The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{February 21, 2011}   Here’s one I made earlier

When I was picking my degree course I chose engineering, rather than something more theoretical/’academic’, because I like to get hands on. I like to apply my knowledge to something real and, occasionally, I like to get a bit grubby. I’ve always been like that. When I was little I shunned pre-made toys in favour of playing with scissors, glue & felt tips to create something. When I was in primary school I was the goalkeeper for the girl’s football team not because I had any real football talent but because I was one of the few girls who didn’t mind getting muddy. At secondary school I delighted in subjects like ‘resistant materials’ because I got to use my maths skills to work out the dimensions for something real, and then go & use my hands to actually physically make it real.

These days, though the maths and drawings I create do finally end up being made into a building it’s not me that gets to go and lay the bricks or install the ductwork. Most of the time that’s fine, I still take great pleasure in seeing a building or system that I was involved in the design of, being installed. There’s something truly satisfying about seeing your designs working hard and being useful. But sometimes I feel like I missing something…and that something is getting hands on. Last week though, was a week where there was nothing missing and where I was working with a huge smile on my face. Why? Because I was crawling around on the floor sticking down carpet tape to mark out the full scale dimensions of a cold work area I’m designing.

Part of being a good engineer is being able to communicate clearly to other people, and when those people aren’t engineers it’s important to find ways of getting information across to them in ways they can really understand. As I’m in the middle of designing something that will be completely new to out client, something unlike anything else they have, now is a particularly vital time to get the communication right. One of the areas that people who aren’t familiar with looking at drawings can sometimes struggle with is scale. As we all know from looking at a map it can sometimes be hard to get a realistic sense of size from looking at a scaled down image.

So, I spent last Thursday afternoon creating this:

It’s a full scale outline of a ‘cold work enclosure’ which is essentially a giant fridge, the diagonal lines are the doors. The squares within the big rectangle show where the weighing scales and table will go. The little square in front shows where there will be a column within the room. On the right, making our model 3 dimensional, is the existing piece of equipment which will go into the space next to the cold work area once it has been build.

Laying the equipment out full size like this meant having to calculate all the little clearance sizes that are needed to make sure everything fits in together without clashing, and allowances for construction tolerances (as few things of this kind of size are ever made millimetre perfect). It gave me a brilliant opportunity to give some very in depth thought to the detailed design of the equipment, and to be able to reflect on it once it was complete. It actually resulted in us changing which direction one of the doors opened as it became obvious once it was laid out that the column was less of an obstacle that way.

Most importantly though, it has given our client the chance to get a feel for how big the area will be and whether they will be able to fit and operate all the necessary items into it. Doing that now means we’re far less likely to run into issues once it equipment has been made and it’s too late to change. Also, clambering around on the floor and playing with sticky tape reminded me hugely of my Blue Peter loving days…so I had a lot of fun!


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