BSRIA relaunches Topic Guides

Construction compliance 3BSRIA is pleased to announce the relaunch of our information topic guides with the first release of this ‘At a Glance’ series TG07/2015 At a Glance – Airtightness available to download from the BSRIA website now.

The BSRIA Topic Guides are designed to be an at a glance publication introducing readers to key industry topics and suggesting further reading. BSRIA’s Information Centre is relaunching them with the aim of providing an introduction to key topics in the industry providing readers with an understanding of the area and how they can learn more. A new addition to the topic guides will be a feature by a BSRIA expert on the subject, offering a fresh insight. The airtightness topic guide features an insight into the legislation by our expert David Bleicher.

BSRIA’s Information and Knowledge Manager Jayne Sunley said ‘The topic guides are a great way of providing members and non-members alike with good information that will hopefully clarify some of the questions they have about topics they are new to, they’re not designed to be an all-encompassing guide but rather a starting point for anyone looking to learn more. The addition of the expert insight is just a way of showing readers that there is more to the topic than they might have first thought’.

TG07/2015 At a Glance – Airtightness offers readers a view of why airtightness is important for our building stock and how a building can be tested. It is now free to download from the BSRIA website for members and non-members alike.

Future 2015 titles in the At a Glance series will include Legionella, Data Centres and Smart Technology.

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?

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

Disparate Calls For Disparate Measures

Mark Glitherow

Key Account Manager at Trend

I’m Mark Glitherow, Key Account Manager at Trend, and in this blog I’ll explain why devising and implementing an energy management strategy across a number of disparate buildings needn’t be as daunting as it first appears.

It is obvious that all organisations should be looking to optimise their energy use in order to reduce their carbon footprints and save money. Yet developing a cohesive strategy that will achieve this objective is usually considered easier said than done, especially when a number of disparate buildings are involved. It can be enough to strike fear into the hearts of those charged with such a task, but I’m convinced that by tackling the issue systematically, immediate savings can be made.

Healthcare estates and educational establishments are two prime examples of environments where it is necessary to monitor and manage energy use across buildings of different shapes, sizes and ages. However, the chances are that each building on an estate will have some kind of Building Energy Management System (BEMS) already installed and one of the best ways to review the way they are being used and identify ways to make improvements is through a comprehensive energy audit.

A thorough and professionally conducted audit should ask probing questions, drill down to the finer details and provide guidance about implementing an appropriate new technologies like variable speed drives (VSDs), for example. It is often the case that adjustments can be made to the BEMS during the audit visit itself that will deliver immediate savings, while component parts can be checked to make sure they are working correctly.

Where having an audit really comes into its own though is in its ability to help construct an energy management plan that features a prioritised summary of activities that should be carried out in the short, medium and long-terms. It will help break the project down into ‘bite sized chunks’ that initially focus on gathering utilities based data, identifying wastage, and then prioritising ways to reduce overall energy consumption.

An energy audit can lead to some outstanding results, such as those experienced by Sidmouth Hospital in Devon. During a Trend engineer’s time on-site, improvements to its BEMS settings were made which included altering heating times in intermittently occupied areas from 24 hours a day to only between 06:00 and 22:00, and reducing heating setpoints to 21°C. These relatively simple actions resulted in an estimated £7,000 of savings per annum and a reduction of over 43 tonnes of CO2.

The ability to control and monitor energy use from a central location makes life much easier and one way that this can be achieved is by using an existing IT network infrastructure. As all buildings on an estate will usually be able to ‘talk to each other’ via a campus area network, it should be possible to for the BEMS to operate over this medium.

Rather than putting it off, get the ball rolling by recognising the need for an energy management plan and configuring targets that are achievable. BEMS are at the forefront of the drive towards greater energy efficiency and the cost savings and environmental benefits that can be experienced as a result of investing in and optimising this technology are considerable. You might find that they are in easier reach than perhaps initially thought!

You can read more BSRIA blogs about BEMS here.  BSRIA’s WMI team also produce a BEMS market report –Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) in Europe and the USA – which is available to buy from the BSRIA website. 

