The return of Athens and Sparta, or the Rise of the Corporate State?

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

For those of us who have been following the development of smart cities and smart government over the past few years, it has become more and more obvious that it is not only, perhaps not even mainly about the rapid advances in smart technology and the IoT. It is also about the social and political underpinning, who will control the developments and how far they will be allowed to go.

Recently we have seen a few useful straws in the wind. Last month, as some of you may have already noticed, the UK voted, by a narrow but decisive majority to leave the European Union. This will be the first time in its almost 60 years that the EU has contracted rather than expanded, and moreover losing its second biggest economy.

Partly in direct consequence, there is now a distinct possibility that Scotland in turn will leave the UK, which would leave the UK barely half the size physically than it was less than a century ago (prior to the secession of most of the island of Ireland). What is much less noted is how much more fragmented the world as a whole has become.

A century ago Europe was dominated by a few empires. Now, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the threatened fraying of the EU, there are a whole swathe of countries that either never knew an independent existence before or did so only transiently, especially in Eastern Europe. From Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, to Croatia and Montenegro, Scotland could potentially re-emerge after 300 years followed perhaps by Catalonia. In the world as a whole there are almost 200 countries that can claim some degree of independence, and many more seeking it.

What has this to do with the way the smart world is organised? Quite a lot, actually. Evidence suggests that one of the things many people in the UK were voting “against’ was the power of global corporate forces that are moulding our lives, with Brussels seen as their eager collaborator. I Personally take a rather different view, that it is precisely corporate power, which is being reinforced by technological advances that means that if something like the EU did not exist, we would need to invent it, or perhaps more accurately, we need something that moves on from the original vision of the EU to reflect the more complex world that we are now moving into.

Business of course already operates on a global scale. The world’s most valuable corporation, Walmart – which let us not forget, also owns one of the UK’s leading supermarkets, would if it were a country, rank 26th in the world, just behind Belgium, and indeed ahead of 2/3 of the members of the current EU. If we focus in more on direct players in smart technology, Apple would rank 44th, putting it on a level with such a technologically sophisticated country as Finland. And Microsoft, which now only just makes it into the world’s top 50 corporations, makes more money than any of the 10 smallest EU members.

It seems obvious to me that, if such corporations are not to be dominating political decisions, as well as the technology, then a degree of cooperation between governments is needed, something possibly very like the EU, which has at least forced corporates like Google and Microsoft to sit up and take notice.

Another fascinating trend, that takes us perhaps in a slightly different direction, is the fact that so many of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced countries are in fact city states, or something very like it. According to the IMF, the top 10 countries with the highest per capita GDP, included six oil producers (no surprise there),  but also four that could be described as “city states” or something like it, namely Luxembourg, Singapore, San Marino and Hong Kong  – taken separately from the rest of China.

Now of course very small states have the option to attract business through tax incentives that are widely seen as underhand, in a way that simply is not feasible for larger countries. But what is also interesting is that both Singapore and Luxembourg have been to the fore in global smart city developments. There are clearly advantages where a government can focus on the needs of a city and its immediate surroundings and needs. Even in larger countries, cities and their regions are being accorded more power, or are demanding this.

And of course this is not a new trend. You can travel northern Europe, from Flanders to the Baltic States, and admire handsome cities that grew rich as part of the Hanseatic League, essentially a league of cities that dominated much of northern Europe’s trade for several centuries from the late middle ages onwards. Before that, the first major flowering of European civilisation, with huge leaps in philosophical and scientific understanding occurred in a scattering of Greek city states. And of course the discoveries, inventions and creativity of the Renaissance was cradled by Italian city states from Florence and Pisa to Venice and Mantua.

Linked to this, it perhaps tells us something that by and large, the UK’s biggest cities voted very differently in the EU referendum to the small towns and countryside, reflecting a different attitude. There’s a case for saying that Londoners, Parisians and Amsterdamers have more in common with each other in some ways than with their own hinterlands.

Could politics and technology therefore be moving us away from the old fashioned nation state, and perhaps away from massive continental alliances like the current incarnation of the EU, but towards alliances between small states and cities that have common interests and a common culture to protect?

One thing seems clear to me; if we want a future whether the major technology providers work for us, rather than one where we for them, then we need a major shake-up in the way the world is managed.

Contractors can’t build well without clients that lead

Did anyone see the recent news story on the Edinburgh PFI schools with structural failures? In 2016 we shouldn’t be constructing buildings with feeble brickwork. We have Victorian and Edwardian schools that have been standing for over 100 years without these problems. More ironically we have 1960s CLASP schools – built on a budget with the flimsiest of constructions – still standing and performing their role well after their sell-by date. OK, they’re usually freezing in winter and boiling in summer, with asbestos in places a power drill shouldn’t reach, but at least they’re still standing.

