How to engineer manufacturing, industrial buildings: Codes and standards

Manufacturing and industrial facilities can be particularly complex projects, involving large facilities containing behemoth machinery, hazardous chemicals, and a range of other concerns. Engineers must adhere to local, national, and international codes and standards.


C. Erik Larson, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Industrial Systems, Wood Harbinger, Bellevue, Wash.Ronald R. Regan, PE, Principal, Triad Consulting Engineers, Morris Plains, N.J.John Schlagetter, NCARB, PMP, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED Green Associate, Senior Architect, Process Plus, CincinnatiWallace Sims, SET, NICET Fire Alarm Level IV, Lead Life Safety Engineer, CH2M Hill, Portland, Ore.

  • C. Erik Larson, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Industrial Systems, Wood Harbinger, Bellevue, Wash.
  • Ronald R. Regan, PE, Principal, Triad Consulting Engineers, Morris Plains, N.J.
  • John Schlagetter, NCARB, PMP, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED Green Associate, Senior Architect, Process Plus, Cincinnati
  • Wallace Sims, SET, NICET Fire Alarm Level IV, Lead Life Safety Engineer, CH2M Hill, Portland, Ore.

The engineering team worked on an industrial facility including a central heating/cooling plant at the University of Oregon. All graphics courtesy: Wood HarbingerCSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use as a guide as you work on these facilities?

Sims: We employ International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC), and NFPA 1, 2, 3, 11, 14, 16, 70, 92, 101, and 318.

Schlagetter: We use international codes, state-adapted I-Codes, 21 CFR 110 (food), and 21 CFR 210 (drugs).

Larson: International codes such as IFC and IBC, NFPA, U.S. Green Building Council LEED guidelines, Dept. of Defense Unified Facilities Criteria, and ASHRAE standards are just some of those that come into play. The owner’s own process is what really provides the highest level of framework that provides the best guidance on how the MEP systems come together to meet their needs.

Regan: As an electrical engineer and a consultant, 90% of the time I am referencing NFPA 70: National Electric Code. However, depending on the project, I may be looking at Energy Star Guidelines or NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, or working on refineries that each have their very own volumes of standards. The same is true for our mechanical engineers who constantly refer to ASHRAE and the IBC.

CSE: Have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, etc., affected your work on manufacturing/industrial facility projects? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Regan: We constantly have clients approach us and ask what they need to do to get Energy Star or what it would take to get USGBC LEED Platinum. I believe the development of these programs, especially within the past 5 years, has been phenomenal in reducing power consumption and promoting renewable energy and sustainable design. As far as negative aspects go, I would say that the importance of certain measures compared to others in terms of energy savings or sustainability is sometimes not captured in the existing LEED scoring or rating systems.

Larson: Every industry is pushing toward a higher level of sustainability in construction, and they are all trying to reduce energy and operating costs where this doesn’t offer risk in upsetting the facility process. In the manufacturing and industrial environment, the potential cost impact to the owner really comes from potential interruptions in the manufacturing or process activities. It’s critical that every sustainable design measure takes this into account, and doesn’t go green just for the sake of getting points under one of these rating systems. What the sustainable design movement has done is increase the awareness of people and the availability of products that can accomplish these goals without risk of upsetting the process.

Sims: We are consistently asked to produce more energy-efficient designs even though the life safety systems are in general low-energy systems in comparison to mechanical, power, or lighting systems. In order to produce more efficient designs we must incorporate the latest technologies (latest-generation fire alarm power supplies, LED notification appliances, etc.). This can be a challenging task in retrofit and expansion projects because of the need to interface and maintain compatibility with existing systems. We must do a convincing job of selling the advantages to upgrading the systems both in terms of long-term operating costs, fewer power supplies needed, energy savings, and end-of-life issues for older but functional existing systems.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities?

Larson: Ventilation codes are oftentimes the most difficult, but when it comes to industrial and manufacturing facilities, sometimes what’s really important is the intent of the code. Most challenges can be mitigated easily if you’re not afraid to contact the code official or authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) and discuss the challenges before going down the path toward detailed design. If you engage them and get buy-in before the construction starts, there’s a much greater opportunity for success.

Sims: The mechanical codes that require shutdown of air handling systems in such facilities on the detection of particles of combustion require careful application. The airflow scheme is essential to the proper operation of a semiconductor facility. The loss of clean air and positive pressure can ruin millions of dollars in product. One sure way of preventing a shutdown of the facility due to a false alarm is through the implementation of a manual smoke control system. This requires that a highly trained and competently staffed life safety team be available 24 hours a day to react to and implement the response that is appropriate for the detected emergency. The manual shutdown by the trained emergency response team after confirming that a real incident has occurred removes the need for mechanical system automatic shutdown. This prevents less than reliable technologies (that the codes require us to use) from providing the mechanical system shutdown, such as duct smoke detectors.

Schlagetter: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines, and balancing the specifics of job design that don’t require accessibility with the general requirements to provide accessible employee work areas and paths of travel.

Regan: One of the most prevalent issues we encounter regarding codes and standards is compliance with arc flash requirements in the NFPA documents and with OSHA. NFPA 70: National Electric Code and NFPA 70E: Electrical Safety in the Workplace have been rapidly escalating their requirements for arc flash compliance as there are many injuries and deaths reported each year attributed to arc flash incidents. The paramount reason for this being challenging is that people are unaware of how the changes affect their facility. It is not as simple as sticking on generic “arc flash hazard” labels as we could have done several years ago. A detailed system analysis must be performed to calculate specific incident energy values to determine the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure safety of personnel when working on energized equipment. Often we encounter a project and point this out and nothing is done until the local inspector won’t let the facility energize a panel or switchboard because a full arc flash study has not been performed.

CSE: Do you find codes affecting manufacturing/industrial facility structures to be more or less taxing than those impacting work on other building types?

Larson: For the most part, industrial and manufacturing areas are large, wide open spaces. This provides several challenges, but the biggest is in making sure there is adequate egress from everywhere in the plant. Egress must be a major consideration in most facilities like this, and it will guide many of the decisions that affect the layout of equipment and spaces within the building. Another challenge for the MEP engineer is ensuring adequate ventilation air is delivered to personnel throughout the building. This is especially challenging when workspaces are literally hundreds of feet from an outside wall, and distances to roof intakes can be on the order of 100 ft or more.

Regan: There are specific criteria that need to be addressed for manufacturing and industrial facilities, such as NEC Article 670 for industrial machinery or Article 409 for industrial control panels; however, every facility normally has its own set of additional requirements. I would not call the work necessarily more taxing, but there are certainly more items to consider. Depending on the specific processes at the facility, NFPA 101: Life Safety Code requirements can be more complicated, and IEEE has the entire red book (Standard 141), more than 700 pages, dedicated to distribution within these types of facilities. Hazardous area classification, for example, can require explosion-proof equipment, purging, or raised air intake stacks to meet specific regulations.

Sims: The codes impacting F occupancies (factories) are not strict enough. Bringing a fire alarm up to F Occupancy standards is relatively easy and will result in most instances with a sprinkler monitoring system, with or without full notification depending on occupant load. If the building is being used for production processes that involve high-value tools or high-value product and the process needs to incorporate large utility loads, an early warning smoke detection system (such as VESDA) should be employed. This is preferable to having sprinkler water flowing on to tools and product. However, this exceeds code and it is a hard sell to convince the owner. One tactic is to have the underwriter weigh in on the issue. However, this takes a degree of diplomacy and should be approached cautiously. The best result is obtained by convincing the owner of the value of protecting its investment.

Schlagetter: I find them more taxing in regard to requirements for occupant loads, egress, and toilet fixtures. The codes tend to assume more person-intensive work than modern industry requires, particularly in distribution and warehousing, so we often have to substantiate reduced occupant loads and plumbing fixture needs to avoid unnecessary costs.

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