Global BEMS Market set to Approach $7 billion by 2020

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

If I could point to a market which is already worth some $3.5 billion, or 3 billion Euros, and which is growing globally at well over 10% per annum, at a time when growth in building automation is a fraction of that, I suspect that many investors and industrialists would bite my hand off. This is the industry that we explore in BSRIA’s newly updated report BEMS Opportunities.

Even Europe, which currently accounts for almost half the current Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) market, is growing at around 10%, while North America has been growing faster, and the rest of the world substantially faster still.

BSRIA forecasts that the global BEMS market will almost double, to more than $6.8 billion by the year 2020. This impressive growth is set to occur in spite of numerous obstacles and uncertainties. This is partly because the factors driving this growth differ from one region to another.

In Western Europe, gas prices almost doubled between 2005 and 2013, while at the same time major economies like Germany became increasingly dependent on import of gas from politically sensitive countries like Russia and the Gulf states, raising the spectre of uncertain supplies.

While the rise in electricity prices has been less dramatic, Germany faces the huge task of fulfilling its commitment to

henry dec2shut down all nuclear power generation by 2022, and the UK faces similar challenges as its ageing, coal-consuming and CO2-spewing power stations reach the ends of their lives, with the ghost of Christmas back-outs rising like a Dickensian spectre to haunt the business and political worlds.

This, and increasingly aggressive environmental targets, at national and EU level, mean that even a Europe which has been in or near recession for more than five years continues to invest in energy efficiency. At the same time, there are signs that organisations at all levels are beginning to understand the full potential of BEMS to save money while meeting obligations and improving the brand.

In North America, the pressure of energy prices has been less relentless, especially since fracking of shale gas has got underway. The movement towards environmental regulation has also been patchier – often varying at local and state level, and has faced more opposition. At the same time, the proportion of energy consumed by office buildings has been rising inexorably at a time when energy used in such areas as transport, industry and homes has been either stable or falling, placing office buildings firmly in the sights of those wishing to make savings. North America also benefits from the plethora of firms developing innovative energy management solutions in both the USA and Canada.

In the rest of the world the picture is extremely varied, from developed countries like Japan and Australia with widespread adoption of BEMS, to major emerging economies like China, where energy has hitherto been seen as rather less of a problem but where the pollution associated with fossil fuels is becoming more pressing.

This growth presents huge business opportunities but also as many gauntlets thrown down. The mainstream building automation suppliers are all active, unsurprisingly, given that the two are so genetically interlinked that building automation was originally widely referred to as building energy management. They can offer the benefit of relatively easy integration of energy management into the building’s wider functioning.

Against this, as virtually every device, appliance and component of a building becomes capable of generating and communicating data, the advent of big building data has opened huge opportunities both to enterprise data and IT suppliers and to an army of smaller newer suppliers of advanced analytics, allowing building managers to predict and pre-empt problems that degrade a building’s energy performance.

Some of these new entrants will fall by the wayside, especially given the level of overlap between many of the offerings, others will be ripe for take-over, but a few are likely to emerge as major disruptive players. In our report we identify the leaders and challengers, along with the niche players and some of the most likely acquisitions. As always, there is an implicit conflict between the move towards integration on the one hand and the desire for innovation on the other, and we look at some of the standards that are emerging to address this.

The prize is most likely to go to companies that can combine innovation in new technologies, and understanding of how a building’s occupants interact with the building, with a deep-seated understanding of how buildings function. This report should help to shine a light on who will be left holding a torch for others to follow if and when the lights really do threaten to go out.

This is the industry that we explore in BSRIA’s newly updated report BEMS Opportunities.

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.

The BIM Level 2 jigsaw – nearly complete?

