Summary and Opportunities – Smart Cities and Smart Energy

Bill_Wright_3

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA

Bill Wright, Head of Energy Solutions, ECA, briefly summarised the BSRIA/ECA Conference in Dublin on the 11th June 2015 looking at previous papers and highlighting a few areas for further discussion / questioning . A few topics that came to the fore in the presentations were:

Sustainability – what actually is the meaning of this? Is a business sustainable if it is highly energy efficient, uses recycled materials and has a very low carbon footprint, or is a sustainable business about being in business tomorrow? It is best to be a combination of both but what is the best mix? Ethics can also come into this. A difficult question which can be discussed at length!

Another area for discussion is who pays for the infrastructure put in place for these Smart Cities? It is not so long ago that you paid for internet access in hotels and public areas, now it is generally regarded as being free, but is it? The costs are being absorbed into everyday prices as we begin to take internet access for granted. Ultimately we all pay. The installation of Smart meters and their operation will be paid for by higher energy bills, but it is hoped that the cost will be offset by lower energy usage. Time will tell.

Smart meters were discussed and compared between the UK and Ireland. The Irish ‘thin’ meter seems more compatible with major software changes as all the ‘intelligence’ is in a central processor unit, away from the meter. The UK version has its own processor. There is a danger it will be obsolete before the final units are installed.

Smart meters will bring remote monitoring down in price and improve availability of data as well as the reality of being able to monitor peoples’ actions in buildings. Another ethical question – how far do we go in this? Actions such as putting the kettle on or heating can be monitored bringing in the possibility of monitoring care homes – but this could lose the human contact.

There was considerable emphasis on Smart Grids and how the nature of power generation was changing as renewable energy sources at the periphery of the grid network were providing an increasing proportion of the power required for a country. Networks were designed for central power plants distributing electricity to the periphery, not the other way round. Considerable effort has to be put in to keep the system stable as the proportion of renewable or local energy sources proliferate. New standards were being developed as part of the international wiring regulations on how to integrate all these systems together. These may appear in the next edition of the UK IET Wiring Regulations, BS7671.

There was mention of the European super grid where power can be transmitted east to west or north to south to enable power to be generated in the most advantageous places and move to meet peak demands in various countries at different times.

All of this will be controlled by, or use the internet for communication. How secure is this? Many examples are available of systems being hacked into and taken over. How can this be stopped when we become ever more reliant on secure communications? Systems must be designed in such a way so as to be impregnable!

The redevelopment of the Dublin Institute of Technology was given as a good example of sustainable development where many systems, design and construction could be integrated on a new site to give an excellent performing series of buildings. Good initial design and programming the construction is the key to the success of this.

All of this brings the building controls industry into greater importance and our profession must grasp this and ensure that systems are designed and installed to the highest standards. This gives many opportunities to get involved, especially on the installation side where it is deemed to be at present strictly for specialists. New areas of building design such as power over data and LVDC systems should be grasped and brought into use to improve energy use and overall sustainability. The recent announcement by Tesla of the home battery system to enable PV systems to store energy to be used overnight is an exciting development which we can all use.

We are working in exciting times and it is great to be in the Building Services Industry. Let’s keep ourselves at the forefront of technology for the good of all.

The presentations from the Energy and Sustainability Network event are available to download from the BSRIA website. 

Post Occupancy Evaluation: operational performance of a refurbished office building

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD, Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

This blog was written by Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein BEng (Hons), EngD,
Sustainable Building Consultant for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

My Engineering Doctorate study aimed to investigate how and to what extent office building refurbishment can help to improve occupants’ satisfaction, perceived productivity and well-being while optimising building’s operational performance.

A case study approach and a “diagnostic” post-occupancy evaluation style of framework were adopted in this study to evaluate the performance of a recently refurbished 5-storey office building in detail and find opportunities to reduce the gap, if any. The study divided the workplace’s environment into three categories: ‘physical conditions’, ‘interior use of space’ and ‘indoor facilities’. Employee surveys and interviews revealed that interior use of space was the most important aspect of the building influencing occupants’ perceived productivity, well-being and enjoyment at work (happiness) while the improvement of the indoor facilities had no significant effect.

The study also concluded that issues with the physical conditions (such as noise and temperature) causes negative effects on perceived productivity but improving this aspect to a higher level than it is required would not necessarily increase perceived productivity. In contrast, improving the interior use of space aspect of a workplace would increase employees’ perceived productivity proportionally.  These results, however, should be considered with cautious as employee’s satisfaction surveys and interviews revealed that employees’ levels of expectation might have affected their levels of satisfaction with their new work environment.  This could cause some bias in the results of buildings’ performance evaluation. A potential

Old working environment

Old working environment

solution to this issue is to measure occupants’ expectations for their future workplace at the design stage to try to fulfil these expectations as much as possible. How well the new work environment met occupants’ expectations is another factor that should be measured at the post-occupancy stage.

