The Lyncinerator on… Failure

Don’t get me started.  Stuck on an interminably delayed flight, I leafed through the airline magazine.  An article on a new Museum of Failure in Sweden caught my eye.  “Only in Scandinavia” I thought, cynically.  But it made interesting reading.  The curator is a psychologist and innovation researcher who got fed up with hearing people talk only about success and not the failures that lay behind it, his view is that development only comes through learning from failure.  The fact that the museum is partly funded by the Swedish governmental department that supports industrial R&D suggests that he is not the only one to think this way.   The museum demonstrates products and services that did not take off, and explains some of the reasons why.  It was a thought provoking and informative article.

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

I talked to some colleagues about the museum and the article, and laughingly said I would write a blog titled “BSRIA is good at failure”.   I’m sure you can imagine the raised eyebrows, and concerns that this could be misconstrued.  And in a world of short tweets and clickbait headlines this is a justified concern.  But for an industry like ours, understanding and learning from failure is really important, and maybe we don’t talk about failure enough.

In-use failure of safety critical components and elements simply should not happen.  That’s what testing and inspection are for, although we know that sadly, these are not fail-safe.  But talking about those failures is imperative.  The causes of these failures are shared openly and quickly, so that future incidents can be prevented.  Public enquiries are one route, but for less public failures, as an industry we need to look at the “no blame” culture that the aviation industry has introduced.  (More correctly perhaps, it’s a “just” culture – where people are rewarded for providing safely related failure information.  Deliberately unsafe actions or decisions are still penalised).  If this type of safety critical failure is declared and investigated, it can and should prevent future incidents.  It seems that litigation and insurance may get in the way of the necessary “no blame / just” culture, and there is a definite need for an industry-wide approach to investigate and remedy this.

But what about failures that only interrupt occupant functioning and are inconvenient?  There is a tendency to patch or fix, or to simply replace, and to move on without capturing learning.  This is one of the points where BSRIA comes into its own.  Our Problem Investigation team get to see multiple failures in different buildings, delivered and managed by different teams.  This has two consequences: (1) we are quick at spotting the cause of problems which cannot be simply identified by front line repair teams because we know where to look with our analytics, so front line teams can fix the problem efficiently, and (2) we are able to upcycle our learning into publications, guidance and training to pass preventative knowledge to the industry.  A good example of this is our work on pipework corrosion, which we have been able to investigate in some depth and include our learnings in guidance for water commissioning.  This helps optimise the performance of existing buildings, but importantly we can also influence the design of the next generation of components and buildings.  To increase our impact, we need to encourage more failures to be reported and investigated so that we can better understand trends and problems, and report back to the industry as to how to remedy them.  This too requires an industry culture that recognises the value of learning from failure.

And of course innovation doesn’t happen without failure.   There are of course degrees of failure (the Museum features frozen pizza marketed under the brand of a toothpaste company, I would have loved to have listened to the strategy meeting for that!).  Controlled failure is useful – in our test laboratories we help establish parameters for new products through testing prototypes, and then we test the end product on behalf of the manufacturer.   We move beyond labs though, and we monitor technologies in the real world, in occupied buildings, to see what happens when expert and non-expert users are let loose on equipment and to see how it performs and what doesn’t work so well.  All useful data for the next iteration of designs, products and systems.

So BSRIA is pretty good at failure – investigation, remedy and recommendation for prevention.  And the industry clearly benefits from reporting, investigating and talking about failure.  So we need to think about how we can encourage this culturally, and how to process and use what we find.

The flight, incidentally, was very delayed.  I read the whole magazine.  And I couldn’t blame the pilot, it was a weather issue.  But the failure to deliver on board food because they had sold out – well that was a failure too far, don’t get me started…

 

The Lyncinerator, September 2017.

 

 

 

Introducing….BG71/2017 Building Services Reports

This blog was written by Richard Tudor, Technical Director at WSP

Anyone involved in technical work can appreciate the challenges presented when trying to communicate their ideas, information, proposals or recommendations to others.

To be effective an engineer must develop skills in the preparation of all types of communication and the ability to write clear, concise reports is an asset for any designer.

A designer must be able to translate engineering solutions and design intent into an understandable written form in such a way that the reader, often non-technical or with little building services knowledge, can understand. The need to communicate with clients and other professionals effectively is essential.

A report is a form of communication that is written for a specific purpose and aimed at a particular audience. There are various types of reports utilised in the industry which are used for different purposes that can range from communicating design to expert witness reporting.

BG71/2017 Building Services Reports explores various types of reports with the aim to:

  • provide guidance in promoting consistency through common report definition
  • provide an aide-mémoire by outlining report considerations
  • improve efficiency in report preparation
  • help develop technical writing skills

The report types covered include feasibility, thermal modelling, design stage, technical due diligence and expert witness.