The Level 2 programme was defined in the BIM Strategy which is available at  www.bimtaskgroup.org

The Level 2 programme was defined in the BIM Strategy which is available at
http://www.bimtaskgroup.org

In my blog article back in June  I discussed how the UK Government had refined its Level 2 BIM requirement and express it in the form of compliance with seven components:

  1.  PAS 1192-2:2013 Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling
  2. PAS 1192-3:2014 Specification for information management for the operational phase of assets using building information modelling
  3. BS 1192-4:2014 Collaborative production of information. Part 4: Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice
  4. Building Information Model (BIM) Protocol
  5. GSL (Government Soft Landings)
  6. Digital Plan of Work
  7. Classification

Since then BS 1192-4 has been published, leaving just the Digital Plan of Work and Classification elements to be completed.  As reported previously, these were the subject of a TSB-funded competition and I thought it would be useful to give an overview of how the competition went and where it is now.  This is a fundamental piece of work that is set to have a huge impact on BIM in the UK and it is vital that as much of the industry as possible has an awareness of what is happening, and get involved wherever possible to help make it a success.

The competition brief was developed, with industry consultation, and has been administered via the Innovate UK (formerly TSB) SBRI programme under the title “A digital tool for building information modelling”.

The competition process involved two phases – Phase 1was a feasibility study, with organisations or consortia invited to submit proposals with funding of up to £50k (including VAT) available to each.  Three teams were awarded these phase one contracts:

  • RIBA Enterprises Limited, together with BIM Academy, BDP, Laing O’Rourke, Microsoft and Newcastle University
  • BRE Global Limited, with buildingSMART UKI
  • CIBSE on behalf of a group of industry professional bodies known as C8, consisting Association for Project Management (APM), British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The results of the Phase 1 stage can be seen here.

On completion of Phase one, two of these submitted bids for Phase 2 – RIBA Enterprises Limited and BRE Global Limited, and RIBA Enterprises Limited was awarded the single Phase two contract.

At the time of writing, the results of the Phase two competition had not been posted on the Innovate UK website so it has not been possible to compare what RIBA Enterprises has said it will deliver with the functional specification.

As RIBA Enterprises has developed Uniclass2, which it uses for some of its other software tools, it is probably safe to assume that the classification solution delivered as part of this competition will be based on that format.  That being the case it will be interesting to see how Uniclass2 is developed to cover all necessary instances, and not just those which may occur within the 3D model.  The classification system needs to be capable of capturing everything which may be held within the common data environment (CDE) in order to make the objectives of the standards such as PAS 1192-2 and PAS 1192-3 a reality – the PIM during construction and AIM during operation being the sole sources of information for further use, having been verified and validated against the EIRs and OIRs.

Many experienced BIM practitioners recognise the need for a comprehensive classification system to make information available throughout the life of an asset, letting it be used time and again rather than having to recreate it, and this project could make this a reality.  However, careful thought needs to go into it to make sure that everything that needs to be classified can be, and in a way that can be understood.

Smart Building Conference – The Human Factor

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

On 7th October I attended the SmartBuilding Conference in central London, in the course of which we were treated to the views of a range of industry-experts including BSRIA’s own Jeremy Towler.  Like all worthwhile conferences, it presented a mixture of familiar messages being elaborated and reinforced – such as the all too frequent gap between the vision and the delivery of smart buildings, and the vital role of retrofit in a world where 80% of the buildings we will be using in 2050 have already been built, and some less familiar insights. These are some of the main points that I took away.

While we often talk, rather platitudinously about, buildings, or businesses being “all about people”, we spend less time thinking about what this really means in practice.  An often overlooked fact is that people’s statements of what they want is often a poor guide to how they will actually take to new technology. This is not just because we often lack the understanding and vision of what is possible (as in the famous Henry Ford quote that “What people ‘really wanted’ was not cars, but faster horses.”), but also because (as every psychologist knows) we are much less rational and consistent in our judgements than we like to think we are. This places a premium on observing how people actually use buildings and adapting them and, even more so, future buildings.

Effectively observing and responding to the way people use buildings has wider implications.  One speaker suggested that the general move from a product-based to a serviced-based approach (as exemplified by cloud based solutions and the increasing tendency to lease equipment and facilities) is likely to penetrate from the “easy hits” to the more general areas of building services and smart technology, even potentially to the concept of a “building as a service”, where those who design and construct and configure the building are also those responsible for running it, helping to combat a problem where a building is designed supposedly to be smart, by people who then walk away having handed it to a completely different group, resulting in a loss of understanding, continuity and accountability.