It was also noted that the occupants density at the building was low at the time of the study (17.7m2/person) and that the space was not fully and effectively utilised and more than 50% of the workstations were often not in use. The link between improving space utilisation and the building’s energy consumption as well as its occupants’ perceived

New working environment

New working environment

productivity and well-being merits further investigation. These results are important in the projects where increasing productivity is a key and the budget is limited.

In terms of energy performance and CO2 emission, it was revealed that the actual emission of the building was three times more than the design target. Most of the low cost opportunities identified to reduce the gap were related to the building management and control as well as occupants’ behaviour. I will be doing a webinar very soon on simple energy efficiency tips related to building management and control and occupants’ behaviour. Watch BSRIA’s website for more details about this webinar. 

BSRIA BIM Network event review – Delivering the Level 2 BIM tools

John Sands blog 1BSRIA’s BIM Network focusses on bringing particular issues around BIM to its members in an informal environment.  As part of this mission, it has previously held two events specifically looking at the Innovate UK (formerly Technology Strategy Board) competition to provide the missing Level 2 BIM components – the digital plan of work (dPoW) and the classification system, all wrapped up in a user-friendly on-line tool.

The competition was won by RIBA Enterprises, with a team including NBS, BIM Academy, BDP, Laing O’Rourke, Microsoft, Mott MacDonald and Newcastle University.  The period of the initial delivery phase was six months with a due date of mid-April.

This topic was first looked at in the Network in February 2014 when the competition was about to be launched, and a second event in September reported on progress and the outcome from the second stage of tendering.

The latest event, held on 21st April 2015, was timed to follow hot on the heels of the launch by RIBA Enterprises.  As it turned out, a beta version was the subject of a ‘soft’ launch, made at the BIM Show Live on the 8th April, with the ‘hard’ launch now planned for some time in June.  The contract calls for RIBA Enterprises to ‘maintain’ the product (known as the BIM Toolkit – but more about the title later) for five years so development is expected to continue.

Almost thirty people attended the half day event, and represented a wide cross section of the built environment industry with designers, constructors, manufacturers and utilities suppliers all taking part.

The format for the event was very simple, with the aim being to give as much time for debate as possible.  Following a brief introduction from the chairman, Rob Manning from the Government’s BIS BIM Task Group gave a presentation describing the background to the UK Government’s Level 2 BIM requirement, and to the Innovate UK competition.

John Sands 2Rob’s presentation ran through eight key themes, all seen as vital to enabling effective Level 2 BIM:

  1. The Level 2 BIM journey
  2. Consistent work stages
  3. The Employer’s role
  4. Innovate UK project – A digital tool for building information modelling
  5. Digital Plan of Work
  6. Classification
  7. Validation tool
  8. Multi mode access

The first three items demonstrated the need for BIM Toolkit, and the remaining topics explained the requirement contained within the Innovate UK competition.

Sarah Delany of RIBA Enterprises then gave a presentation on the Toolkit, giving some background to the project from RIBA Enterprises’ perspective, and demonstrating its main features.  The presentation looked at the various features of the Toolkit, against the backdrop of the project phases identified in PAS 1192-3:2013:

  • Assessment and need
  • Procurement
  • Post-contract award and mobilisation
  • Production
  • Following hand-over then “in-use”

The BIM Toolkit is a project-based tool.  As well as the usual project information, the tool lets the user input data and assign roles at each stage of the project (the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work is used).  Certain key themes are displayed in the pane on the left hand side (see red box in the image below) which can be completed for each stage.

John Sands 3The Toolkit also incorporates a classification structure (Uniclass 2015), and a data validation facility, although these weren’t included in the presentation.

There was a lot of information to take on board and the coffee break after the last of the presentations was welcomed by all.  It also gave the audience a chance to collect their thoughts and frame some telling questions.

As was expected, the questions were wide-ranging, from how the tool affected what information manufacturers were expected to produce, to how the tool was intended to be used.  This latter enquiry highlighted a key aspect of the tool, which had previously been misunderstood – at least by us.  One of the MEP constructors asked if the tool was meant to be hosted in the project environment, where all members of the team would be able to see it.  Rob Manning’s response was that the tool was meant to be used by the client, who would then export it into another environment for use by the project team if required.  The same person then asked if it was in fact a tool for the client and Rob Manning said that was indeed the case. We must admit that at that point we were struggling to see the collaborative element of the Toolkit.