The reasons for these high profile failures are easy to park at the door of the PFI process. One can blame cost-cutting, absence of site inspections, and lack of quality control. Some even say that the ceding of Building Control checks to the design and build contractor is a root cause: site labour can’t be trusted to mark their own exam paper when their primary interest is to finish on time and under budget.

Some commentators blame the design process, and bemoan the loss of days of the Building Schools for the Future programme when design quality was overseen by the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (CABE). The erstwhile CABE may have tried to be a force for good, but project lead times become ridiculously long and expensive. And would it have prevented structural failures? Hardly likely.

The one cause of these failures that doesn’t get enough press coverage is the important client leadership and quality championing. It can be argued that clients get what clients are willing to pay for, and there’s no industry like the construction industry for delivering something on the cheap. The cost-cutting, the emphasis on time and cost at the expense of quality control – all this can be pinned on a client base that does not lead, demand, oversee, and articulate what it wants well enough to prevent the desired product being delivered at the wrong level of quality at the wrong price.

Which means that clients have to a) get wiser on what can go wrong, b) get smarter with their project management, and c) articulate what they want in terms of performance outcomes. Truly professional designers recognise this, and are prepared to guide their clients through the shark-infested waters of writing their employers requirements. But once that is done the client’s job is not over. They can’t simply hand the job over to the main contractor and turn their back until the job is complete. They need to be closely involved every step of the way – and keep key parties involved beyond practical completion and into the all-importance aftercare phase.

Soft Landings provides a chassis on which focus on performance outcomes can be built. The chassis provides the client with a driving seat to ensure that standards are maintained, along with a shared construction team responsibility to make sure the building is fit for purpose.  The forthcoming BSRIA conference Soft Landings in London on 23 June is a good opportunity to learn how this can be done. It will focus on workshops where problems can be aired and solutions worked through. It will be led by experts in the field who can suggest practical solutions for real-world projects. Why not book a place for you and a client? For more information visit the BSRIA website. 

Ideas competition – How would you make buildings better?

PrintBSRIA and Designing Buildings Wiki are giving you the chance to win £500 of BSRIA membership, training or publications and to be featured in Delta T magazine by suggesting ways that buildings can be made to perform better. Gregor Harvie, co-founder of Designing Buildings Wiki explains why.

The UK government’s commitment to progressively reduce carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels is broadly in line with the COP21 goal agreed in Paris last year for keeping global warming well below 2 degrees centigrade.

But the Climate Change Committee has reported we are not on track to meet the fourth carbon budget, which covers the period 2023-27, and that meeting the 2050 target, a reduction of more than two thirds compared to today’s levels, will “…require existing progress to be supplemented by more challenging measures.”

construction emissions The construction industry generates or influences 47% of UK carbon emissions, and 80% of those emissions are from buildings in use. So unless the performance of buildings is improved, we will struggle to meet our carbon reduction commitments or the COP21 goal.

The tightening of the building regulations is intended to help deal with this. But figures from Innovate UK’s Building Performance Evaluation Programme have revealed that the carbon emissions of the 76 homes assessed were 2.6 times higher than their building regulations calculations, and emissions of the non-domestic buildings were 3.8 times higher.

And of course the building regulations do little to improve the existing building stock. Its estimated that around two thirds of the housing that will be occupied in 2050 has already been built.

emissions target v actualIn fact, our actual energy consumption has changed relatively little since the 1970’s, and the reduction in carbon emissions achieved to date has largely been the result of a shift away from coal powered generation. Now that the low hanging fruit have been taken, the task gets harder.

Couple this with a population expected to rise from 65 million now to around 77 million by 2050, and we have a problem.

So what can be done?

BSRIA and Designing Buildings Wiki have launched an ideas competition asking ‘how would you make buildings better’.

The challenge requires outside the box thinking to come up with radical ideas for reducing the emissions of buildings in use. Tell us about those innovations you think of in the middle of the night and the solutions to the world’s problems you only come up with after a few hours in the pub. Whether you think the answer lies in the adoption of smart technology, better regulation, on-site generation, monitoring and feedback, or more drastic measures such as carbon rationing or a contractual requirement for buildings to achieve design standards. The more innovative and far-reaching the idea the better.

The competition is very simple to enter. You don’t need to write a long essay, your idea might only take a paragraph, or even a sentence to explain.

To enter, go to the ‘Make buildings better’ page on Designing Buildings Wiki 

The winner will receive £500 worth of BSRIA membership, training or publications, and along with 4 runners-up, will be featured in the July edition of BSRIA’s Delta T magazine and on Designing Buildings Wiki.

The competition closes on Wednesday 18 May.

Architect Dr Gregor Harvie is co-founder of Designing Buildings Wiki, a free, cross-discipline knowledge base for the construction industry written by its users. It is home to more than 3,200 articles and is used by more than 10,000 people a day. Designing Buildings Wiki is supported by BSRIA, CIOB ICE, BRE, RSH+P, Buro Happold and U+I Group.

