Exploring retail, restaurant, and mixed-use facilities: Automation, controls, and technology

Consumers increasingly want a great experience and a good value when they’re dining out or shopping—and that desire is reflected in the demands of engineers assigned to design automation, controls and technology in retail, restaurant, and mixed-use projects.
By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 29, 2018

Top row: Dale Adney, Juan L. Castro, Eric Graettinger. Bottom row: Robert A. Kamm, Bradley D. Williams. Courtesy: RTM Engineering, Thorson • Baker + Associates, Peter Basso, KAMM Consulting, Bala Consulting EngineersRespondents


CSE: From your experience, what MEP or fire protection systems within such projects are benefiting from automation that previously might not have?

Adney: Lighting controls offer major appeal.

Graettinger: HVAC system automation varies between retail and restaurant. It is difficult to implement in restaurants due to the potential of giving the operator immediate access to change or control setpoints of water or air temperature. Making the systems more complex to monitor and control, in some cases, has limited the operator’s ability to make changes quickly or override settings if needed. If a space suddenly starts to feel too warm or too cold, the operator wants to be able to make a change immediately, which may require access to the equipment’s front-end controls. However, the operator interface is typically password-protected and has several layers the operator may have to go through before they get to the graphics page that is used to make the changes. Overall, building automation complicates the operator interface and makes quick changes challenging.

RTM provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEP/FP) engineering for the 12-story, mixed-use 20 Fulton East tower in Grand Rapids, Mich. Courtesy: RTM Engineering ConsultantsCSE: Cybersecurity and vulnerability is an increasing concern. Are you encountering worry/resistance around wireless technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) as the prevalence of such features increases? How are you responding to these concerns?

Graettinger: Owners, facility managers, engineers, and designers are all expressing concern with wireless technology regarding cybersecurity. Everyone is aware of the cyberattack involving Target, and those questions come up during project discussions. Not every wireless control system approaches security the same. It is important to investigate each manufacturer and get specific details on how they value and implement security. Staying informed and being diligent for our clients is important because technology is constantly changing.

CSE: Is your team using BIM in conjunction with the architects, trades, and owners to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM model to the owner for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification.

Williams: BIM has been playing an increasing role in the design of MEP systems. We are seeing the life of the BIM being extended throughout the project’s lifespan including design and construction for the owners use. Owners now realize the benefit of implementing BIM to increase interdisciplinary coordination and ultimately decrease project costs by providing a well-coordinated design and more efficient construction process. Furthermore, there is the added benefit of the potential to export the information contained within the BIM model to "information sets" to track key operations information for the life of the asset.

Castro: We began using BIM as a design tool very early (2007), so we have a great process in place. Since Thorson Baker + Associates is a multidisciplinary (structural, MEP, civil, technology, commissioning) firm, the process to coordinate with the architect is seamless. However, I will say that I’m surprised that not many owners or trades are interested in taking the model to the next level. BIM is certainly a great coordination tool, but it has so much more that it can do. We just have to find a better way to convince the owners of all the benefits.