The name of the tool also raised some questions.  Given that it was for the use of the client, someone asked if the name of Toolkit was perhaps not as helpful as it could be.  Rob Manning said in response that perhaps the name may need to be reconsidered.  Someone in the audience suggested that EIR Writing Tool or Briefing Tool may be more appropriate.

BSRIA is considering holding a similar event in early June.  This will give the industry another opportunity to ask questions once they have had a chance to look at the Toolkit in more detail, and consider how it relates to their working environment.  This will also act as useful feedback to RIBA Enterprises at the end of the beta testing period and help to shape the new release, currently due sometime in June.  In the meantime, BSRIA agreed to take any comments attendees may have between now and June and feed them back to RIBA Enterprises.

In summary, it was good to see the BIM Toolkit and to hear the Government client’s aspirations.  Also, it is worth bearing in mind how much has been achieved in such a short space of time.  However, we think that there is a lot of work still to be done to get the beta version to what was intended in the original competition brief.  It will be interesting to see how the June release has progressed.

Have a look at the beta version of the BIM Toolkit (www.thenbs.com/bimtoolkit) and send any comments to RIBA Enterprises.  It’s important to have your say and to help make the final output of real value to the construction industry.

BSRIA provides one-day training courses to introduce BIM and how to implement a BIM plan.  Visit https://www.bsria.co.uk/information-membership/events/ for more information

Renewable Energy – The Vital Missing Link

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

For years, renewable energy, especially solar power and wind, has offered the tantalising prospect of almost zero carbon energy; tantalising because, even as costs fall, solar and wind are inherently unreliable, especially in temperate climates such as those that we ‘enjoy ‘in regions like Western Europe, and much of North America not to mention most of the developed world.

While a lot of progress has been made in demand response, which manages the energy that we need to match that which is available at any given time, we need a cheap, safe and efficient way of storing electrical power. Up until now, storage of electrical power in particular has been expensive and inefficient, and sometimes a bit scary.

The electrical vehicle market of course already faces this problem in spades. Electric cars are never likely to become main-stream so long as they need to go through a lengthy recharge process every 200 miles or so. It is therefore no surprise that much of the running is being made by manufacturers of vehicle batteries.

Tesla’s announcement that it is moving into the home energy storage market could represent a significant step. Being able to store electrical power not only makes local wind and solar power generation more practicable, it could also be invaluable in the many areas of the world where the grid is unreliable or virtually non-existent.

The biggest barrier, at least initially,  is likely to be the price tag. The 7kW battery which could, for example power a laptop for two days, or run one full cycle of a washing machine, or boil 10 kettles, will cost $3,000 to buy: That’s a very pricey home laundry service, and a frighteningly expensive cup of coffee, especially if you only need to use it occasionally.  The 10kW version represents slightly better value.

At this stage this is surely going to appeal only to wealthier individuals living away from a reliable grid, or those willing to pay to make a green gesture.  However, as with other technology initially aimed at the ‘smart home’ we may well find that much of the demand is actually from businesses. If you are running a business, even a small one, then any loss of service can do you immense damage. If an investment of a few thousand pounds or dollars can help guarantee that you will keep running, then it may well seem like an attractive return on investment.”

A further significant sign is Tesla’s announcement of an alliance with the international Energy Intelligence software supplier EnerNOC, which already has a presence in the USA, Canada, Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.

Ultimately, success for energy storage in buildings, as in vehicles is likely to hinge on the two Cs: cost and capacity. It is a familiar catch 22 situation with most new and emerging technologies, where the market is waiting for the price to fall, but, other things being equal, production costs will only fall once you have achieved  real economies of scale.  The other factors that could influence the market are regulation, requiring builders or building owners to make provision for storage, or someone willing to take a loss leading initiative.

Safety concerns will also need to be allayed, given problems that have occurred with various types of battery technology, whether in laptops or vehicles. Storing a lot of energy in a very small space, inside the home is always going to raise concerns. And while batteries may offer the most promising option at the moment, other forms of energy storage might prove more effective in the end.

Still, the paradox is that sometimes problems get solved precisely because they are so big. The whole direction that the world is moving in, the growing realisation that we need to slash CO2 emissions,  demands cheap, efficient, safe energy storage. It seems likely that companies like Tesla, along with the other major energy companies involved in energy storage  will continue to concentrate their fire power on this until a viable solution emerges. And for the first few who get this right, or even approximately right, the potential returns are huge.

For then we really will have found the missing link.

Betting on the general election? Think again

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

This post was written by Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

There are number of ways of predicting the outcome of the general election and an equal number of ways of being wildly incorrect. Bookmakers across the land are considering the 7th May to be a field day equal only to the Grand National in terms of punter cash finding its way through the betting shop door and not finding its way out again.

