The ties that bind
The success of this cutting-edge construction project could rest on around half a million plastic zip ties. By Shane Conroy
A new $80 million molecular research facility at the University of Wollongong could help scientists find new treatments for a range of diseases. The cutting-edge Centre for Molecular and Life Sciences is currently under construction, and on completion will house a revolutionary three-metre-tall $7 million Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope, plus a smaller Talos Arctica microscope. The Titan Krios microscope is only the second of its kind in Australia, and one of a just handful in the world. It’s the most powerful high-resolution electron microscope for biological research ever developed, and will give researchers an unprecedented view into the functions of human cells. When it opens in 2019, the centre will accommodate more than 200 researchers, who will work on developing new treatment options for a range of serious diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. Of course, such sophisticated technology needs to be treated carefully. The microscopes require a completely vibration-free environment, and researchers will not even be able to talk while using the microscopes to collect data. The microscopes also need to be protected from electromagnetic fields—which means no metal can be used in the construction of the building.
High-tech meets low-tech
That’s a difficult construction brief, but one that Richard Crookes Constructions is equal to. The company has been commissioned to build the centre, and it’s using an innovative approach to meet the project’s challenging specifications. “The microscopes suspend samples in liquid nitrogen and then fire electrons at it to create a picture. However, these electrons are extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields, and any interference will pull the microscope off target and result in an unclear picture,” explains Matt McCrohon, senior project engineer at Richard Crookes Constructions. Any metal used in the construction of the structure that surrounds the microscopes could risk creating an electromagnetic field, so McCrohon and his team have looked to Canada for the cutting-edge materials and engineering expertise required for the build. “The idea is to build a concrete structure that uses alternative reinforcement such as glass fibre reinforced polymer (GFRP),” says McCrohon. “I’m not aware of any other project in Australia that has used this method to eliminate ferrous material from a structure.” There are no existing Australian standards that govern the use of GFRP, so Richard Crookes Constructions has called in assistance from Canadian engineers who are experienced with Canadian GFRP standards. Metal fasteners also can’t be used in the concrete structure, so engineers in the project have come up with a decidedly low-tech, but nonetheless effective, solution. “We’re using thousands of standard plastic zip ties to secure the GFRP reinforcements,” says McCrohon. “It’s quite remarkable really. It’s a cutting-edge $80 million project that’s potentially the first of its kind in Australia, and it will essentially be held together by zip ties.”
Networking a solution
Those zip ties—up to 500,000 of them in fact—will be supplied by CSS-member company, Construction Fastener Supplies (CFS). The Wollongong-based company predominately supplies building and fastener related products to construction, mining and civil engineering contractors. But getting their hands on hundreds of thousands of plastic zip ties at a moment’s notice isn’t a walk in the park. Thankfully, CFS is a member of the CSS network that gives the company access to a powerful buying network. “As a member of the network, we have the buying power of a much larger company,” says Joe Morgera, managing director of CFS. “For example, if I’m short on product or if I need more information, I can send an email to my colleagues in the network and get their help or advice. That’s generally how we all work within the network. It’s like having a big-business structure behind us, while retaining the more personal customer service of a smaller business.” Morgera says that allows him to focus on building long-term relationships with his clients. “Many of our clients are working on multi-million-dollar projects, so they need to have the trust that we can supply what we say we can, when we say we can. If we fail to provide the materials they need on time, that can throw their whole construction timeline off, which may affect their relationship with their client.” CFS worked previously with Richard Crookes Constructions on the $125.8 million South Coast Correctional Centre, and Morgera says it’s a relationship he hopes will continue into the future. “We’re proud to be associated with a company like Richard Crookes Constructions,” he says. “This latest project will show just how advanced they are.”