A BEMS is the key to unlocking a more sustainable and resilient data centre

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems, explains the functions of a Building Energy Management System (BEMS) and the vital role this technology can play in today’s state-of-the-art data centres.

In order to minimise the potential for downtime, data centres must be resilient, compliant with all relevant standards and operating procedures, while at the same time minimising overall energy consumption. BEMS have the proven ability to maintain the high levels of uptime and energy efficiency that are demanded by users by proactively monitoring, analysing, understanding and improving a data centre’s building services infrastructure.

Under control

A BEMS monitors, manages and controls building services and plant by ensuring that it operates at maximum levels of efficiency and reliability. It does this by maintaining the optimum balance between conditions, energy use and operating requirements.

By controlling an entire estate’s building services from a centrally managed location, it enhances the ability to interact with, and improve the quality of, the data centre infrastructure. Intelligently understanding and responding to patterns of usage means that, for example, cooling can be fully optimised and lighting turned off in unoccupied areas.

Being aware of the way a data centre works makes it possible to determine which best practices to implement in order to protect IT assets, while minimising costs and the potential for downtime.

Energy levels

It is estimated that data centres account for around three per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and with growing use of the cloud and the rise of the Internet of Things, that figure is only going to go up. Furthermore, according to the Digital Power Group, the sector uses 50 per cent more energy than global aviation and is now considered one of the major sources of global CO2 emissions.

Efficient use of energy is clearly no longer an option and there is a growing raft of legislation and regulation that is specifically designed to ensure that energy consumption and carbon emissions are measured accurately, and that any applicable data is available for analysis.

Given that up to 84 per cent of a data centre’s energy consuming devices can be directly under its control, a BEMS is without doubt the most effective way to gain a true understanding of where savings can be made, monitored and sustained. A properly specified, installed and maintained BEMS will ensure that building services operate in strict accordance with demand, which will also help to deliver the lowest power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating.

Far from being ‘fit and forget’, a BEMS can evolve with the building over a period of time. It must be regularly maintained and, where necessary, adjusted to ensure that it provides the best possible quality of service.

The bigger picture

Sustainability isn’t just about energy usage though. A BEMS can also limit wear and tear on plant equipment by using it more efficiently and making sure that any maintenance issues are highlighted.

In addition, a properly configured BEMS will be scalable, future proof and full backwards compatible. A system that allows easy upgrading and reconfiguration is always preferable – not all systems are the same and the costs of installation can vary depending on the protocol used.

Trend is committed to ensuring the backwards compatibility of its technology. For example, its new IQ®4 controllers are able to communicate with the very first device that it manufactured way back in 1982. The IQ®4 modules are also interchangeable for additional future proofing, scalability and system longevity – all of which can protect the financial investment in a BEMS.

Always on

According to research carried out by Emerson Network Power and the Ponemon Institute, the cost of data centre downtime is just over $7,900 per minute. Total data centre outages in 2013 averaged a recovery time of 119 minutes, equating to about $901,500 in total cost.

As well as being incredibly inconvenient, it’s the damage to mission critical data, impact on organisational productivity, harm to equipment, legal and regulatory repercussions and lost confidence and trust among key stakeholders that can prove difficult to recover from. A data centre should therefore look to build resilience into its operation via a BEMS, minimising any risks associated with situations such as plant failure or environmental conditions falling outside acceptable parameters.

Alarms can be programmed into a BEMS, so that in the event of equipment malfunction the problem can be identified and rectified as quickly as possible. For instance, on an air-handling unit, if a flow sensor highlights that airflow is decreasing it is likely to mean that a filter is blocked. Addressing problems like this early on will ensure that temperature conditions in a data centre remain within those agreed in a service level agreement (SLA), minimising the possibility of penalties. A BEMS can also minimise the amount of time required to carry out such tasks by either automating them or undertaking comprehensive data acquisition.

Rules and regulations

Compliance with statutory legislation, key performance indicators (KPIs) and SLAs are fundamental to the success of any data centre.

A BEMS provides overall visibility of plant energy use and allows personnel to see in real time what’s happening within a facility, therefore helping to make sure that equipment stays within a manufacturer’s specified temperature and/or humidity range. In addition, details of data centre conditions on a 24/7 basis can be logged to provide a full audit trail.

A growing number of data centre operators are also choosing to put an energy management system (EnMS) in place to achieve compliance with ISO 50001 or the standards used to measure data centre efficiency developed by The Green Grid. Having a BEMS in place will help demonstrate a desire to continually improve a data centre’s energy efficiency.

Therefore, the requirement for this technology in data centres is only set to increase.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com.

Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+ | YouTube

Construction Leadership Council – study into labour markets & off-site

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

Exciting times: leading on from BSRIA’s press statement issued on 3rd February: the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has been asked to undertake a “major” labour market study by skills minister Nick Boles MP and housing minister Brandon Lewis MP.

BSRIA is encouraging member and industry input from to the accompanying CLC consultationconstruction industry labour model study

Evidence to: construction.enquiries@bis.gsi.gov.uk

Deadline: Monday 29th February 2016.

The CLC has invited Mark Farmer of Cast Consultancy (formerly Arcadis) to lead the study, culminating in a report for CLC’s consideration in the spring. It will both: reflect on the impact of the current “labour model” in construction and make recommendations for action by the industry and government to help overcome constraints on skills development and the sector’s capacity to deliver new homes and infrastructure.

In particular, ministers want to know whether there are structural issues and risks that diminish long-term incentives for smaller subcontractors, who employ the largest part of the sectors workforce, to invest in training.

As I said earlier this month: BSRIA is very much supportive of this commission and consultation and, on behalf of the industry and our members, wishes to be involved every step of the way. Such commission hasn’t come a day too late, especially with rising demand especially, but not only, in the house building sector.

Alternative delivery methods – such as off-site – with a fresh skills base and capacity to bring new entrants to home building supply chains signifies a “shifting focus”.

 The consultation requests:

  • Evidence of how the construction labour model and recruitment practices impact on incentives for skills development in the sector (including in the supply chain) and on the introduction of more novel techniques such as off-site construction.

Evidence on how the current model works – including:

  • What business models and other arrangements could better support skills and skills pipelines in the sector?
  • What measures could improve wider incentives for capacity investment and the introduction of new ways of working?
  • What are the barriers and enablers to greater use of off-site construction?
  • How could the range of participants in the UK housing market be broadened, including through the better introduction of institutional funds?

So, I urge “one and all” to take a few minutes to put “comment to keyboard” for this crucial study. Remember: little can change without your expert opinions!

The practicalities of classification in a BIM Level 2 environment

I first raised the issue of classification in the BSRIA blog back in March 2014 – my, how time flies.  As you would expect (or at least hope) things have moved on and there are some issues within the general world of classification which are worth raising, particularly in the context of BIM Level 2 with the UK Government’s mandate almost with us.

Current classification systems commonly used in construction typically work at ‘system’ level.  The highest level of classification is for a group of system types eg in CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections).  This level is represented by a single letter: ‘S’ represents Piped Services, a category including systems such as Cold Water, Natural Gas, etc.

However, most classification systems available have an inherent flaw – they are not capable of classifying at a multi-services level, something that is common in the world of MEP.  In CAWS language, there needs to be a way of combining mechanical systems and electrical systems under a single heading, as the various mechanical systems are combined under the Piped Services ‘S’.

The success of information management depends heavily on the ability to retrieve a piece of information once generated.  BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 details a method for naming information files, and consists of a number of mandatory and optional fields.  The following extract from BS 1192 shows all the fields, together with their obligation – ‘Required’ or ‘Optional’.

John Sands Jan blog

Using this process would result in a file name (a similar process can be used for drawing numbers) as follows.  I have ignored the last two fields – Suitability and Revision – for the moment, and I’ll explain why later:

PROJ1-BSRIA-00-ZZ-RP-H-T31-00001

In this example, the CAWS classification system has been used, giving T31 for Low temperature hot water heating system.  And this is my point (finally, I hear you say) – the classification field is the only part of the file string which tells the recipient what the subject of the file is.  In future, when searching for information about a particular aspect of a project in the information repository, this classification code is the best way to identify relevant content.  Therefore, I feel it is vital that the classification field is used for all file names in order to make the information available for future use.  This reuse of information is where efficiency increases are realised and errors reduced by not having to reproduce information over and again.

Now, suppose that the report in the above example was the building services scheme design report, covering all mechanical, electrical and public health systems.  Which classification could be applied for that topic?  This takes us back to the point I made at the start of this article – for any classification system to work effectively it needs to be able to represent multi-services applications.

The classification system chosen for use in the UK Government Level 2 BIM requirements is Uniclass 2015, a development of Uniclass 2 which was produced by CPIC (Construction Projects Information Committee).  Uniclass 2015 has been prepared by NBS as part of an Innovate UK research competition won by their parent company RIBA Enterprises, and consists of a number of individual classification tables.   Although this is the classification system chosen to take us into Level 2 and beyond, it does not appear to be capable of meeting at least one fundamental requirement – the ability to deal with multi-services applications.

Don’t get me wrong.  This issue is not new and is certainly not confined to Unicalss 2015.  CAWS couldn’t handle multi-services classification either, but it was hoped that a new system, developed specifically for BIM, would provide the answer.  BSRIA has been raising this issue, both in its own name and as part of CIBSE initiatives, since Uniclass 2 was released.  Throughout the development of Uniclass 2015 we have raised a number of queries about the arrangement and capability of the format, but on this particular point we are still waiting for a meaningful response.