The one thing that seems sure is that the outcome is likely to be uncertain with both a three way coalition and a rerun of the election in the Autumn both being seen as possibilities.  So, where does that leave construction and building services?

Just as education and the health service are perennials in political manifestos so construction has some constant themes. Although construction rarely makes front page news there are a number of issues that seem likely to make the political headlines. Maybe for reasons of one-upmanship, as in who is promising to build the most houses? It’s the Liberal Democrats, since you ask; who are promising 300,000 new houses a year and an assurance that they’ll all be energy efficient. Or the startling alignment and collaboration between the three main political parties who are promising to work together on climate change, which in itself is surely not a bad thing?

But what of the perennials that effect construction?

Representation at senior levels seemed threatened at one point by questions being asked about the continuation of the role of Chief Construction Advisor, this is now resolved at least for the next two years. However other things are less easy to solve – the impending skills shortage, the delivery of low carbon retrofit and the lurking influence of increasing devolution will all play their part. As will continuing pressure on late payment practices, poor treatment of supply chain and the weakening of centrally funded research programmes.

The uncertainty caused by the impending election has been felt in the slackening of demand for construction since the turn of the year, the recent results of our quarterly consultants survey suggested that there has been a halt in new work as we wait for a new government. This has also been seen in a reduction in the immediate pre-election period of house building starts just at a time when we need to be addressing the national shortfall.

So back to my punt at the bookies, I think I will put my money back in my pocket and find something more predictable to spend it on, maybe something in preparation for the barbeque summer?

Nearly there – delivering the Level 2 BIM tools. Will they be what we were expecting?

We are just a few weeks away now from the first deliverables from the Innovate UK’s competition to deliver the last two key components of UK BIM Level 2 – a digital plan of work (dPoW) and an industry-wide classification system.  The ‘soft’ launch is scheduled for the 8th April 2015 at the BIM Show Live event in Manchester, with the ‘hard’ launch planned for some time in June.

With the very short time frame for the work, the opportunities for consultation with the industry have been limited and what will be delivered will largely represent the views of NBS and the other project partners.  There has been some dialogue with a group representing a number of the institutions and institutes, but it is not clear at this point how much influence they have had.  Also, there have been a number of presentations and webinars over the last few months showing progress to date.

As you would expect, there has been a significant amount of feedback from the institutions’ body, including a CIBSE team from its BIM Group.  The CIBSE team has tried to look at how these new tools will work throughout the life of the asset, and has looked wider than just the 3D modelling aspects of the output.

Three key issues have come to light with the classification structure being prepared.  Firstly, it must be capable of classifying multi-services systems or elements.  A good example would be a multi-services co-ordination drawing.  Historically, classification systems such as Uniclass have only classified up to ‘types of systems’ – ventilation and air conditioning services and electrical power and lighting services are two such examples.  Combining services in an application is common and the new classification system needs to be able to accommodate this.

Secondly, it is important to be able to classify things other than those associated with a 3D modelling environment.  A wide variety of documents will be generated throughout the life of an asset and these all need to be classified in order to be stored and subsequently made available for reuse.   Obvious examples are reports, correspondence, drawings and specifications but could equally include EIRs.

The third aspect is the continuity of classification.  It is suggested that the Elements table would be used at the early stages of a project to describe needs – Heating would be an example.  As the project progresses and more detail develops, this might become Low Temperature Hot Water Heating Systems from the Systems table.  Although this looks sensible in theory, there must be a connection between these two tables as a cornerstone of BIM is to build on information and not throw it away and start again.  Therefore, the first part of the Elements table should match the corresponding Systems table entries to achieve this.  The alternative is that the Systems table is used throughout with subsequent pairs of characters being added to reflect the increasing level of information as the project progresses.

We have discussed these issues with NBS recently and it will be interesting to see how the new classification structure accommodates them.  Realistically, it is probably too late to see them reflected in the April or June releases, but more are planned for later in the year.  If these issues are addressed I believe that it will be a significant step towards providing a classification system that works for all those involved.

A key factor in the success of the Innovate UK project will be the way in which the outputs are disseminated.  They could be the best dPoW and classification system in the world but unless they are adequately explained they might not be adopted into common use.  The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ seems appropriate in this case and its importance should not be underestimated.

Using Robotic Total Stations to drive down the cost of construction

Since the days of the Latham report in 1994 there has been a desire to cut the cost of construction, mainly by finding more efficient ways of doing things. Of course, there will always be people who stick rigidly to the principle that ‘the old ways are the best’, but there are many more who are more open-minded – not least in terms of making use of new technologies.

