E8: COVID-19 & Your Buildings Mechanical Systems

COVID-19 AND YOUR BUILDING’S MECHANICAL SYSTEMS


A conversation with Adam Rickey on steps to take to get your building’s mechanical systems ready for re-opening.



Vice President, Regional Practice Leader / KCI

Adam Rickey, PE, CPD, is a vice president and regional practice leader for KCI’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing practice in the Mid-Atlantic. He is responsible for the management and oversight of all projects from the conceptual phase through construction and commissioning. Through his career, Adam has worked on a wide variety of buildings including institutional, commercial, laboratory, health care and government facilities. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is a registered professional engineer and a Certified Plumbing Designer. Adam is a director of the American Council of Engineering Companies Coalition of American Mechanical and Electrical Engineers. He is also a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.


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Transcript

Warehaus:
My name is Matt Falvey, and I’m your host for today’s episode. Today we will be discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on MEP system design, product selection and potential alternative MEP strategies for building improvements. Our guest today is Adam Rickey. Adam is the Vice President and regional practice leader for KCI Technologies’ mechanical, electrical and plumbing practice in the Mid-Atlantic region. He is responsible for the management and oversight of all projects from the conceptual phase through construction and commissioning. Through his career, Adam has worked on a wide variety of buildings including institutional, commercial, laboratory, healthcare and government facilities. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is a registered professional engineer and a certified plumbing designer. Adam is a director of the American Council of Engineering Companies coalition of American Mechanical and Electrical Engineers. He is also a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers. KCI Technologies is a 100% employee-owned engineering, planning and construction firm focused on creating a more interconnected, livable world, operating out of more than 50 offices nationwide. Their team of 1700 plus professional offers technical expertise in facilities, transportation, resource management, public works telecommunications and utilities. So, Adam welcome and I thought we’d start off by having you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what led you down the MEP track.

Adam Rickey:
Thank you, Matt. Appreciate the introduction. And yeah, down the engineer path…. I guess as a little boy, my parents always said I liked to look at different things. I always was interested in how they worked and like tinkering with my toys and building Legos. So then, when I got into college, I had the ability to do some internships and learn more about the construction and design industry, which led me into majoring in mechanical engineering. I then started off in the industry doing a lot of hospital design and worked my way through different market sectors in the design and construction industry, and ended up here at KCI technologies helping to lead our group in the design of many, many building types. So, it’s been a great path so far, and I love where things are going with the with the energy and design aspect of the industry.

Warehaus:
Well, I appreciate that certainly! Your company is fantastic, first class and you know, you definitely have picked the right track to go in. You are passionate and certainly your leadership role in the organizations that I have mentioned in your bio. They definitely stand out. So, I am really interested in this conversation. So, I guess, why we don’t go ahead and start this conversation. Given the current pandemic, this COVID-19 virus pandemic, in what way have you as a firm adapted your service and delivery, work process or processes in order to facilitate seamless service delivery, collaboration and maybe work for safety during this crisis?

Adam Rickey:
We have, like many companies, have certain staff that are office and design-driven. And we also have a fairly large percentage of individuals who are out on site. So KCI has about 80% or so of our staff that is normally in the office currently working from home. Some of those individuals do want to still continue to come in the office and our staff that’s out on site – fghj Most of them have social distance guidelines in place and can do their work still, but we do provide them all with PPE. Turning over to the seamless delivery and collaboration aspect, also like a lot of companies are using video and virtual calls for a lot of that, now more than ever we do that. We did a decent amount before, but I think in the last eight weeks like everyone else, it’s gone through the roof, and it’s actually been great. You have a lot of collaboration and, real time decisions being made. And with that technology, you’re able to share those ideas and make those modifications directly with the owner, and share your point of view a little bit more than what was done previously, which was a lot of email and phone call, or only talking with certain parties during the design. So, I think it’s increased the way we deal with one another and helped to keep the project moving and everything running nonstop.

Warehaus:
Yeah, I’ll tell you, almost every one of our interviews, and even just conversations in general has brought up technology and how intuitive it is. We talk about it all the time – the interconnectedness we have, the ease of use. Obviously, some companies have used it for professional development during the shutdown, others use it for making real time decisions as you mentioned. Certainly, if you want to add anything, that’s great. I mean, feel free to do so, but I have a question on use in the field, and maybe field surveying. Has 3D modeling played any role in this process?