Having buildings that genuinely learn and evolve in response to users’ changing needs over time calls for flexible and adaptable approach to design and construction so that they can cope better with changing needs. One way of achieving this is by using more modular construction techniques, which can at the same time reduce construction costs. Project Frog which has been responsible for a number of modular buildings in the USA was cited as an example of this.

Where an end-to-end approach is lacking, smart technology is too often a late add-on which means that it is not fundamentally designed into the building, and that those implementing it lack a connection with the original concept.

With IT increasingly at the heart of buildings, IT departments need to be involved from the early stages, and if engaged correctly they can help identify and address problems, including some of the most potentially serious challenges such as building cyber security.  Too many organisations still see IT and Facilities Management as separate disciplines to be kept siloed.  This can lead to failures of communication, and worst case, to actual conflicts.
There was also a lot of discussion of the role of more specific types of technology. For example, wireless technology is recognised as a useful backup, and for fixes to problems where the building can’t easily be rewired (historic buildings come to mind here) or where a ‘cheap and cheerful’ solution is sought, but is unlikely to become reliable enough for critical services, owing to fundamental problems of potential interference and obstructions which can arise unpredictably. This reminds us that “You cannae change the laws of physics” is a maxim that extends well beyond grainy back-editions of Star Trek.

There was much discussion of the way in which companies that have not traditionally been thought of as buildings- related, even in the most technological way. BSRIA research has already identified how IT companies like IBM and Microsoft are starting to make an impact in the world of smart buildings, now joined by Google and Apple, especially at the residential end of the market. This raises intriguing questions. On the one hand these companies bring not only deep knowledge of key areas of IT, especially in processing ‘big data’, on the other they  also have massive financial resources and proven commercial acumen, which could help to spearhead and open up  new markets.

However there are also fears that the delivery model typically deployed by companies like Google and Apple may not lend themselves to the more complex demands of building management. Simply buying a “smart home kit” from an Apple or DIY store is unlikely in itself to give you the hoped-for results in terms of improved energy efficiency, comfort and security. This could even lead to a consumer backlash that sets back the technology. There was a consensus that consumers will need experts who can provide advice and also ensure that systems are properly implemented. This in turn requires a range of skills broader than the “traditional” electrician, plumber, heating engineer or security engineer.

We were reminded that major disruptive technologies are normally led by new entrants into the field, posing a challenge to the major established players. Indeed it seems quite likely to me that the companies that are leading the field in 20 years’ time could well be ones that most of us haven’t heard of, or which don’t yet exist.

I left the conference slightly haunted by one further thought: We heard a lot about how buildings must learn and adapt to their users’ actual needs and behaviour. This led me to wonder how far this change, if it emerges and it surely will, will in turn change actual human behaviour.

Since our ancestors emerged from the forests and savannah thousands of years ago, humans have gradually been losing the need to be acutely aware of the physical world around them. First there was the loss of contact with the wilderness, and nature “red in tooth and claw”. Then the industrial revolution alienated us increasingly from the basic processes of producing food and the physical manipulation of nature.

Smart conferenceThe electronic revolutions mean that we need to understand less and less about the way that for example, our cars or heating systems or computers operate and indeed we meddle with them at our peril.

If even buildings and cities come to observe, know and “understand” us and anticipate our actions, will humans then become, physically at least, almost wholly reliant on outside intelligence, and end up, in effect almost leading an artificially controlled ‘virtual’ existence, and what role will human intelligence then play as opposed to artificial intelligence?

This might seem far-fetched, but big changes often tend to occur much faster than anticipated, and often, far from being incremental, can depend on sudden tipping points. There are also of course  formidable barriers, not least the public reaction to the prodigious level of data sharing that would be needed to make all of this even remotely possible.

Nonetheless, I for one find it intriguing that the development of the smart building could just be part of the gradual emergence of a new “breed” of human, in terms of what they think and more importantly how they interact with the world.  Could we be seeing the emergence of a kind of “virtual man” where the boundaries between the human and the buildings, vehicles and cities we use and inhabit are hopelessly blurred?

Building services now look more exciting today and indeed  look closer to science fiction than could have been imagined when BSRIA started out 59 years ago.

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