Having said that, there is one particular technology that has not yet been embraced in the UK, despite the significant financial and time benefits that have been shown time and again in the USA and other countries.

I am referring to the use of Robotic Total Stations (RTSs) for laying out building services – as an alternative to the traditional ‘tape measure, spirit level and theodolite’ approach.

This blog considers the limitations of traditional methods and explains how RTS technology can help to overcome them. It also explores some of the reasons that this technology has not yet been widely adopted in the UK.

Are the old ways the best?

Traditionally, the layout of building services on site has involved a team working from the building drawings, using a tape measure, spirit level and theodolite to identify attachment points for pipework, cable trays etc.

Unfortunately, this system doesn’t work particularly well with complex buildings, buildings with curved walls, buildings with prefabricated materials, BIM or non-orthogonal spaces. In fact there is a huge margin for error, resulting from the following challenges:

  • Ensuring the reference point is right
  • Making sure the tape measure doesn’t move
  • Making sure the string doesn’t move on arcs
  • Ensuring the theodolite is level
  • Making sure the degree in which you are measuring is exact

Every small mistake can lead to potentially serious consequences. For example, being a few degrees out on an angle can mean that pre-fabricated systems don’t fit when the time comes to install them.

Similarly, incorrect layout can result in clashes with other building elements or services, thereby disrupting the construction schedule, generating remedial works and wasting materials, time and money.

Even when everything goes smoothly, the traditional approach is laborious and time-consuming and any delays can affect the work of other teams.

Plus, when changes need to be made, methods of recording reasons (obstruction etc.) and evidence (photographs etc.) are recorded additionally to any drawings they are working from.

These reasons are sometimes reported to the design team (if there is one) to amend the drawings or model; at other times, these records are filed separately for the purposes of finger-pointing at a later date.

Either way, it takes a long time for this information to be reflected in the designs, if at all, which means other contractors or labour forces won’t see the changes until they’re updated.  Working from paper also has the potential for loss or damage.

Furthermore, these issues are going to become more serious with the wider use of Building Information Modelling.

An alternative approach

Robotic Total Stations (RTS) allow layout to be completed by only one person, rather than the classic layout team.

To begin construction layout, a tablet with software controls the RTS and is loaded with a 2D drawing or 3D building model. Site survey points from the job site are identified in the model and are used to locate the RTS on the project site and in the model.

Once the RTS is located, the person operating the RTS can view the model on the tablet computer and select the points to be marked.  Once selected, the RTS will tell the operator their precise distance from the point (if using a stake) and then guide the user to the point with directions indicating forward/backward or left/right movement.  The operator then stakes the mark and moves to the next one.

A more advanced RTS feature is Visual Layout  which marks the layout point with a laser (removing the need for the stake); the operator then only has to follow the laser to each point and mark the location.

Basically, the RTS does all the work while the operator follows its laser, marking each point to within a distance of millimetres from the 2D/3D model point.

This can be used for the accurate positioning of multiple trades at the same time, ensuring no delays on site.

So what are the benefits?

Improved efficiency.

RTSs use the same 2D drawings or 3D building models as other trades involved in the project, so collaboration is simpler and quicker.

Enhanced accuracy.

Layout coordinates can be accessed directly from the building model and changes to layout positions can be recorded at the time of layout and documented with reasons and photographs.

Fewer mistakes.

The RTS works directly from the building model. There are no manual measuring processes involved. Points to be marked are extremely accurate and their purpose is referenced to the operator via their tablet device.

Reduced paperwork.

Using the RTS on a job is a paperless process, meaning there is no risk of losing documents or spilling coffee on them.

Reduced labour costs.

The RTS only needs one person to operate it and that one person is also capable of increasing layout productivity by up to five times.

Improved quality control.

RTSs can be used as a sophisticated tool in a QA/QC process, both pre- and post-installation.

BIM-to-Field

As we move to more sophisticated BIM processes – such as 4D & 5D BIM that includes building production models and which consider the constraints of a construction site (equipment capacity, working methods etc.), model based estimating and more – a live link to the field is needed.

This link, in part, can be provided with the use of an RTS, allowing responsible parties to track works as they are completed and referenced against the original model, applying changes where necessary and allowing the tracking of works ready for access by the next stage in the construction process.

So why aren’t we using them?

Companies across the US have used RTSs on construction sites for many years now. They’ve been highly popular with MEP contractors and revolutionised layout processes and BIM progression; so why don’t we use them?

A lot of it simply comes down to misconceptions about the technology and its uses.

Return on investment.

Implementing RTS technology requires capital investment and many companies feel that because they don’t have dedicated layout teams they won’t see a good return on their investment.

