I was watching a program on the Arts & Entertainment cable network recently, and the show highlighted Henry Ford's Fairlane Mansion. As I sat there with my laptop, getting ahead on my 2003 writing for this magazine, it was quite a coincidence that the topic I was writing about, valve tagging, would present itself on this program.

Watching this show, the mansion's remote boiler plant caught my attention. This home is spectacular, built at the turn of the century (19th century into 20th century) and on the grounds is this central heating plant that was as impressive as the mansion itself.

The show's images captured the quality and complexity of this facility's pipe distribution system. One of the shots documented pertinent shutoff valves, neatly and professionally arranged along with their associated 2-in. brass tags and the letter H (designated for heating). Each valve tag also had a tag number (e.g., H-23).

I quickly scanned the TV screen looking for the valve tag chart that would be found, posted on a wall under a glass frame. I was sure this chart documented pertinent operational information including the valve number, location, system served, and purpose (e.g., H-23, Boiler Room, Hot Water Supply, Shutoff Valve).

I couldn't help but think how timely this show is in relationship to my thoughts on the merits of valve tagging. In parallel with that thought, the merits of equipment labeling and electrical panel labeling share a common, antiquated bond with this 1900s mansion. I guess you could say, "Some things never change."

A timeless requirement

Now, leap forward from 1900 to this 21st century and pull out a standard mechanical contract specification (Division 15000). When you get to the section on pipe identification, you will most likely find a reference to the valve tag requirement. Within a matter of seconds, you will unwittingly transform yourself back more than 100 years to 1900 as you read the requirement that valves be tagged and valve charts provided! Yes, the building industry continues to require valves to be identified just the way it was done more then a century ago. The same can be said about standard equipment and panel label specifications. Sure, we may not be asking the contractor to provide engraved, metal labels today when compared to specifications of the 1900s, but that is about the extent of our progress during the 20th century.

In this computer age where handheld computers are routinely used by girls, boys, men, and women for playing video games, maintaining telephone contacts, receiving e-mail, etc., the time for change has come to the building industry. It is time we realize that the only place for valves with brass tags and laminated, plastic labels is in the Smithsonian Institution, where this 19th century method can remain on display, just like the Fairlane Mansion.

Handheld computer version

The valve scenario mentioned above is just one of many old-fashioned engineering standards that are still utilized today. Many professionals are unaware that inexpensive, handheld related technologies are now available that support bar coding, data collection, and dynamic information retrieval for all types of equipment.

Today, off-the-shelf, handheld computers can be purchased with a bar code scanner attachment, and software producers like Microsoft(r) can provide the means to capture and establish an equipment, label, and valve database. There are a myriad of software programs available today to capture the information and interact with the software programs.

In addition, as technology drives our industry to change our standard specifications, you will be requiring contractors to purchase a minimum of one handheld computer (to be turned over to the owner at closeout), and handheld programs set up with the ability to scan equipment, panel, or valve barcode and obtain the following:

  • Store emergency instructions, lockout/tagout requirements, PM workorders, etc.
  • View a detailed schematic associated with the selected piece of equipment. An option to allow the service technician the ability to zoom in/out, pan, rotate, and perform a textual search, etc.
  • View and markup (redline) computer-generated drawings directly on the handheld. Another option is to make field notes and observations by the design engineer or facility manager.
  • Store equipment information directly onto the handheld. This feature will allow completion of inspection as it relates to "condition assessment" and as part of an asset management or punchlist process.

All this information contained in the palm of your hand allows for cost-effective management of construction and facilities. Imagine being able to use the power of 21st- century technology so that you will have more time to watch shows like the Fairlane Mansion story and remember when valve tags were considered useful. ES