Adam Rickey:
So yes, absolutely. I mean, on our end of the business, we use 3D modeling on a daily basis. Just like a lot of firms. We also utilize 3D scanning for a lot of what we do, especially on the front end of design. We’ve done it for several months, or a year, leading up to this. But it also helps now with the social distancing guidelines and even with buildings being empty or near empty, along with just data capture. So, on the front end of a design, if we’re able to capture all the windows and walls and doors and ceilings along with structural members and ductwork and piping, all of this information in a space, say in an office building or in a warehouse that’s wide open, you’re able to capture all that data very quickly, with a small amount of people present to do it. So that has provided us with loads of data and keeping everyone as safe as possible. We then take that information, move it to the 3D BIM environment to help the design team and consultants then generate a 3d model which works out well. In this collaborative environment, we are able to share with the owner at certain points in the project, now more than ever, what progress has been made and if they want to tweak something that is very easy and can almost be done in real time with BIM 360 and programs like that. The virtual calls and collaboration can have changes made relatively on the fly for big decisions with obvious follow up later. But it has really helped streamline that process and provides a lot of value. And then when we get through design and move on to construction, the ability to use the 3D scanning capability or photos is essential to help with confirmation in the field, and even track the progress with the contractor. So, it’s a two way street there, to help the construction, to help the contractors along with helping the design team understand where the process is, and also for documentation once we hand over the project…being able to give those files or BIM model over to the owner for future use, whether that’s in their preventative, maintenance program, in their master documents for reference at a later time, or just for their own ease of use for their facilities staff.

Warehaus:
Yeah, that’s great! You talked about efficiencies and streamlining of processes in work and you know, as crazy and as inconvenient this pandemic has been, I think we’re going to identify some efficiencies and ways to streamline how we conduct business, even when everything comes back to normal or the faucet gets turned on fully. And I guess along those lines, what changes if any, do you foresee in MEP system design and product selection you know, that might result in a temporary or even permanent change to the buildings we deliver.

Adam Rickey:
So yeah, to your first point, I mean, the streamline aspect of the whole process, I definitely agree there’s a lot of…. as we know, we’re all…. a lot of us are stuck indoors and away from family and friends, but there’s a there’s a lot of positives that have come out I think, on the building design aspect and the collaboration within the team members, and with owners. I think it is going to change it in a positive way, and also understanding that some of the meetings or design charettes may be done virtually, when before, it was all desired to have that in person for long days. There may be options to do some of this virtually, and harness that technology and have some of that real time collaboration happening, and everyone gets that value. But from a MEP system design aspect, in the hospital environment, there is a lot of technology that’s being used nowadays – and has been for years – that help with making [such buildings healthy]. Pressurization is a big deal. Outside air is a big deal. All these aspects of hospital design are really something that … it has the industry split into two: hospital and non-healthcare related design. And so I think what’s going to happen… ASHRAE has published some white papers and people in the industry have talked about implementing more strategies found in the healthcare design, and what that boils down to is usually higher air change rates, more outside air, tighter control of that temperature and humidity and the use of UVC lights, as well as better and higher filtration.

And so, what we have nowadays in the non-healthcare environment is usually filters in the Merv 6 to Merv 8 range versus hospitals in the Merv 13 or 14, and in some instances higher than that. Same thing with outside air and air change rates. The hospital has higher quantities of both. And so that technology is out there, and the ability to provide that is out there, but it comes with a cost. So that’s where finding that balance of what makes sense for the building, and how the codes are going to adapt to this [matters]. So, the people per square foot, outdoor air quantities, along with better temperature and humidity control within those spaces, etc. Again, in the non-healthcare application, I do believe those type of changes are going to happen, and it’s mainly an implementation of that equipment, and those control strategies that are already in play. So, it’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel, or coming up with something new. We are just applying that technology and those strategies to more market sectors.

And I think what that will in turn entail, will be healthier non-healthcare buildings. That is, better indoor air quality for the non-healthcare environment, which will help owners with ….. or tenants, you know all the way down through whether they own the whole building or they rent a little space within the building. It will help them with sick days and hopefully the mental state of their employees to produce better at whatever operation they have going in that space. So, whether it’s an office environment, or a think tank, better indoor air quality will in turn – in theory – have better days present, less sick days and in turn have a better product that’s pushed out for whatever they’re producing.

Warehaus:
Well, no, I think you are spot on! And what is interesting, actually, is that I have a coworker and friend that does a presentation and talks about the design of your workspace and how it impacts employee morale, employee effectiveness and so on and so forth. And I’m hoping to have her on this and do a podcast with her at some point. But we also talked about well-design. I mean, you are hearing this come up, and in fact there is even a certification that is starting to be pushed on wellness design as it relates to everything you just said.

When we look at the technology, or the processes, tools and so on and so forth, that that exists to help with airflow, humidity, UV light and filters, I mean, all of these things have been in the healthcare space for, you know, for how long? I think we are definitely going to see a lot of re-purposing, and we, as architects and engineers certainly do our fair share of healthcare work, as well as K through 12 education and higher Education. And I think that, you know…time will tell… but the cost issue is going to definitely come up.

But you got to believe or wonder if codes are going to get rewritten and we’re going to repurpose those technologies that have historically been used in hospitals or healthcare systems and put them in to the planning and to design of auditoriums, theaters, dormitories, whatever, shopping malls and shopping centers. So, I really appreciate you sharing that. What you just shared, I think, is very relevant, and it’s going to be interesting to see where we go.

Adam Rickey:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s where there’s going to be, like you said, large gaps. Spaces that people are going to think about now as “Do I want to go to these spaces?”. And if these facilities can show that their indoor air quality is improved by some, or all of the things we just talked about, it may give the general public a better feeling, and more desire to attend that event or go to that location or go and do that activity with their friends and family. I think that is going to be the change that is going to occur from this. That is, indoor air quality.

I mean, we spend roughly speaking, what – 90% of our time indoors and you talk about ….for example – to put it in perspective – you go to the doctor to get your checkup and get your visit to understand if you’re in good health. You exercise because that is what helps you look and feel better. You go to, or you prepare meals that are more healthy because you know and understand what that looks like from a calorie standpoint. But where do you spend 90% of your time? Indoors! And you don’t ask, or quantify in some way, what that indoor air quality is! You just go into that building just like everyone else does. So, I think yeah! I think this pandemic is going to make it so people think about that a little bit more for their overall health since we do spend so much time indoors.

Warehaus:
Yeah, I agree. I agree. appreciate you sharing that. I guess as we have started to gradually re-open things here in Pennsylvania, as the nation looks forward to reopening the economy fully, what are – if any – alternative MEP strategies and building improvements owners should be considering as precautionary and mitigation efforts that will ensure the safety of workers and customers they serve? And we did answer a lot of that, just in our previous conversation, but anything else you think to add to that, as it relates to the question I just asked?

Adam Rickey:
Yeah, I think, from a re-opening standpoint, I mean, I think for building owners and people in these spaces, there is a preparation of the building itself, and for the workforce. There might be some level of social distance plans – the six foot rule changes coming. I mean, we have had buildings that are that are sitting you know, mostly are completely unoccupied. There is a building re-opening plan that needs to happen on the facility side for domestic water, for the air-handlers, in the air changes in the space, along with normal sanitary [efforts], sanitization and disinfection of hard surfaces, and surfaces that are touched often by people, you know, trying to clean up those touch points. But I think once you get past that, and you do open these buildings, I think there is an opportunity to implement some of those strategies like we talked about, or even just kind of having “spring cleaning” done with, perhaps, some retro- commissioning or validation of operation of their systems. This is from a preventative maintenance standpoint – running in tip-top shape or doing the best you can with the equipment you have, and trying to improve that indoor air quality as well…as individuals start to ask more of these questions and are concerned about the facilities that they are in. I mean, we did not address it earlier, but you know, pressurization is a bit of an issue. Again, in a non-healthcare environment pressurization is not talked about a whole lot. However, it is a concern in the design. And coming out of this, there may be opportunities to better control that in the non-healthcare environment along with the design of our spaces. Buildings are going to change like they did many years ago when we went to that open office space and closer working quarters. You know, this pandemic may change people’s thoughts on that and change the building layout and how people do work. So, I think there are several things to consider coming out of this, and what all that looks like is going to depend on the owner, the facility and the individuals in those spaces.

Warehaus:
Interesting! Yeah, it is going to be interesting to see. That is a great point. I did not even think about, open office spaces, which of course, is fantastic for real time collaboration among employees. And for different professions, getting together, just being able to easily grab each other to do a quick huddle… that matters. But that may be a consideration going forward. How about anything else that maybe I didn’t to ask or maybe we didn’t cover or you forgot? What else would you like to leave our audience with before we sign off?

Adam Rickey:
Oh, I think that our built environment, especially on the vertical building aspect, I think there is good news. There is a lot of technology out there that can be implemented or adapted to be more healthcare-light, so to speak, and help people feel comfortable. And that is what ASHRAE 55 on the mechanical end of things is – thermal comfort. But I think there is going to be more of built environment comfort and you know – we are not going to be able to design for every case – but I think that in our non-healthcare environments, there is a lot of technology, there is a lot of smart ways to implement them. There is a lot of options out there that can help make people feel safe and designing in a way to make people feel safe is absolutely obtainable. And the way to get there – with collaboration of design teams through virtual environments, and then helping the construction industry with virtual construction, clash detection and spool drawings for them, or fabrication drawings – is something that the design industry can accomplish easily. It is just working together as a team to get there, and helping with social distancing, streamlining these processes, and projects. I think it is well within the reach of all the technology that is there today, let alone what is to come. So, I think it is going to be a changed world, and in the vertical environment. But it isn’t night and day to what it is now fully attainable, and I look forward to what all that entails and [I’m] happy to be a part of it.

Warehaus:
Well, I’ll tell you, this has been awesome! I love what you shared. I can’t thank you enough, again for coming on here and sharing your insight. Why don’t you tell everyone how they can find you and how they can find KCI technologies?

Adam Rickey:
KCI technologies – our website is www.kci.com. And you can find me – Adam Rickey – on the KCI website along with my LinkedIn page. And yes, thank you for having me, Matt. I appreciate it. It has been great!

Warehaus:
Well, again, thank you and I look forward to catching up and connecting with you real time when this pandemic quarantine is over.

Adam Rickey:
Looking forward to it. Thank you, Matt.

Warehaus:
All right, buddy. Take Care.