However, the relative simplicity of RTS technology means that any member of the MEP team can carry out accurate layouts, so the contractor can make better use of the workforce.

Also, RTS eliminates manual errors so that the most highly skilled and best trained individuals can be allocated to the more complex tasks, while lower skilled operatives do the laying out.

In addition there are considerable time savings that could ultimately reduce the number of operatives required on the project, thus reducing labour costs.

You can calculate your own ROI here

The savings cited for RTS do not have any real impact on the bottom line.

This is simply not true. Savings from the use of an RTS can be seen in:

  • Reduced remedial works due to increase in QC/QA documentation and recording – an immediate reduction in cost.
  • Improved efficiency whilst on site – reduction in labour cost.
  • Fewer errors in MEP element locations (another remedial work saving) – an immediate reduction in cost.
  • Reduced resource required to complete works – an immediate reduction in cost.

MEP designs evolve during installation so that the drawings do not represent the actual situation.

Perhaps this is true today, but if you are working this way now, you won’t be for long. For medium and large projects MEP data and detailed design will be as essential as structural design as the industry assimilates the BIM process.

UK BIM deadlines are looming now and businesses looking to grow, or large businesses looking to remain profitable, will need to ensure they can work in these parameters – and soon.

Clashes between services do not occur when the same contractor is doing all of the MEP work.

On small projects it is often possible to ‘work around’ any clashes between services. However, on larger projects it is not enough to ask for one element to be placed over/below/around another, as this may then run into a second clash with a third element.

This second work around would involve a wider rectification, which may infringe on another element, and so on until a solution cannot be made.  Eventually, it may occur that an MEP element then interferes with the installation of another contractor’s or team’s work.

Also, when ‘working around’ an issue, we create problems when considering building maintenance post-construction, as MEP elements will deviate from their logical course.

UK construction techniques do not lend themselves to using an RTS.

While it’s true there are some differences between UK and US construction methods, there are many more areas where RTS can deliver the same benefits to UK contractors as it is already doing for US contractors.

Conclusion

While any investment in new technology clearly requires careful consideration, I hope it is now clear for the reasons stated above that RTS is certainly worthy of that consideration. The potential benefits to MEP contractors are enormous, so surely it’s worth taking the time to keep an open mind and take a closer look.

Follow this link to see a demonstration video or, if you’d like to see this technology in action, book onto a Trimble road show event to compare this with a traditional approach.

Author Profile
This blog was written by Chris Slinn, MEP Business Development at  Amtech, a Trimble company, a manufacturer of specialist software for the building services industry.

Why the industry needs to be uncomfortable with current ways of working

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of Buildoffsite

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of BuildOffsite

I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute a blog – particularly at a time when a hugely influential industry like BSRIA is exploring the need for the industry to change its processes.

I have worked in the construction industry for more than 40 years – as client, contractor and property manager. In all that time there has been an almost constant call from voices drawn from right across the industry, from Government and from the media for the industry at large to change its processes and ways of working. To do things differently – to work collaboratively – to partner – to adopt innovative processes – to invest in and adopt new technologies and project management practices and so on. The reason for this clamour is always the same – the need to improve performance and productivity, the need to be less wasteful and more sustainable, to improve the image of the industry, to deliver better value assets, and to make the industry a better and safer place in which to work.

All good and well intentioned stuff but it does seem to be a peculiar feature of the construction industry. I don’t for example hear anything similar coming out of the automotive or consumer products sectors. Industries where investing in change/innovation is constantly being driven by the unforgiving hard edge of competition. OK- I hear (but do not accept) the mantra that construction is in some way different from other industries and frankly I recognise that there is still a whole lot of life left in this view of the industry. I am certainly not going to beat myself up in challenging this position when there is so much more constructive work to be done.

The case for change within construction often comes wrapped up within the covers of a report from an industry or Government appointed committee together with recommendations for action plus of course a set of targets. Inevitably before long yet another report will come delivered by yet another committee having chewed over an almost identical bone which will have come up with broadly similar proposals and another set of targets. All seamless and without any sense of continuity of message or indeed continuity of action.

Don’t get me wrong I am not against this approach as a mechanism to stimulate discussion and debate and indeed I was a member of the Movement for Innovation. However, it’s just that I don’t see much in the way of connection between broad based calls for change and the practical decision taking that goes on day in day out within individual construction businesses looking to win work and improve profitability and competitiveness. Close coupled to this is the reality that the status quo is for many a very comfortable place in which to operate. Unless there is a pressing need for a company to do things differently the chances are that sticking to the knitting will be an attractive option. Why break step if your competitors are operating in much the same way and if business is good.

