No matter what the industry, our firm is no different than any other company when it comes to providing quality control; it is a journey and not a goal! As we start a new year, I will routinely use this column in parallel with the "Hvacr Designer Tips" column to provide some other "back to basic" needs that will focus on quality control.
Develop Your Own Handbook
To begin the journey, I think every company should have their own design engineer's manual. Why? Well, if you look at the ASHRAE Handbooks, these four manuals offer the guidelines to hvac engineering but they don't necessarily tell you how to do something. The handbooks offer the fundamentals for sizing pipes and ducts, application of various systems, and design criteria for various applications (to mention a few). It is up to the individual design engineer to apply what they read in these handbooks and this is where quality control is needed.
For years I have tried to mix hiring experienced engineers and entry-level designers and engineers. Both types of individuals bring a benefit to the company. Both types of individuals also bring some concerns. For the experienced engineer, the new job may prove to be a culture change to the way he/she has done business in the past and past experience. For the entry-level person, there are no "old habits" but there is the lack of practical experience.
With both employees, a company needs to direct the engineering process in a manner consistent with its business plan. Reflecting back to the ASHRAE Handbooks, there is no "one way" to do anything when it comes to hvac system design. As the person in-charge, I sure don't want to limit creativity because there just isn't enough of it to go around. But, I do want to know that everyone is going in the same direction when it comes to the basics of sizing pumps, fans, etc. I also want to know that when it comes to producing a final product that it is what we agreed to do, that it fits within the client's program and budget, and that we are profitable for our efforts. As a result, our company journey is to produce consistent engineering, on time and in budget. A good quality control tool to apply along this journey is a design engineer's manual.
Consistency Is Key
This in-house handbook will be a document that is continuously improved as it is used. It will standardize the company basics, such as guidelines to sizing equipment and systems without restricting the designer and/or engineer.
Referring back to ASHRAE, its handbooks provide a broad range of sizing charts to use. For our firm, I want to focus on one consistent way of sizing (water pipes, ductwork, etc). Why would I want to do that? Well, if I know everyone is using the same pipe chart for the same application, then I can focus my design review efforts on more important issues such as value engineering, design intent, and system flow diagrams. The same can be said for so many other categories that are equally important.
So often, I have observed some very smart engineers who micro-engineered the project, using up valuable time and money. At the same time, these designs frequently grew in system complexity to a point where the job was considered over-designed. It is at this point that an engineer may be at the mercy of a construction company "value-cutting" pertinent features of your design. In turn, re-engineering will be required, further adding to the design firm's labor costs and possible delays in the production of final construction documents. The bottomline is everyone loses. The owner who hired your firm, your firm, and the final design engineered product.
We believe our best effort to preventing this dilemma will be for us to produce our own design engineer's manual. For more information on how to establish such a document, refer to Amanda Parolise's "Hvacr Designer Tips" for a suggested Table of Contents. ES