For each type of report covered, the guide aims to outline what that report should achieve, in addition to highlighting key points and guidance to assist the reader in developing their own particular report structure. The appendices propose considerations, levels of information and typical headings for some of the reports with the aim to provide an aide-mémoire to further assist the reader. The considerations are not exhaustive and the final content of reports, together with headings, will vary according to the type of project and its particular requirements.

The design process involves the preparation of various types of reports with different objectives and purposes in conveying information.  It is important that any design stage report provides the correct level of information at the right point in the project delivery process and conveys technical information in a clear and easily accessible format.  The guide examines design reports prepared at RIBA stages 2 and 3 and proposes key aims for each report to assist in understanding their objectives and considerations with respect reporting at these design stages.

Every company has a different style but the ability to plan and prepare reports in an efficient manner can often save time and avoid unnecessarily lengthy documents. The guide looks at the elements of planning a report to help facilitate the efficient preparation of documents and outlines the key activities at the various stages of the planning process.

For any report, the information provided should be easy to find and written in such a way that the reader can understand it. The guide explains the common components of a typical report to assist in structuring a document together with planning the content and organising information.  Comparisons can be very important in technical reports and the guide looks at the ways comparisons can be organised to help readers understand a topic better, as well as assisting the decision process of choosing one option out of a group.

The publication provides a useful guide in developing technical writing skills, with tips and key considerations for report preparation.

 

Richard Tudor

Richard Tudor is a Senior Technical Director with WSP and has been an integral part of their Group Technical Centre since 1999. His responsibilities include technical quality, specification development, knowledge management, technical training, designing for safety, technical support and improving project delivery.

Richard is a building services engineer with over 43 years’ experience in the industry covering design and project management spanning most industry sectors.

For many years’ he has participated in various BSRIA publication steering groups and is currently a member of the BSRIA publications review panel.

In addition Richard has authored several BSRIA publications and lectures on Safety in Building Services Design, a one-day training course.  BSRIA publications Richard has authored include:

 

 

 

Emerging themes from Innovate UK’s BPE programme

This blog was written by Peter Tse, Principal Design Consultant for BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

This blog was written by Peter Tse, Principal Design Consultant for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

Back in May 2010, Innovate UK (formally TSB) embarked on four year programme, providing £8m funding to support case study investigations of domestic new build and non-domestic new build and major refurbishment projects.  In total the programme has supported 100 successful projects to provide a significant body of work, that provide insights on the performance of various design strategies, building fabric, target performances, construction methods and occupancy patterns, handover and operational practices.  This work will be shared across the industry providing evidence based information, increasing industry understanding to support closing the loop between theory and practice, ensuring the delivery of zero carbon new buildings is more readily and widely achievable.

Currently project teams are concluding their investigations and collating their findings, and dissemination of the results of the programme will begin in earnest in the first half of 2015.  However, as the programme has progressed, there are some consistent themes that are emerging.  Focussing on the non-domestic projects, I will address a couple of these emerging themes.

The first is around adopting innovative building systems to deliver low energy consumption and comfortable conditions, and unintended consequences associated with these technologies.  This covers a broad spectrum of building technologies including solar thermal, heat pumps, biomass boilers, earth tubes, rainwater harvesting, controls and natural ventilation strategies.  Innovation in its essence will have some inherent teething problems, which is often overlooked in the charge towards reaching our carbon reduction targets.  The obvious default stance is to specify proven and reliable technologies which are delivered by a team that is familiar with the technology, but our journey towards delivering true low carbon building in operation would inevitably be prolonged.

An additional level of complexity can be added with innovative systems; one healthcare facility introduced solar thermal and a combined heat and power (chp) unit, to supplement natural gas fired boilers for heating and hot water requirements. With several sources of heat complexity is added to the control strategy, trying to strike a balance between changing heat demands of the building and optimisation of the system.  This complexity, coupled with a requirement for increased operator understanding often leads to system underperformance.

The practicalities, maintenance and associated costs of innovative systems is seldom fully realised by clients.  An office reported success of the rainwater harvesting system, but were surprised at the frequency of filter changes to mitigate the system being blocked.  Another office had to regulate a fan associated with earth tube ventilation system, as running at a higher speed caused too much noise for occupants.  A school had ingress of water to an underground wood chip store rendering the biomass boiler idle for significant periods.  A hotel employed automatic external blinds which retracted in windy conditions to avoid damage, thus offering no shade to occupants during sunny, windy days.

DC-Innovative-Construction-Services-Building-Maintenance1It is clear a reality checking process is required for design decisions to mitigate such matters.  BSRIA’s Pitstopping guide, which resides within the Soft Landings framework describes a process that allows construction teams to periodically reconsider critical design issues by focusing on the perspective of the end user.  This also provides an opportunity for the client to understand the full ramifications of implementing innovative building systems for a more informed decision, and to align client expectations.

