Our boring surveys showed something else that made the steel pipe in the background necessary for setting the piers. Throughout the area there were layers of sand and silt that would collapse or sluff off before we could pour the concrete. In this case the sleeve would be inserted into the hole before the walls sluffed off. This allowed re-bar to be inserted without worrying about hitting the walls. Concrete would then be pumped into the sleeve as it was withdrawn from the hole allowing that the pressure of the concrete would push against the looser sand and silt while it set and prevent the walls from collapsing.
40. The septic system is being installed. One of the delays encountered during early planning was that the MUD district was having an issue with another property owner about getting our sewer and water lines connected. It was also discovered that the water line was not capable of delivering the amount of water demanded by our fire suppression system. Rather than wait any longer we permitted and installed our own septic, water wells, and fire pump and hydrants.
41. Installing one of the 7 new cranes. The largest is a 100T with a 30T auxilliary used for turning large thrusters.
42. At first the drilling of the well directly in front of the main building was considered a crazy idea. The challenge was that we had to be a certain distance back from FM529 and a certain distance from our second well. While these are considered private wells they meet the criteria of a public water source and as such must be inspected every day with reports going to the city and county. (A recent test in a Louisiana public water system showed evidence of an omeba which could cause brain swelling. Thankfully Thrustmasters water is safe and good to drink from a 300ft deep aquifer.) The well was surrounded by a picket fence that matched the landscape using palm trees and a flower bed that "wanders" along side the main walkway.
   43. The pressure tanks also serve as the location for the chlorine house and chlorine induction system. To the left of the tank is one part of the 500T chilled water system that will cool the factory and office alike. In the event of one half of the system going down the other half can still cool the office and keep the factory at a reasonable level to allow the temperature sensitive machines running.
44. While it may seem such a small concern something as simple as a sign indicated the address for electrical services installation can actually delay a project for days or even weeks. If you are scheduled to have the service connected, and the sign is not present, they will not install and that moves you to the bottom of their list. It can be weeks before they get back to you so put anything like this, no matter how insignificant it seems, on your MS Project Planning and make sure it gets done.

45. The 100/30 ton crane travels out the back to load and unload large thrusters onto trucks. The door opens to the shape of a T allowing the crane to pass through without fully exposing the air conditioned factory to the full onslaught of Texas heat and humidity.

This area out back has been converted to a test area.

46. The entrance to the building boasts a 5000lb NiBrAl prop that was polished and mounted to a shaft sitting atop two bearings. The entrance had to be reengineered to hold the additional weight in a 110mph wind for 2 hours. We estimated that turning only 2 rpm, with the bearings being maintened properly, should have a life of about 3000 years.
47. The reception desk was designed between myself, the recepionist Pat Little, and the owners wife, Corry Bekker. I modeled the reception desk in AutoCAD and took it to Impressions Millwork in Cypress, TX. Brian Dumaine, Chief Designer & CEO, took our concept and ran with it makeing this beautiful piece of funcitonal art.
48. This concrete well is being set in order to install the suicide fire pumps to the pond below. There are two pumps feeding a pressure tank which maintains pressure on the factory and office sprinkler system. When the pressure drops in the tank the first pump automatically starts and stabilizes the pressure. If the first pump can not maintain the pressure, or fails to start over a period of time the second put starts.
49. These are called suicide pumps because there is no safety involved. These pumps run until they die or the fire is out. They are inspected on a regular basis and the fuel is replaced as needed to keep the pumps ready for a fire. They have since been enclosed with a fence to keep the cows out and for additional security.
50. Signage for the front entrance is developed using AutoCAD to define the general layout and plan for accessing the sign and lighting inside. The 3D model (right) gives an idea of how it would have appeared with the building in the background.
51. The Giddings - Lewis CNC prepares to run its first part. The two employees stretching the tape were not doing so for any reason needed by the CNC. They were setting up a fixture in QC to mount the thruster base for checking once the part was completed.
52. The test pond, planned to be 35 feet deep, was analyzed with the companies hydaulic software. In the center is a model of a thruster. The colored zones show how the pressures would have progressed throughout various thruster speeds over time. Before completion we determined that we would also need to build a 15ft wall along the back of the test pond to prevent the water from spilling out and requiring refilling with each test.

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