Whilst I’m at it, here’s another thing to think about.

As I mentioned earlier, the success of an information management system – for that’s what BIM is – is the ability to retrieve information once created.  The file naming convention described in BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 described above goes a long way in enabling this but there are some points of concern with its approach.

A document or file may be superseded a number of times in its life, and BS 1192 describes the process for moving that superseded file into the ‘Archive’ area of the information store.  This ensures that the complete history of the project is retained for future reference.  However, the way the successive versions are named is causing a little concern in practice as more people start to use these methods on live projects.  This is where those last two fields I conveniently ignored above come into play.

Historically, we have managed revised and superseded documents by using revision codes – in most cases a single letter after the final number (PROJ1-BSRIA-00-ZZ-RP-H-T31-00001A using the previous example).  This additional letter distinguishes each version of the same base document, and also has the added benefit of changing the file name to allow it to be saved whilst remaining recognisable.   The two remaining fields in the BS 1192 extract above appear to provide this facility within the BS 1192 approach.

However, the guide to BS 1192 (Building Information Management – A Standard Framework and Guide to BS 1192) states that:

Recommendation: status and revision should not be included as part of the file name as this will produce a new file each time those elements are updated, and an audit trail will not be maintained.

This doesn’t appear to be a very sensible approach to me.  You cannot save multiple versions of a file with the same name, so the addition of the revision letter to the file name is a simple and workable solution.  This might seem like a small or trivial issue in the big world of BIM, but it’s the sort of thing that could stop the widespread uptake of an otherwise very worthwhile file naming approach.

BSRIA has posted several blogs on the topic of BIM that can be read here.

Lighting: the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency

Peter Hunt, COO, the Lighting Industry Association

Peter Hunt, COO, the Lighting Industry Association

Rising efficiency standards in LED technology and falling purchase prices mean that businesses can now expect a shorter pay-back on their investment according to Peter Hunt, chief operating officer at the Lighting Industry Association.  We caught up with him ahead of the launch of the lighting hub at edie Live 2016 which will showcase the latest developments in energy-efficient technology.

Energy-efficient lighting products are particularly well suited to retrofitting applications, explained Hunt, due to the minimal disruption they cause to building fabric, and recent improvements in LED technology. “LEDs have undergone a rapid technological evolution over the past few years and have become a much more fitting replacement for earlier light sources,” he said. “Older LEDs produced a very blue light, but modern LEDs have advanced to the point where you would be hard-pushed to tell the difference.”

“Efficiency has also continued to improve. If you’re comparing the output of LEDs with traditional commercial technologies such as halogen lamps, then the energy savings are now about 80%. At the same time prices have been tumbling. They’ve fallen 20% for three consecutive years. Lighting products that were quite expensive are now much more affordable.”

Nevertheless, a reduction in energy costs is not the only motivation for installing an energy efficient lighting system, he continued. “What many businesses overlook is the extended lifespan of new lighting technologies. Many modern LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours, compared with 2000 hours for halogen lamps. That’s 25 lamp replacements, plus the expense of calling out a maintenance engineer, which can often cost more than the lamp itself. For large commercial applications the savings can be immense.”Improved return on investment means there is now a strong business case to switch to new technology according to Hunt: “A three-year break-even period a few years back, could now be as short as a year or less. Lighting really is the low-hanging fruit of energy-efficiency.”

Surprisingly however, the largest savings that energy-efficient lighting can offer may in fact come from HR budgets. “There’s been quite a lot of research into the link between lighting and wellbeing,” observed Hunt. “Working under light that is too bright, too dim or the wrong colour has been shown to negatively affect health.”

national

Energy-efficient lighting systems can help to maintain a consistent, high-quality level of illumination, explained Hunt. “The latest systems can dim down lights closest to windows when the sun is shining, for example. They also have the capacity to adjust the colour temperature of light throughout the day to match natural human biorhythms, promoting a more restful night’s sleep.”

This is a point Sara Kassam, head of sustainability at the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers, agreed with during an interview with edie Live: “With businesses typically spending 1% of their budgets on energy and 90% on staffing costs, many are realising that the big incentive for installing energy-efficiency technology may not actually be the cost of energy, but the potential it has to make staff more comfortable and productive in the workplace”.

Equally, many business leaders are recognising the potential risks from inaction on energy consumption, she explained. “Shareholders want to see a business being run efficiently. Operating outdated and wasteful technology is not good when you’re looking for wider investment.”

“Energy-efficiency is also important in terms of your business’ energy security,” Kassam cautioned. “Wider political issues are creating uncertainty about what will happen to energy prices in three to five years’ time.”

