Engineers should focus on integration

By becoming a building systems integrator, engineers can ensure successful buildings—and a successful future.


Anil AhujaIn the world in which we are evolving and human smarts (homo digi-perfectus) are taking technology and integration to next level, technology is impacting the engineering industry. Smart tenants and building owners need smart buildings.

Smart buildings, Smart Grid, intelligent buildings, and integrated systems are buzzwords in the architecture and engineering industry, but is our industry tooling to become smarter and deliver integrated designs?

When I look at the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineer of the past, hand drafting was the norm. Engineering drawings were drawn on mylars or sepias; they were not shared between engineers of different disciplines. As we progressed to AutoCAD, software and libraries were still very independent for each discipline. In today’s age of building information modeling (BIM) and Revit designs, the boundaries do not exist. This is why tomorrow’s MEP engineer needs to be an integrated systems engineer.

The engineering curriculum in universities does not offer systems engineering. Energy engineering programs are rare, and only a handful of U.S. institutions provide students with a truly integrated curriculum.

MEP engineering is not part of universities’ core engineering curriculum, and very few even touch on smart buildings in the classroom. To truly serve the movement toward smart buildings, we need to add the position of systems integrator to engineering firms. As far as I know, that position doesn’t exist in MEP offices.

Whenever energy management system or BAS specifications and drawings are required on a project (which is every project nowadays), consulting firms struggle to provide a properly skilled engineer to perform the work, as it crosses the boundaries of all disciplines and truly requires a systems integrator to design and specify products that work together across each of the building’s engineered systems.

MasterFormat Specification Division 25 (integrated automation) is currently being discussed at the committee level. A big issue at MEP firms: Which staff member is qualified to perform work on Division 25?

The MEP consulting industry must move from discipline-based engineering (fire protection, electrical, etc.) to system engineering. Manufacturers are adding smart displays on all appliances and products that can be controlled through an app or via system integration. Our industry needs to add more systems integrators to integrate available smart products to deliver smart designs now and in the future.

In the past, the standard approach to projects was architectural/engineering design, which lead to bidding and then construction. In today’s building market, smart or high-performance buildings require a paradigm shift in the approach to design and construction. High-performance buildings start with the architectural and infrastructure design phase, then progresses to the system design phase, which then leads to the systems integration phase. After construction to, it then moves to the integrated commissioning phase and finally the smart operation phase.

If today’s MEP engineers do not change their thinking or change business practices, a new breed of “integrated technology solutions” consultant will take over their share of their work in this ever-shrinking consulting market.

Anil Ahuja has 30 years of experience in building systems design, design management, construction management, commissioning, and operations and maintenance. He has project experience including commercial, institutional, educational, residential, industrial, and airports. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.

GBAIN , AZ, United States, 03/16/13 10:26 AM:

Excellent reading material
Meynardo , GU, United States, 08/23/13 09:13 PM:

There are some significant unsatisfactory feedback from too much integration wihout due evaluation on what is actually happening in the field of operation after a design is constructed. Example: a multi-function relay consisted of several relay functions disabling the whole system relay function due to a single point failure. Another example: a multi-metering function disabling the whole metering system due to a single failure that disabled the multi-metering device. Another example: Confusion on the operation of a SCADA system that integrated both the mechanically oriented plant process to an distribution system process. Another example: Fire alarm system designs that has a lot of electrically engineered components that they like to integrate on a fire protection design that has more of mechanically oriented design. Integration should be carefully evaluated prior to implementation. There must continuous evaluation of feedbacks from various maintenance and operational disciplines in the field that should not be just ignored.
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