The mechanical engineering industry is enduring a digital transformation, and ASHRAE is lighting the path forward through its digital lighthouse.

2020-2021 ASHRAE president, Chuck Gulledge III, P.E., HBDP, LEED AP, Fellow ASHRAE, showcased the organization’s recent achievements and future goals during a “State of the Society” presentation today, marking the start of ASHRAE’s 2021 Winter Conference.

“Digital transformation is not simply associated with adopting new technical solutions,” said Gulledge. “Knowledge needs to be captured and linked in such a way that all relevant stakeholders benefit. Doing so requires understanding of how to collect, store, and analyze data so that it is insightful and actionable. The ASHRAE Digital Lighthouse and Industry 4.0 focuses on reimagining the building industry by not only integrating industry segments but technology. ASHRAE will lead the industry in becoming a part of the digital transformation that will guide the building industry into the next decade and beyond.”


Digital Transformation

Gulledge, who was named president in July 2020, referenced his upbringing when personifying the challenges he’s endured over the last six months.

“When I became your society president, I told you about the lessons I learned from working beside my grandparents during summers,” he said. “The natural progression of work, particularly the work on the land, centered on plowing, planting, maintaining, and harvesting. I learned that you can't cheat the natural process. Engineering and construction is a lot like farming. Plow: Preparation requires assembling the correct team. Plant: The outcome we desire needs a well-defined path. Maintain: Continuous improvement is implemented to drive value. Harvest: Delivering built solutions that exceed expectations.”

After living through the events of 2020, Gulledge noted we’re all embracing a digital transformation, whether we like it or not.

“This is a world where we break down work silos and become one integrated force,” he said. “New technologies and business models mandate intelligent and transparent collaboration, where knowledge is captured and linked in such a way that all relevant stakeholders benefit and data becomes a critical resource. We implement technology to improve our productivity.”

The digital age of connection has allowed a locked-down world to remain open to the ASHRAE family. In light of this, Gulledge’s said his presidential theme of the ASHRAE Digital Lighthouse and Industry 4.0 is creating excitement in the industry and beyond.

“Our entire built solution ecosystem is embracing the principles of plow, plant, and maintain in pursuit of reaping record harvest,” he said. “Collaboration is being accepted as a preferred business practice. Stakeholders are accepting the principles of lean thought. Digital business and the cloud are keeping us engaged at work. Off-site solutions are becoming the standard way, not just wishful desires. We are all transforming our approach to work, workforce, and workplace to seek value and improve holistic productivity.”

Being ASHRAE president in a virtual world has created opportunities that were not readily available to previous presidential members, Gulledge said, optimistically.

“I have had the honor to attend and participate in nine of our chapters’ regional conferences across the 15 regions of the society,” he said. “Such member engagement would not be physically possible or financially viable in the old normal.”

Regardless how much we all wish the world to “return to normal,” Gulledge insists we shouldn’t resist the current virtual evolution.

“Why should we engage in digital transformation? To gain a competitive advantage amongst our peers, position ourselves as the go-to resource for clients, improve margins, provide greater value, and attract and retain a digitally skilled workforce,” he said.


Current Events

ASHRAE has been busy creating and strengthening its relationships with various stakeholders. The organization recently announced partnerships with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA), the American Society of Healthcare Engineers (ASHE), Deutscher Kälte-und Klimatechnischer Verein (DKV), the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, (KFAS), the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).

“Maintaining and creating strategic alliances is critical to the ASHRAE mission,” Gulledge said. “These relationships will help ASHRAE’s digital lighthouse shine even brighter.”

Government outreach remains alive and well in this virtual environment. Legislation and policies at both the state and national levels have referenced ASHRAE standards guidelines and the guidance of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force, Gulledge said.

“Transmission of the virus in buildings and the connection to health is a critical issue,” he said. “ASHRAE has held more than 50 meetings through December on COVID-19 topics, including some high-level briefings with members of Congress, congressional committees, and the Biden transition teams. Our members have also testified before legislative bodies, held panel discussions with U.S. senators, and shared ASHRAE guidance on a global basis. We have demonstrated our relevance and importance. Our technical resources and expertise are in high demand. Buildings will continue to have a focus in the upcoming year on health and sustainability. We look forward to seeing how much more our government affairs committee will do and making sure that ASHRAE is at the forefront of policy decisions and legislation.”


New Headquarters

ASHRAE officially moved into its new global headquarters, located at 180 Technology Parkway, Peachtree Corners, Georgia, in November 2020. The society began renovations in January 2020 on an existing 66,700-square-foot building, originally built in 1978, on 11 acres of land.

The building’s photovoltaic (PV) system is currently being installed. The system is expected to be completed next month, and, once complete, designers believe the building will achieve net-zero energy certification.

Building on the Digital Lighthouse and Industry 4.0 theme, the building incorporates several digitally connected solutions, such as remote monitoring, analysis of building performance with online dashboarding for transparency and advanced building automation system (BAS) integration with other systems, such as ASHRAE’s meeting reservations systems. Other solutions include a digital twin and building information model (BIM), innovative mechanical systems visible through an open ceiling around radiant panel clouds, and advanced conferencing systems designed to serve as a “digital lighthouse” teaching resource.

“ASHRAE’s first-of-its-kind headquarters building was designed as a living showcase of what's possible through technology integration to increase efficiency, protect people and property, and enhance the occupant experience,” Gulledge said. “In addition to supporting ASHRAE’s technical standards, innovative product integrations from our generous donors also provide a scalable and repeatable model for a net-zero energy building design.”


Closing Statement

Gulledge insists ASHRAE is strong and built on a solid foundation — regardless if that base exists physically or virtually.

“We have pivoted from relying on physical engagement to working collectively in a virtual world,” he said. “Our reach is growing, our engagement is increasing, and our speed to market is improving. We will be stronger because of what we have learned and endured during this pandemic. The digital lighthouse of the future will shine brightly to guide us on our journey together.”