The second theme involves the process in delivering innovative technologies, with a particular a focus on commissioning and handover.  The commissioning period residing at the end of the build process is often susceptible to being squeezed.  When the decision has been taken to adopt an innovative building system, there is increased pressure during commissioning to ensure the system is operating as intended.  With the additional complexity associated with innovative technologies, it is vital the commissioning time is adequate to complete comprehensive scenario based testing; how is hot water delivered if the solar thermal does not provide a contribution, how is the building operator alerted the status of the system, how can the operator diagnose the problem, how long can the system operate without the solar thermal contribution without major detrimental effects etc.  To ease the burden on the commissioning period, it is clear commissioning should not be afterthought, but an integral part of the build process.

The commissioning period also signals a time where many of the stakeholders with tacit knowledge of the innovative building systems have changing responsibilities. It is vital this knowledge is captured for users before the opportunity is lost.  Building manuals, user guides and logbooks need to be completed so users can relate to their building environment, understand control of the environment and capture major alterations.

Figure 1 - South façade showing café, street and incubator office blockMany projects reported that guidance for both users and operators was often lacking, with several BPE teams developing guidance as part of their projects to support users.  Commonly BPE teams have also struggled to find initial design intent and operational strategy associated with innovative technologies, highlighting the importance of handover documentation.  Training of users is another key element to knowledge continuity, but several projects reported changes in staff being a core reason for innovative systems underperforming, as documentation was not kept up to date.  The value of clear concise user guidance is evident; BSRIA’s Building Manual and Building User Guides helps individuals responsible for creating building logbook and user guides.

In this blog, I’ve only addressed a couple of areas in regards to emerging themes, to hear more about findings from the programme, come hear me speak at the Energy Management Exhibition (EMEX), at Excel, London on the 20th November, 2014.  Additionally, join the BPE community at connect.innovateuk.org, and search for Building Performance Evaluation.

Safety in Building Services Design

This is a guest post by Richard Tudor of WSP

This is a guest post by Richard Tudor of WSP

Space, and the cost of providing space, for plant and building services  distribution is at a premium and designers often come under pressure to reduce the spatial requirements for building services installations. In order to discharge their obligations, designers must take care to provide safe means of access for installation, maintenance and equipment replacement.  In addition designers need to be aware of the regulations and legislation requirements that a design may impose on the installer and end user as a design solution can often impose additional legal

responsibilities, particularly in undertaking associated operation and maintenance activities. However, the active and continuing attention to safe access issues, throughout the design stages, is not always achieved as the designers’ attention can often concentrate on what is perceived to be more immediate concerns.

BSRIA’s publication Safety in Building Services Design BG55/2014 has just been published which provides guidance on designing for safety in both new and refurbishment projects.

The publication is aimed at designers and includes information on:

  • relevant legislation including CDM
  • hazards and risks including managing risk in the design process
  • understanding space requirements and access provision
  • designing for maintenance
  • plant room design
  • communication of risk information including representation of risk information on drawings
BG55/2014 Safety in Building Services Design

BG55/2014 Safety in Building Services Design

However, the diversity in type, configuration and possible location of plant, means it is not possible for this publication to give definitive guidance for all installations.

The publication provides a practical guide to assist the design process, aid design reviews together with providing a better understanding in designing for safety.  For example, included in the publication is a checklist on the considerations in designing for health and safety which can be used as part of the technical design quality review process.  In the pdf version of the publication this is included in an editable Excel format. Influencing factors, considerations and space requirement data useful in the design decision process with respect to providing safe access are highlighted in the publication.

The poor provision of safe access for maintenance could result in an increased likelihood of cutting corners or omission of maintenance and repair activities. This in turn, could result in building services failures that could adversely affect safety, legal compliance, productivity and quality of the environment.

BSRIA launches a new course on the 12th November 2014 providing guidance in designing for health and safety in the space planning of building services with respect to operation, maintenance and plant replacement. The course is intended for professionals involved in the design of building services but is equally relevant to contractors and other professionals within the industry. Young engineers in particular would benefit from the course.

On completion of the course delegates will be able to:

  • understand the specific considerations with respect to designing for safety for building services
  • identify discipline specific considerations in designing for safety
  • challenge designs in relation to health and safety in the design, construction and operations of building services so as to improve performance
  • understand relevant H&S legislation, codes of practice and guidance
  • understand the relationship between building services design and maintenance operations
  • understand the management of hazard and risk together with control strategies
  • locate information relating to health and safety to assist in design process
  • understand the consequences of failing to manage health and safety effectively
  • understand the importance of communication and provision of information in the design process

Richard Tudor is a Senior Technical Director at WSP and has been an integral part of the WSP Group Technical Centre for over 14 years. His responsibilities include technical quality, specification development, technical knowledge management, delivering training, designing for safety, providing technical support, and improving project delivery.

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