“Becoming as efficient as possible now cushions your business against that risk,” she advised. “After all, the cheapest unit of electricity is always the one you don’t spend.”

BSRIA is pleased to support edie LIVE.

edie LIVE, formerly Sustainability Live, is the UK’s leading energy, sustainability and resource efficiency exhibition for business end-users.  It connects public and private sector energy and sustainability professionals with the information, suppliers and ideas that can make their business more sustainable.

To explore the latest developments in energy-efficient lighting technology, join edie Live at the NEC Birmingham, 17 -18 May 2016.

Being a Young Engineer

This blog was written by Laura Nolan, Sustainability Engineer at Cudd Bentley Consulting

This blog was written by Laura Nolan, Sustainability Engineer at Cudd Bentley Consulting

What is it like to be a young Engineer?

I think it’s fair to say the term Engineer in itself is very broad so for the purpose of this blog my focus is my discipline, Building Services Engineering.

So how did I become an Engineer? Through my love of maths and problem solving, I chose to study a common entry Engineering Degree in Dublin Institute of Technology. Following the first year of Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry, I then chose the Building Services route as it seemed the most interesting to me and it was. It offered modules in a wide range of subjects from lighting design, fire engineering to smoke control and acoustics. As well as the heating, cooling and ventilation design as you would expect.

I graduated in 2010 from Dublin Institute of Technology to a bleak construction industry in Ireland so I looked elsewhere and succeeded in getting a job here at Cudd Bentley in Ascot. Since graduating and entering the workplace as a Consultant Engineer, no two days have been the same, each week offers new challenges and the range of projects I have been involved in has been exciting. Projects I have been involved in range from retail to residential, shopping centres to extensive refurbishment projects. I work as part of a team and although I am mainly office based, I regularly visit site to carry out inspections or for Design Team meetings, offering an enjoyable diversity to my job.

Quite quickly into my career I realised my interest in the area of Sustainable Engineering Design and with the support of my company, Cudd Bentley Consulting, I have completed a range of courses including CIBSE Low Carbon Energy Assessor, Elmhurst On Construction Domestic Assessor and Bentley Hevacomp modelling course to allow me to be proficient in thermal modelling and a Low Carbon Consultant. I really enjoy building modelling and have had the opportunity to work with some interesting models here at Cudd Bentley. I use my models to generate a variety of outputs including heat loss and heat gain calculations, energy and carbon saving potential, overheating analysis, Energy Performance Certification and Part L Compliance.

Sustainability is an area that I am particularly interested in and this year I have begun an MSc in Renewable Energy in Reading University. I enjoy learning and I don’t think I will ever be finished learning. Topics which I am particularly interested in currently are Nuclear Energy and the Feed in Tariffs Scheme for solar energy. I think it will be a real shame if the Government chose to drastically reduce the Feed in Tariff Scheme. I am also eager to see what will come from the Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris this month.

I have been attending events for the BSRIA Young Engineers Network for the past five years and I was delighted to be asked to be the Chairwoman of the Network this year. I would encourage all young Engineers to attend as it gives a unique opportunity to meet experts in their field, discuss current topics with your peers and to network with fellow young Engineers.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by highly experienced Engineers from the beginning of my career and one piece of advice I would offer every young Engineer is to immerse yourself in the knowledge of those people around you with such experience as well as making sure to put your own young and fresh approach to it where appropriate. The industry is constantly changing and it’s important to be constantly evolving.

Being a young Engineer is challenging, exciting and for me a fantastic career.

COP 21 – Success or Failure

This blog was written by Richard Hillyard, a Senior Environmental Consultant

This blog was written by Richard Hillyard, a Senior Environmental Consultant

Well, we have a climate change agreement for 2020 and beyond in the Paris Accord, approved this weekend.  But is this an adequate level of progress needed to seriously tackle the problem of climate change?  Compared to 6 years ago and the utter failure in Copenhagen, first glance suggests yes, but it’s not perfect.

Two weeks ago leaders from around the world gathered for probably the most important and significant international government conferences of our time, COP21. Prior to these talks, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), campaigning organisations, environmentalists and individuals from all over the world took to the streets to protest and generate an atmosphere of urgency for a strong positive agreement to be achieved.

COP21 started with an inspiring speech of HRH Prince of Wales calling to arms the politicians of the world to take responsibility and deliver an agreement that will start the progress to reduced CO2 emissions and planetary stability. “On an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats, but none is greater than climate change. It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence… It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to remain healthy, and safe from extreme weather, to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”

This was followed by leaders of each country all making the same points, using strong rhetoric, all pointing out the obvious and what the informed already know.  The rhetoric from the politicians had a passion and sincerity on a level that I had not heard before.  Could Paris and COP21 be the success the world and its people need it to be?

