By JASON McKINNON
Viega LLC, Broomfield CO
Attendees at Viega LLC’s new Colorado Seminar Center in Broomfield can be forgiven for being late to class.
Entering the classrooms requires tearing themselves away from the lobby’s stunning view of the Rocky Mountains to the west of this Denver suburb. And if that weren’t distracting enough, the lobby contains a video screen that runs up one wall, across the ceiling and down the opposite wall, like an upside down U. Visitors stand under it and watch looping videos, which include a waterfall of Viega fittings filling the legs of the U.
With its glass walls, conference center amenities and interactive displays, the Colorado Seminar Center is a far cry from the traditional, utilitarian training centers where tradespeople crowded around instructors at worktables under fluorescent lights. It opened in April and has been impressing visitors since with its blend of beauty and tech innovation.
Opened in April, the dazzling new training center, like the adjacent new headquarters, features majestic mountain views framed by massive, cross-laminated timber beams made in Germany.
“The word we hear most often from first-time visitors is ‘wow’,” said Robert Boots, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Viega.
The Colorado Seminar Center is paired with Viega’s new headquarters building a few yards away. Like the center, it’s visually stunning, which is not surprising, given that they shared an architect and were built simultaneously.
Both buildings are unmistakably American West in design and appearance. Rather than steel, they’re framed with massive cross-laminated timber (CLT) beams manufactured in Germany. The environmentally friendly engineered wood products are as beautiful as they are strong and, unlike as is the case with some wooden-framed buildings, allow for an airy, spacious design.
“We wanted buildings that looked like Viega with a clean aesthetic. We wanted it to fit in the local community and to look like Colorado,” Boots said.
Of course, both buildings prominently feature Viega’s technology. The company’s fittings are used in the fire sprinkler and water supply systems. Radiant heating and cooling keep the building comfortable while in-ground snow melt systems keep the sidewalks free of ice and snow during the Colorado winters. The restrooms feature Viega in-wall fixture carriers and Visign flush plates.
- The training center is built around a central hallway running off the lobby and lined with interactive exhibits.
In case visitors forget what Viega is famous for, the exterior of the headquarters is designed to look like a pipe fitting and a glass-lined atrium evokes the image of water flowing from the building to the adjacent Seminar Center. The integration of the buildings on a compact campus allows Viega to seamlessly coordinate administration, commerce and training.
It makes sense for a growing company like Viega to invest in a beautiful headquarters, but why spend money making the Seminar Center a showpiece, as well?
“We want our customers and people who are visiting the Seminar Center to really have a good understanding of the focus that Viega has on quality of our products, our services and our people,” Boots said. “We want to make a statement with our seminar centers when you walk in that you know you’re dealing with a company that focuses on quality.”
Investing in the Trades
While Viega’s seminar center sets a standard, it’s being joined by a host of others being built to address the nation’s shortage of skilled tradespeople. Across different industries and verticals, corporations, governments, unions and public-private partnerships are investing in trades education. This year alone:
- DENSO, a Japanese automotive components manufacturer, opened a $1.95 million training center at its plant in Battle Creek, MI;
- The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights cut the ribbon on a training center in Wayland;
- Pipefitters’ United Association of Boston Local 537 opened a center in Dorchester, MA;
- With partial funding from global manufacturer Dana, Inc., Owens Community College in Perrysburg, OH, broke ground on an advanced manufacturing training center.
These new centers are a long overdue step in securing the country’s manufacturing industry and filling a gap in trades education.
Combined, more than 36,000 linear feet of tubing was laid between the two buildings.
Viega is not a newcomer to trades education. It opened its New Hampshire Seminar Center in Nashua in 2006 and remodeled the center in 2017 to make it more interactive. Its popularity led to the decision to make the Colorado center even larger with more hands-on space.
“Compared to other manufacturer’s training centers I’ve been to, this takes it to a whole new level,” said Bo DeAngelo, manager of technical training. “It takes all the technicalaspects and puts them in a real-world context for users.”
The center is built around a central hallway running off the lobby and lined with interactive exhibits designed by a Chicago firm, Matrex. The displays are more educational than promotional, demonstrating the capabilities of Viega products in a variety of applications relevant to customers. This is done via video, design and touchscreens.
“We give them the real world facts and it seems to work,” DeAngelo said.
Some 3,000 students are expected to receive training at the new center this year.
In addition to the hallway Interactive Learning Center, the 23,000-sq-ft wing includes four classrooms and two large workshops for demonstrating equipment and technology and giving students the chance to try it for themselves.
Innovative Corporate DNA
Founded in Germany in 1899 as a manufacturer of brass beer taps, it now specializes in pipe fittings, PEX pipe, flushing technology and radiant systems. Its products are produced at six international locations and distributed worldwide.
Viega is responsible for bringing press technology to North America, a market it entered on the company’s 100th anniversary. The technology, which is standard in Europe, is steadily making inroads here as contractors realize it’s faster and more economical than threading, welding and soldering.
The seminar centers are part of that campaign to educate contractors and distributors about pressing and other Viega applications.
“When you’re introducing a new technology, you have an obligation to your customers to make sure they’re successful with it,” DeAngelo said. “And it creates an element of loyalty to the brand. The customers are going to remember who helped them out.”
Throughout the year, the centers host single and multi-day classes on such topics as radiant system design, hydronics, LoopCAD, industrial piping, commercial piping and pressing technology for various materials.
The courses, which are kept affordable by Viega, draw contractors, distributors and industry representatives from across the country and Canada. Despite being open only since spring, the Broomfield center is on track to host more than 3,000 students this year. The Nashua facility will welcome an even larger number.
“The only place we have to go is up. We haven’t even scratched the surface of new curriculum development we can offer.” DeAngelo said.
Until 2016, Viega’s U.S. headquarters was in McPherson, KS, north of Wichita. The company wanted to open a second training center closer to the West Coast and chose the Mile High City for central location and easy accessibility through Denver International Airport. The decision to move the headquarters out there soon came after the announcement of the center.
Viega still has extensive and growing operations in McPherson. This summer, it completed a two-year building program that included:
- A 90,000-sq-ft expansion of a manufacturing plant, completed in Dec. 2017;
- A new 205,000-sq-ft manufacturing plant, completed in June;
- A new 25,000-sq-ft tool shop and apprentice building, completed in July.
Additionally, a 55,000-sq-ft logistics expansion is in the works.
McPherson is where Viega produces its PEX products, as well as select fittings. It’s also home to Viega’s master distribution center for North America.
The state-of-the-art distribution center incorporates the latest technology and automation, as well as an upgraded warehouse management system that provides faster product turnaround. With additional metals products being manufactured in McPherson, a larger distribution center for both metals and PEX products was necessary.
Viega has more than 700,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space on its 127-acre Kansas campus. It employs 300 people there and expects to add more.
The company has capacity to expand in Broomfield, as well, with room on its 11-acre campus for two more buildings if continued growth dictates, Boots said.
“We’re excited about what the future holds in Kansas and and Denver,” he added.
Based in Hudson NH, author McKinnon is director of technical services at Viega, and a former design engineer, product trainer, and training and technical support manager. He has a mechanical engineering technology degree from University of Massachusetts Lowell.