The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{May 9, 2012}   Happy Happy Joy Joy

The irony of blogging is that when you have things worth blogging about you’re too busy to blog, and things have been pretty busy for me lately. After about 8 months of working on oil & gas projects as a project engineer, and a couple more months working on technical audits & quality procedures, I’m now back in the familiar territory of pharmaceutical HVAC. I can’t talk specifics as, like so many other pharmaceutical projects, it’s confidential. What I can say though is that I’ve loving it, I’m back being involved in my favourite part of a project: identifying all of the requirements, and starting to find concept solutions.

The last couple of weeks have been jam-packed (not literally, it’s not a preserve factory) with site visits to discuss the client’s needs, reading through URSs (User Requirement Specifications) to glean as much information as possible about what we need to provide and going over Part L of the building regulations and the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Energy Assessment Method) guidelines with a fine tooth comb to ensure our designs will be compliant. It makes for a steep learning curve on every project to get the whole team up to speed with what the purpose of the project is, what the client wants and what the constraints of the site and the funding is, it can be (and certainly has been on this occasion) quite an intensive time.

ImageFor me though, it’s a happy time, I like working out a precise brief, and I really love figuring out how we’re going to meet that brief. Also for this project I’ve had the mixed blessing of working with both a highly experience Pharmaceutical HVAC consultant, and having an equally highly experienced Sustainability & HVAC lead engineer. I say it’s a mixed blessing because though I’m benefitting hugely from their knowledge, they’re never in the office at the same time. This can be an interesting problem as they both approach the project from very different view points so I’m not just an engineer – I’m the diplomat & go-between for our talented founts of information. Hopefully though, by having my consistent presence to play the go-between role we’re able to take on board both knowledge sets, giving us a final solution that is both pharmaceutically sound and environmentally friendly – ideal since that’s the career specialism I aspire to!

In my attempt to drag my recession-sodden career onwards and upwards I do my best to take on new challenges and take ownership of my part of a project wherever I can. Late last week was a perfect example of that, and now I suddenly find myself responsible for the ‘consequential improvements’ for the project I’m working on. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but none-the-less it did and I’m rather pleased.

The ‘consequential improvements’ (or CI) are a particularly gratifying bit of the project to be part of in my opinion. Contrary to popular belief that’s not because I’m especially fond of long words & tongue twisters, it’s because CI is all about energy savings, and I’m a big fan of sustainability.

As of 2006 Part L of the building regulations means that if you change or extend a building over 1000m2 in the UK you must spend at least 10% of your budget on making the existing building more energy efficient. That could be anything from installing solar panels, to upgrading the windows to have a better level of thermal insulation to using the waste heat from an industrial process to heat the offices, the canteen kitchens or even changing processes to eliminate the heat use altogether! I think this is a brilliant way of changing our energy gobbling grey 1970s monstrosities that we don’t have the funds to replace into lean green manufacturing machines.

So at the moment I have about £300,000 to spend, and I’m researching a huge variety of different energy saving possibilities. So far I’ve looked at using heat recovery from the compressed air, as typically 80-93% of the electricity used in compressed air is ‘wasted’ by being converted into heat, and compressed air often accounts for around 40% of a plants electricity bill – that’s a lot of wasted electricity! I’ve also been looking at using variable speed drives, these mean that when you don’t need all of a service such as hot water, steam or compressed air you can turn down the machine generating it and use less power. Think of it like using a dimmer switch to get just the right amount of light – if the light isn’t on full you’ll be saving electricity. I’m also looking at economisers, which use the heat in the exhaust gases of a boiler to pre-heat the water coming in, as well as energy efficient lighting, improved insulation and many other options.

Considering that part of the reason that manufacturing has reduced in the UK is not just labour costs but also energy costs – perhaps Part L and the Consequential Improvements (said like that it almost sounds like a band name) will not only help to save the planet but will also help to save engineering in this country!

et cetera
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