Barack Obama, a driving force in these discussions, determined to leave behind a Presidential legacy before he steps down, not worried about re-election stated “the future is on that we have the power to change – right here, right now… One of the enemies we will be fighting is cynicism – the notion that we can’t do anything about climate change” urging a “common purpose [for a] world that is not marked by conflict but by co-operation”, concluding “Lets go to work.”

One of the few blemishes being David Cameron stating, “what would we say to our grandchildren if we failed. We would have to say it was too difficult, they would reply, well what was so difficult?… How can we argue that it’s difficult when in London alone there’s 5 trillion of funds under management and we haven’t already begun to generate the private finance that is possible to help tackle climate change?”

Highly contentious in my view, as it is him and his government that are cutting financial support for clean and renewable energy and instead pushing for shale gas fracking with a very questionable UK energy policy.

Following the opening day, the media lost interest and there was practically no coverage in the mainstream media during the 2 weeks of discussions.  However, from what was available, it was clear there was a hive of activity between the main discussions, informal meetings and fringe campaigns that appear to have been running 24/7. Such is the complexity over agreement of document text, working groups were giving paragraphs to negotiate with each country.

From the start, the French leadership were doing their job perfectly, they communicated a sense of direct urgency and urged the UN to deliver an approved agreement.  In the latter part of  the second week the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ represented, a group of 100 countries, who have been working in the wings secretly for half a year. They helped to push policy agreements through late in the day and on Saturday the world finally got to hear what was agreed.

Not only a commitment to limit global warming to 2oC change, but also to aim to reduce it further to 1.5oC.  This is highly ambitious, yet committed unilateral agreed target., seeing as the world is already heading to a 1oC degree increase in global temperature, limiting it by another half a degree is some target to have agreed.

There are a few challenges with this target, and where the Paris Accord shows cracks, there is no time frame except for ‘second half of the century’ and there are no real mechanisms agreed to ensure delivery of this target, just a promise.  But this is a start, to seriously tackle climate change and hopefully the beginning of releasing the world from its fossil fuel addition.

The agreement includes a legally binding 5-year review of countries targets, and the ability for them to improve their objectives to work towards a low carbon future.   However, 5 years is a long time, long enough for the world leaders not to be in power next time around and be held accountable.  Considering the target of 1.5 degrees, this time frame is not feasible, the reviews are important and are legally binding but should have been annually or every 2 years to ensure targets and commitments are being delivered in a time frame that will actually limit temperature increases. Additionally, how will this be policed and by whom to ensure accountability by nations?

It is also worth noting that the terms ‘fossil fuels’, ‘oil’, ‘coal’, and ‘gas’ do not appear once in the text of the Paris Accord. It looks like corporate lobbying has played a part in the delivery of this final text, which is a real shame as the document should of at least acknowledged the link between the use of these finite resources, their link to GHG emissions and climate change.

Developing countries already receiving financial aid for assisting them with the effects of climate change, all feel they need further support from the countries already causing climate change and in many cases rightly so. This was a contentious area in the negotiations and Saudi Arabia caused a lot of problems due to their economy largely dependent on oil.  But none the less, an agreement of $100bn base line annual aid would be made available.  Many NGOs and commentators believe this to be a significant failure in the process as more help is needed from the developing world to mitigate the effects as well as evolve their economies to the new low carbon energy infrastructure needed.

Listening to the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, their Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, and head of UN, Ban Ki-moon speaking on Saturday morning was for me emotional, are we on the brink something truly incredible as they would have us believe or is the Paris Accord another ‘empty promise’ with no substance to actually deliver?  In the hours and days that have passed, I have had time to reflect and take it all in, I am optimistic and definitely more positive about the international political landscape in this area than I have been for a number of years.  COP21 has managed to get an agreement from nearly 200 countries and this should be applauded long with the target and legally binding reviews.

As Ban Ki-Moon stated, there had to be compromise, no one got 100% of what each country wanted at the start of the negotiations.  I think this is also true from the environmental campaigning, activist and NGO perspective with the agreement not delivering on a level that many believe is required, not going in to detail on how targets would be achieved and not committing enough to help those who will suffer first and most with the effects of climate change.

Wholesale system change doesn’t happen over night, we know this and I believe no matter what would have been agreed in Paris, to many, myself included, it would not have been enough and open for criticism.

Expectation is high and its easy to pick holes in the agreement.  What needs to done, is to reflect and look at the outcomes differently – There is an agreement approved, there is a target agreed, there are legally binding elements and there is some financial aid. I would of taken that 2 weeks ago and I think many others would.

Paris and COP 21 is not the end of the road when it comes to climate change, it is the beginning of the next part of our worlds environmental and climate journey.  The targets are in place, the leadership of the world is agreed that limiting GHG emissions is critical to success.  In fact just 24 hours after COP 21, the UK governments energy policy is already being scrutinised by politicians and media, an early indication of positivity from the Paris talks.

