Solving Tomorrow's Problems
George Adams, President of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), identifies the opportunities for greater integration of building services engineers within facilities management and the wider community of built environment professionals.
The built environment is hugely important for the economic and social wellbeing of any country.
Infrastructure, transport and buildings all contribute to the functionality, effectiveness and liveliness of our homes, work spaces or play areas.
Equally, their efficient operation is a central consideration in wider environmental challenges (for example, government plans in the United Kingdom to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent over the next 36 years).
And building technology and systems become more complex, facilities operators are turning their attention increasingly to in-use performance levels.
Improving facilities management (FM) delivery through better energy management is one area building services engineers excel at.silos.
DEFINING BUILDING SERVICES ENGINEERING (BSE)
Typically a range of responses is prompted by the question: “What is building services engineering?”
According to one school of thought, it is the design, manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance of all “energy-using” systems in a building.
Yet to others, it is a discipline that focuses on heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Companies in the sector might describe themselves as mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) contractors or as specialists in the design, installation and maintenance of electrical supply and/or lighting systems.
Regardless of their specialism, though, building services engineers are responsible for systems that deliver functionality to buildings and make them fit for the business or social activities they are designed to support.
Building services engineering and FM both cover the life of an asset; from concept design through to its operation, maintenance, disposal and eventual replacement. This is often portrayed as a linear process but, I argue, is understood better as a cycle of continuously improving functions.
Many engineered systems in a building will be replaced more than once during its life. And this challenges the traditional compartmentalisation of the building life cycle into different stages or silos; under which FM is labelled an operational and maintenance activity that must accept (and make the most of) whatever is passed down to it by design and installation silos.
This is why I called for a new engineering conscience in the Whole Life Thinking strategy I outlined in my inaugural address as CIBSE President.
ENGINEERING BETTER OUTCOMES
Many services systems become noticeable to occupants only because of the movement of indoor air, quality of illumination in communal spaces, variations in temperature, security issues; or because of changes to their health and physical comfort levels.
Building services engineers and FMs really must work more closely to play a fuller part in making facilities nicer places to occupy and more efficient to operate since, when problems occur, FMs and building occupants want them resolved quickly and with a minimum of disruption.
How this is achieved depends on the relationship and nature of the contractual engagement between the FM team and contractors they call on to attend to malfunctioning systems.
It also depends, however, on facility design, the preparedness of operators to deal with unforeseen circumstances, the quality of the FM team’s training and its understanding of how systems ought to operate.
Since most buildings today incorporate inter-dependent services and systems in their design, a strong case may be made for extending building services engineering training and knowledge to all FM teams.
Notwithstanding the obvious benefits for building occupants, specialist training results in better in-house problem solving capabilities and equips FMs with the knowledge they need to communicate effectively with specialist suppliers - or even to implement functional changes in buildings.
What unites the diverse FM models is they all need ready access to engineering skills in order to resolve problems within a reasonable timescale.
To minimise future problems, FMs need to develop preventative maintenance programmes that make full use of in-house engineering capabilities.
FMs with engineering training might support building services engineers by contributing to original building design and, more significantly, the upgrade and replacement of existing systems since, from an operating perspective, they are best placed to understand potential pitfalls pertaining to a particular facility. Involving FMs in decision-making and engaging them at the earliest opportunity in a facility’s design also offers several, additional benefits; including reduced operating costs and less downtime.
Furthermore, by drawing on the engineering skills of the FM team early in the design process, building services engineers will ensure full adaptation of designs to expected operational demands and anticipate any future requirements.
Close cooperation between the professions will also ensure future maintenance is a consideration in architectural designs; contributing further to whole like thinking and the concept of continuous improvement.
A range of tools can assist FMs. CIBSE Guide, Maintenance Engineering and Management, provides extensive advice on the maintenance of building services and recommendations for the most appropriate levels of maintenance activity across a range of services; in addition to offering guidance on replacement cycles and service lives. Furthermore, it is now supported by British Standard BS 8544 (Guide for life cycle costing of maintenance) which offers detailed advice on the preparation of life cycle cost plans for buildings.
Indeed, it might also be noted BS 8544 is aligned with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) National Rules of Measurement which encourage co-ordination between the work of BSI, CIBSE and RICS.
Two other areas where greater integration will increasingly be required between building services engineers in FM and wider construction and commercial teams, are energy efficiency and corporate responsibility.
There is a growing regulatory requirement for larger businesses to measure and report energy use and carbon emissions. In some cases (such as the United Kingdom’s Carbon Reduction Commitment) payments must also be made depending on emission output volumes.
The second area relates to climate change since, notwithstanding debate about whether it is a direct result of carbon emissions generated by human activity, the world is warming and our climate is experiencing more frequent occurrences of severe weather events which impacts directly on our built environment: witness recent reports about low-lying islands and coastal areas facing catastrophe in the event of global emissions targets not being met.
CIBSE is now developing thought leadership in the built environment and working together with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to support the technical challenges associated with reducing carbon emissions, mitigating heat island effect (built-up areas are warmer than surrounding rural areas), and creating more sustainable local urban environments.
These activities are running in parallel with an initiative by RIBA to improve collaboration between all disciplines involved in the total built environment and reflect a joint focus on sustainability that encompasses building operations and whole life performance.
Increasingly, and regardless of who or whatever is causing climate change, our buildings will have to be adapted to it. Engineers in FM teams will play their essential part in identifying and developing strategies to mitigate the potential impact of a range of climate-related events on buildings, businesses and social facilities. And they will be working alongside other built environment engineers and architects.
Energy efficiency and corporate environmental responsibility will align as we develop plans for our cities for the rest of the 21st century and seek to make them more resilient to the effects of climate change by reducing demand for fossil fuels, embedding local energy generation into the built environment, and work with landscaping specialists to green local communities (green roofs, green walls and tree canopies are proven remedies against heat island effects and reduce carbon emissions).
These are strategic challenges for our society and will require a more collaborative built environment industry.
Given the importance of facilities management to business stability and the increased focus on energy management, there are huge opportunities to develop the role of the FM engineer into a specialist whose competences extend beyond delivery of daily operational support to anticipating future business needs.