In my experience it is only when individuals decide that they are uncomfortable with or no longer willing to simply go along with the way things are that meaningful change is likely to happen. If enough individual businesses decide to do things differently then there is the prospect that a sizeable part of the industry will change how it works – not because a report has made recommendations but because they are convinced of the need. Encouraging more decision takers within the industry to be uncomfortable and then encouraging the uncomfortable to take decisive action is how substantive change can happen.

Sometimes change becomes necessary if a business is to survive and prosper. When I worked for a client the cost of construction delivered traditionally became more and more expensive until the point was reached where the business could no longer afford to invest in new construction projects because the cost was not justified by the revenue that the investment would deliver. Think about that for a minute we were a serial client wanting to invest in new construction to help grow our business and to create jobs but the harsh reality was that we had been priced out of the UK market. I suspect that it will not be long before this phenomenon reappears in some sectors of the UK market.

Our decision was quick in coming – if the traditional industry was not able or willing to provide us with the built assets at a price we could afford and to deliver within the timescale in which we needed the assets then we would change our construction model and our supply chains and take on board the challenge of stripping out a significant amount of the waste that we knew to exist within the traditional industry in order to deliver the projects at a price that worked for us and within a timeframe that was acceptable to us. Working in close collaboration with our project partners we demonstrated that it was possible to simplify processes, strip out waste, adopt standardisation as much as possible and most importantly take that essential step of maximising the use of factory made offsite solutions to minimise the need for construction work to be carried out on site. Constructing on site from a set of commodity materials and products is inevitably going to be uncertain and potentially challenging involving low levels of site based productivity, indifferent quality and uncertainty of build programme.

The results we achieved were powerfully impressive in terms of the cash savings made, the additional value we gained and the much faster build times that we achieved. All this – including protecting the margins of our suppliers – was achieved by minimising all forms of waste. That was just fine as far as I was concerned because as a client given the choice I would not want to pay for waste and inefficient processes. I would want to pay for right first time quality, build programmes that are realistic and cost in use that is meaningful.

The learning acquired as a result of this forced change stood my company in good stead and became our standard construction practice. Our approach was also taken up by many other leading clients.

We were not talking about rocket science. The steps we followed involved a relatively simple approach including: giving clear leadership; being sure about what we wanted to achieve; listening to our suppliers and encouraging their advice; being collectively prepared to rethink every aspect of construction – absolutely no sacred cows; not being prepared to accept the message that this or that couldn’t be done – it usually can; be open minded; recognising that there will always be scope to do things even better next time around.

This approach and in particular a recognition that other than for site specific elements it is almost always better to assemble building and civil engineering structures on site is fundamental to the work programme that Buildoffsite has been advocating for more than 10 years. Together with our Membership we will continue to make the case for the increased use of offsite solutions based on sharing information on the innovative projects that our Members have delivered, working together to develop new innovative solutions, promoting new technologies and encouraging the take up of information modelling and the application of lean principles to identify opportunities for introducing more efficient processes.

I am delighted that our Membership continues to grow bringing together leading clients, suppliers, investors, skills and research organisations and so on. The common denominator is that our Membership and those organisations we work with to partner knowledge transfer are all committed to do things better – at a practical level to make change happen and to support continuous improvement.

Front cover imageThe case for offsite solutions will be proven to the satisfaction of clients and suppliers by the tangible project benefits delivered by projects that incorporate offsite methods. This applies just as much to the delivery of building services as it does to all other construction elements. However, there will be no free lunch. An approach based on the use of offsite solutions will need to deserve to be commercially successful. If offsite solutions fail to be competitive with traditional methods on whatever basis the customer deems appropriate then they will not be adopted.  That is precisely how markets should operate. However, I hope that in comparing the performance of offsite solutions with traditional solutions the assessment will include all relevant factors that impact on value including time, cost, quality and cost in use. For example it can still be the case that the precise cost of a potential offsite solution will be compared with the theoretical and highly uncertain predicted cost of traditional construction. As construction inflation increases this simplistic method of assessing project value is likely to become increasingly unreliable. We are working closely with the industry’s professional institutions to improve the understanding of offsite construction and to support the development of new skills.

I have no doubt that the case for offsite solutions will continue to grow and the market will expand rapidly across all sectors. I also have no doubt that we have only just started to scratch the surface in terms of our understanding of what can be achieved in reducing cost, improving client value and improving the performance of the industry. Remaining open minded and being committed to challenge the status quo will continue to drive innovation and to effect the changes that we are called on to support.

If I can pass on one final suggestion it would be to encourage everyone in the industry to be uncomfortable with current ways of working. If we could achieve this we would be well positioned to move on to effecting change.

If anyone wants to learn more about Buildoffsite check out our web site www.buildoffsite.com

BSRIA Diamond Group Forum – A glimpse of the future?

How buildings can improve productivity and wellbeing will continue to be one of the most researched questions over the next decade. This touches all aspects of building design, construction, use, and maintenance. It also relates to the relationship of buildings with their immediate environment as well as their connection to the wider world. There is a lot changing in this industry and the players need to be aware of this and decide how they will respond. They need to evolve, move up the value chain, embrace new technologies, develop the necessary processes, and build the necessary skills.

60th anniversary finalsmallResponding to this, BSRIA held a 60th anniversary “Diamond Group Forum” with senior executives at the AHR Expo in Chicago in January to discuss and debate the changing landscape around the design and use of buildings, their evolution, and to uncover how the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building controls industry should be shaped in future in order to best respond to client needs and prepare for the positive and profitable development of the businesses that support it.

The event brought together approximately 30 senior executives from major players representing a mix of manufacturers, specifiers and end users in the industry. The forum, which was opened by BSRIA CEO, Julia Evans facilitated active debate and networking.

Following three summary presentations on HVAC and smart control technology by experts from BSRIA World Market Intelligence, the participants broke out into several workshop groups to address the following key questions:

  1. What do you think are the biggest, most relevant changes in buildings now and over the next 10 years?
  2. What will be the impact on our industry?
  3. What products and services will be required in the future?

The majority of participants were from North American organisations, with a small number from Europe and Asia. So it may be assumed that the many insightful conclusions had a North American focus, even though many relate to issues of international relevance. Amongst the many topics discussed, some of the main conclusions are summarised below.

Participants concluded that the march of green construction and sustainability will continue, aided by regulation and integrated building design. Increasingly, buildings will need to adapt to people – up to now it has been the other way around! The Internet of Things is already seen as a reality and combined with analytics and big data, has the potential to deliver radically improved value for building owners and occupants, whilst spawning a host of new value streams for suppliers.

The team still see some barriers, such as how best to finance projects and there is continued concern around grid stability and energy prices.

New challenges will undoubtedly appear, not least the need to understand how new building designs work and to understand the challenge of more complex building systems. There is often a disconnect between building use and how control systems are applied and this needs to be addressed. At the same time there is a need for smarter, integrated construction practices.

One of the most important challenges facing the industry is the shortage of people educated to understand the new types of technology. This needs to be tackled and new ways need to be found for engaging the younger generation with our industry.

New competitors will enter the market, not least from the IT and software fields and industry needs to develop new partnerships, for example to bridge the gap between the HVAC and the IT world.

Smart technology, in the form of smart, self-learning and self-diagnosing products is emerging as well as building data capture, software based analytics and an increasing proportion of applications going to the “cloud”.

There is a growing need for devices to be interconnected and converged on to common platforms and networks, with increased adoption of standards for open connectivity. Cybersecurity for building systems is currently a major weakness and consequently has moved rapidly up the agenda.  It represents a threat to development of the building controls industry but can be turned into a new business opportunity.

Suppliers need to sell solutions and focus more on life cycle costing. A migration of controls onto the HVAC equipment, delivered as a single package, with a simple man machine interface, is expected to become more prolific. In the next stage, these packaged solutions will be connected to the cloud and the service business model may have to change in the future.

Above all, the products of the future should be designed with the small and medium building retrofit market in mind. These represent the vast majority of buildings and floor space.

A second Diamond Group Forum will be held at the ISH exhibition in Frankfurt on Tuesday 10th March for senior executives of top BSRIA clients. For more information contact Jeremy.towler@bsria.co.uk

BSRIA Blue Book available as an App

Front coverBSRIA are pleased to announce the launch of an App version of our popular Blue Book.  The App is free to download from the App-store and is available in both iOS and Android formats.

BSRIA’s ever popular Blue Book is an annual databook which continues to provide you with hard-to-find facts about Building Services.  It contains tables of useful technical data, annual building running costs, legislation, key industry contacts, key BSRIA experts, list of BSRIA members, Maintenance KPIs, BSRIA training courses; building services industry statistics, BSRIA publications, services and financial data

As technology moves forward so does the way we work, we’re no longer an industry who is focused on paperwork instead we are now a mobile based industry using tablets, laptops, e-readers as well as the trusty mobile so why would you want a hardcopy Blue Book when you can have all of our information at the click of a button?

BSRIA’s Information and Knowledge Manager, Jayne Sunley, said “The Blue Book contains key industry and technical information to help professionals day to day therefore the App will be a welcome addition to the mobile of anybody working in the Built Environment”.

The Blue Book is available to download now from Apple and Android stores, simply search ‘BSRIA’. Alternatively you can download the interactive PDF here.

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