Putting the representative in rep

I read with interest Howard McKew's January 2006 "Tomorrow's Engineer" column titled "D-B: The Misunderstood Project Delivery Process," (page 132). Basically, I agree with his statements, but I suggest that they don't go deep enough. Let me explain.

I am a manufacturer's representative who happens to have a mechanical engineering background. As a rep, I often find myself at the bottom of the food chain, especially within a D-B-B program. It has taken many years of consistent, dependable performance to earn the right to be part of a true D-B team. I am pleased to say that we have been part of many successful D-B projects, but it is a true struggle to convince all the parties up the line of the advantages expressed in the article. But, this is the world in which we live.

I am suggesting that the true D-B team utilize the talents of the equipment suppler: both the factory and the rep. "Ownership" is a powerful word, and if all parties take ownership, not only of the equipment they supply but the system in which it performs, performance problems will be minimized. References are made to the owner, consultants, and trade contractors but the rep and equipment manufacturers are not mentioned "Teamwork." "Ownership." "Maximization of skills." Don't these words imply that everyone, from top to bottom, must work together with a common goal in mind?

Consider the contractor who is part of a D-B team bidding the equipment to many vendors; he is buying a product, not knowledge. Consider the owner who purchases equipment through the reverse auction process; once again he hopes to capitalize on purchasing low-dollar but often finds himself embroiled in an adversarial relationship with the low bidder. Consider the owner who hires a consulting engineer to oversee a D-B team and then bids out the D-B team to multiple vendors. The energy and talent being wasted can never be recovered. A true D-B process would involve the development of a scope of responsibility for each and every team member. Such a scope would be defining the participant's ownership and commitment to the project's success.

I applaud your commitment to support and promote the D-B process. Don't stop. If only the owners of the world could trust the fact that a team of people functioning in his behalf will benefit him in the long run, then your job would be easier.

Paul Coward, BSME
Corporate Secretary
Coward Environmental Systems, Inc.
Mt. Laurel, NJ

McKew responds:

Where you draw the line on teamwork is always a challenge. I believe the total team approach right down to the equipment manufacturer has a place while on other occasions, there may not be as much of a need to sole-source all the equipment because it really is a commodity (fancoil units, diffusers, etc.), because equipment knowledge is known. On the other hand, high-performance chillers (to give one example) certainly can play an important role in an energy infrastructure upgrade.

It still comes down to "trust" on the owner's part, while "honesty and fair value profit" from the D-B team can make or break the team effort.

More time for TAB

I just finished reading Howard McKew's February 2006 "Tomorrow's Engineer" column concerning testing and balancing ("More on Jump-Starting the TAB Process," page 70). Interesting article.

It is nice to be able to have the time to follow all of the steps outlined in NEBB and AABC, and obviously it does make a big difference when balancing.

The reality of it, though, is far different. Until the engineering, architect, and CM communities take the balancing out of the realm of being under the mechanical contractor and start writing their specifications per individual job instead of using canned specifications, this will not happen. The balancer rarely knows he even has a job until the day it he is supposed to be on that job, and then it is always at the end of the job without the amount of time for him to properly balance the project.

Ninety percent of time, we do not even get the correct drawings or information for the project. And, of course, with the new way of doing business (liability management vs getting the job done correctly in the interest of the owner who is paying us all), the balancer rarely has direct access to the engineer should questions arise. He must fill out a RFI (request for information), which is very rarely answered, or if it is, it is always after the job is completed.

I have been balancing all over this world for the 25 years plus, and I can assure you unless it is a high-profile job, this occurs worldwide when working under a mechanical contractor, be it in Croatia or the United States. It is only when the balancer is working directly for the owner, architect, or general contractor that the balancer has the time to perform all of the items we are supposed to and the way we prefer to balance.

William K. Thomas Jr.
Testing and Balancing Division
Arden Engineering Building Services
Pawtucket, RI

McKew responds:

I can't agree with you more. This year I hope to champion the idea of contracting a third-party TAB professional in the design phase in parallel with the third-party commissioning engineer. My vision of the process is to insert the TAB spec (written by the TAB professional) in Division 17-Commissioning and TAB section of the contract specification.

Making the TAB professional a third-party firm, involved in the job starting in the design phase, is long overdue. If building owners can now see the benefits of commissioning, it shouldn't be a "giant leap of faith" to recognize the need to hire the TAB professional too.

Bringing commissioning to the masses

Thanks for the excellent article that trumpets the benefits of building commissioning ("Building Commissioning - Everyone Benefits," TABB Talk supplement, October 2005, page 4). Jeffrey Yago hit the key points quickly and accurately, particularly with his assertion that building owners just expect the building to work as promised.

Building commissioning is a bit of a hard sell here in northeast Ohio, but states south of our borders got savvy fast, realizing, as Yago quoted (from the DOE's Building Technology Program survey), that "newly commissioned buildings had annual operating costs that were 8 to 20 percent lower than identical non-commissioned facilities." Our experience in the business also indicates that when commissioning agents are involved from the get-go to final completion, the "separate parts" that Yago talks about do indeed come together.

Another important point in an industry that often awards jobs to the low bidder was that the initial bid documents have to define the level of commissioning, so that the contractors can accurately project the scope of work they're signing up to.

We're working closely with the Builders Exchange here in northeast Ohio to educate business owners, architects, contractors, and engineers on the benefits of building commissioning, and Yago's article said it all.

Mary Kay Dessoffy
Vice President
Intelligent Building Systems, Inc.
Strongsville, OH

Sprucing up submittals

Hooray for Howard McKew's March 2006 "Tomorrow's Engineer" column concerning equipment/ATC submittals ("Subpar Submittals," page 100)! When we get a purchase order/contract for a control system, the first thing we ask the mechanical contractor for is the submittal documentation and any information/wiring diagrams on the equipment being supplied.

Ninety percent of the time, the equipment submittals concern only the equipment performance information per the equipment plans and specifications. The interface for the control system is a mystery that we can only guess at or plan on from past experience with a similar piece of equipment. This is true for conventional interfaces and/or DDC interfaces. Equipment manufacturers/suppliers sales people are either not proficient with the controls interfaces on their own equipment or are uncooperative because the plans and specifications do not require them to provide this information.

I can only imagine that when an equipment manufacturer provides the control system, they react in the same manner. The field technician is left at the end of the project trying to piece together the equipment and controls.

Buildings are complex entities. The HVAC system is the most dynamic of a building's operation and is the most expensive part of its operation. Building owners rarely realize what is expected to maintain them and are usually in for a surprise when they get a "walk through."

In my opinion, the solution is a clear specification on the interfaces of the equipment to the control system. This will take more effort on the engineer's part to get the equipment manufacturers/suppliers to illustrate their product information in detail when it comes to the control interfaces. The devil is in the details.

Erik Maseng
Viking Controls, Inc.
Nashua, NH

McKew responds:

I truly see this a growing problem with just about every job now having equipment manufacturer's ATC packages. The final programming is usually a mystery when it comes to documentation.

Clearing the way for specifications

Steve Liescheidt's "PerSPECtives" March 2006 column in Engineered Systems ("Specification Language," page 34) hits home for me. A strong command of the language in written form seems to have become an uncommon skill. Nonetheless, it's worth a reminder. Keep up the good work!

James V. Dirkes II, P.E.
Vice President
Rapid Engineering
Comstock Park, MI