It is now up to us, the environmentalists, the activist and the environmentally considered to continue to drive for delivery against promises, hold those who fail to account and keep on the pressure to those who stand in the way of climate revolution, at the same time, applaud and celebrate where there have been successes and victories. The optimist in me tells me that Paris and COP21 was one of those victories and successes. So let’s embrace it and make it work for our future and the planet.

This blog post was written by Richard Hillyard MSc. Pg Dip. BA(Hons). AIEMA. Richard is a Senior Environmental Consultant at a major international property management company with 13 years environmental and energy experience, including the provision of CRC, ESOS, EED, EUETS compliance, CDP and Carbon Standard Reporting as well as EMS implementation and management. Prior to this, Richard was part of the FM consultancy team with BSRIA and also holds a MSc in Environmental Decision Making.

Goodbye BIM… Hello digital

This blog was written by Ben Roberts, Associate and BIM Delivery Leader at Hoare Lea

This blog was written by Ben Roberts, Associate and BIM Delivery Leader at Hoare Lea

When BIM first reached the masses in about 2010 it was exciting: finally the construction industry wakes up to the 21st century and embraces the ability of computers to take on our more mundane tasks and improve communication! A data-centric approach to managing projects meant that appointments would be clearer, design computation could yield instant feedback, models would feed directly into fabrication robots and building operators could simply and efficiently access all the information about their assets at the click of a button.

However in 2015 there seems to be a wide spread consensus that BIM is just an expensive, less flexible way of delivering projects, and sadly the acronym is often a sure fire way of clearing a room.

So beyond the UK government’s level 2 BIM deadline in April 2016 there is no “level 3 BIM”; instead it is “digital built Britain”. And the industry is following suit; let’s remove this acronym with too much baggage and stigma and get down to what it really means: sensible data management, better quality communication of design intent, easier and more effective collaboration, and many opportunities to do things more quickly and accurately.

When thinking about “digital” rather than “BIM”, we find ourselves asking a more straight forward question: what can computers and data do for us?

Firstly, computers are capable of recording vast amounts of data and processing it very quickly, but to date they’re not so good at the more creative stuff; that’s what people are for. So it follows that we can “outsource” a lot of our thinking time to a processor by offloading the more mundane, repetitive tasks, leaving our creative minds to focus on the more interesting things. Good technology should allow people to spend less time alone staring at a computer!

As an example, BREEAM is a way of addressing a very important aspect of our building design (environmental impact) but is often seen as a time-consuming form filling exercise. This is a terribly boring thing for a human to do, but provides essential information in a usable common structure. This is exactly what computers are good at, so let’s automate this important but boring compliance process so that humans can get on with doing the interesting important tasks.

Ben Roberts blogWe are now also capable of doing things that were previously impossible or impractical. Virtual reality and augmented reality are now becoming cheaper and easier; anyone with a smartphone has a choice of free apps to upload your 3D models, and if oculus rift is outside your budget, try google cardboard for just £6! The MX3D Amsterdam bridge project is proving that 3D printing is not just for small objects; perhaps entire pipework systems could be printed on site too? Many other emerging technologies are presenting completely new options: reality capture, the internet of things, cloud computing, wearable technology and visual scripting are just a few examples.

Secondly, data can be very informative if you know what to do with it. Buildings can potentially generate enormous amounts of data, and in the right hands that can quickly be used to assess energy performance, make comparisons of different technologies, or identify faults in building systems, for example.  Raw data is daunting, but visualisation of that data is easy and provides a more immediate form of interpretation. As 2 examples, graphs and infographics are clear methods of showing key statistics and are easily generated in Excel, and 3D models give an intuitive interface to accessing associated data at various stages in a project lifecycle.

Finally, you don’t have to be a computer scientist to use a computer these days – my grandad is 95 years old and controls his heating remotely using his iPad. Much of the software available for design, construction and operation of buildings is going this way too. Virtual reality is a good starting point for the technologically averse, but there are plenty of other technologies that offer simple solutions for anyone.

So I encourage you all, upon hearing the acronym “BIM”, not to run for the hills but to simply consider what computers and data can do to help you.

Ben is a chartered mechanical engineer and holds the position of BIM Delivery Leader for Hoare Lea, a role which involves pushing the boundaries of software tools and enabling teams to deliver BIM projects as efficiently and effectively as possible around the practice in the UK and Middle East. He specialises in using BIM models for design calculations. Ben is an active member of the CIBSE BIM steering group, the BSRIA BIM Network, and is involved in developing many industry standards for MEP BIM delivery. He has written articles for a variety of construction industry journals on the subject of BIM, and regularly presents and lectures on the subject around the world.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers

%d bloggers like this: