Manufacturer focus: Designing labs, research buildings

Labs and research facilities house sensitive equipment and must maintain very rigid standards. Two manufacturers provide insights.
By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 28, 2013

Rick Hermans, Applications Director, Daikin McQuay. Courtesy: Dalkin McQuayVictor Neuman, Health Care/Lab Engineer, Schneider Electric. Courtesy: Schneider Electric

Participants

Rick Hermans, Applications Director, Daikin McQuay

Victor Neuman, Health Care/Lab Engineer, Schneider Electric


CSE: What tools or knowledge do engineering schools need to provide young engineers in order to successfully specify or design systems for labs? 

Daikin McQuay: Engineering schools must provide students with the fundamental physics, psychrometrics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer knowledge as it applies to HVAC in general. Architectural engineering schools provide more practical skills in how to put HVAC systems together in concept for laboratory applications, specifically with respect to ventilation and the relationship between hood exhaust, make-up air, and static pressure control.

Schneider Electric: I started in lab design in 1983 when I was hired by the visionary lab planner Earl Walls, who passed away in the last year. He was a proponent of lab "modularity." The only constant of scientific research is change. Teaching modularity in design allows laboratory building to adapt to changes in the building which are needed to account for advances in scientific methods.

CSE: What are some common missteps that engineers might make on a laboratory project? Any tips you can provide? 

Schneider Electric: In lab pressurization control, there is a common misstep of locating the variable air volume (VAV) duct with its pitot flow sensors too close to the takeoff from or to the supply duct or exhaust duct. Flow accuracy of this pitot sensor is not crucial in office buildings but it is vitally important to laboratory pressurization controls. While more accurate sensors are recommended, if you are using pitot flow sensors in your lab, it is imperative that there be at least three duct diameters of straight duct at the inlet of the pitot and one duct diameter of straight duct at the exit of the pitot flow sensor. Many engineers feel that straight duct is not necessary when using venturi valves. However, our work with commissioning agents have made us very aware that even with venturi valves it may be required to have a length of straight duct for the commissioner to insert a removable pitot tube in order to certify the venturi valve’s performance.

Daikin McQuay: Too many designs are overly complicated. They use exotic equipment and controls when more simple designs will suffice. Labs are special, to be sure, but they can be solved with simple designs that are understandable, effective, and efficient. One tip would be to pay attention to the building envelope, especially the interior walls which are critical elements in maintaining static pressure control between spaces.

CSE: Please describe a recent lab project you’ve worked on—share problems you’ve encountered, how you’ve solved them, and aspects of the project you’re especially proud of. 

Daikin McQuay: One past project was interesting and instructional from an academic perspective. The lab spaces were laid out in 10-ft modules with moveable partitions. The ventilation had to be flexible to accommodate various future revisions of lab space along these modules. The solution was a common vertical plenum space which served both as an air recirculation corridor and a utility corridor with connections of utilities in the same 10-ft intervals. 

Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric recently completed a major animal breeding facility in Asia that was particularly complex. The engineer had specified that the entrance airlocks to each major animal holding room were to have five cascading pressure levels. This was accomplished to everyone’s satisfaction with a cooperative effort of the consulting engineer, owner, commissioning agent, and Schneider Electric as the building automation provider. In addition, the system was required to monitor and log pressure readings at each point every second.

CSE: When designing a lab that is part of a multi-use building (such as in a hospital or university building), what unique challenges do you have?

Schneider Electric: The challenge in a university lab is balancing the open environment of a university with the security needed for scientific research. Scientists appreciate large open plan labs, but this is a challenge when planning the airflow containment and pressurization control.

Daikin McQuay: If a lab is not a single, purpose-built structure, you are constrained by the architecture of the other functions in the building. Since labs have unique ventilation requirements, you spend a lot of time trying to accomplish those ventilation designs in an architecture not meant for them. The most obvious of these is the fume hood exhaust system.

CSE: Describe your involvement in a recent integrated project delivery (IPD) lab project or research facility. 

Daikin McQuay: The role was as owner’s representative. The duties were to write requests for proposal and to assist in the selection of the IPD team members, negotiating the common contract, and providing owners input on the design development. Since the lab was so unique that neither the owner nor the design team had ever done one before, the design process was a journey of discovery that couldn’t have been accomplished with any other project delivery process.

CSE: Provide details about a recent lab project in which your company’s controls were specified. What unusual problems did these controls solve?

Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric recently completed energy upgrades at 13 buildings at North Carolina State University (NCSU) through an energy saving performance contract. One of those buildings was a chemistry laboratory, Dabney Hall. One hundred eleven fume hoods were converted from constant volume to variable volume and linked to a central building automation system (BAS). NCSU expects the total energy savings to exceed the cost of the performance contract. With an annual utility bill of more than $30 million, every bit of energy savings helps. For example, the university expects improvements in Dabney Hall’s research labs to yield 20% in energy savings for the entire project.

CSE: What types of integrated systems have clients requested recently? Describe the control systems, and how they were integrated?

Schneider Electric: On current Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) projects, it has been clear that our clients need better integration with the hardware and software of the specialty door systems. Almost everything about these projects is restricted, but better sub-system integration is a key area to achieving safety, security, and reliability. The two major door systems in use at BSL-4 are submarine type doors with turning wheels and also doors with pressurized bladders that inflate and deflate. 

CSE: What renewable electrical system projects have you recently provided products for? Describe the electrical/power systems, renewable energy issues, etc. 

Schneider Electric: I had the privilege of being on the authoring committee when Labs21 put together its EPC criteria for labs. Both that standard and the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system put an increasing emphasis on providing greater and greater percentages of renewable energy to the lab building. The main lesson learned in this area is that first you aggressively save energy with conservation. This makes your job of providing greater percentages of the building’s power through renewable energy more cost effective. 

CSE: Labs21 is working to make labs and research facilities more sustainable. What’s your experience with electrical/power projects that use Labs21 as a guide? 

Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric has been very active with Labs21 for more than 10 years as members, speakers, trainers, sponsors, and co-authors of papers and best practices. The current guidance from Labs21 on reducing "vampire" loads and accurately predicting plug loads for lab buildings has helped improve some of our current projects. 

CSE: What standby or back-up power systems are engineers and their clients requesting? Describe a recent project. 

Schneider Electric: The emphasis at Schneider Electric for back-up power systems for labs has been adding automation specifically for operating the emergency generators. This software suite can diagnose and predict future faults for maintenance before a shut-down occurs. The emergency generator is the one piece of equipment which is never allowed to fail.

CSE: What unique fire, life safety, or security issues have you tackled? Describe the project.

Schneider Electric: The biggest challenges have been integrating security as well as fire and life safety in our current Biosafety Level 4 projects. The amount of redundancy and reliability built-in is 10 times more complex than a BSL-3 or BSL-2 project.

CSE: Describe a recent college or university teaching lab project. What were the challenges and solutions?

Schneider Electric: The biggest challenges have been integrating security as well as fire and life safety in our current Biosafety Level 4 projects. The amount of redundancy and reliability built-in is ten times more complex than a BSL-3 or BSL-2 project.

CSE: What building envelope challenges have you tackled in a recent lab or research facility? Define the problem and solution.

Schneider Electric: The biggest challenges in every area are on our BSL-4 lab buildings. Leakage and building envelope issues go hand in hand. As building automation providers, we must work closely with technically versed architects, engineers and commissioning agents work to execute these immensely complex projects.

CSE: When working in labs, what types of projects have been driven by new requirements in ASHRAE Standard 62.1, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality? What challenging projects have you worked on?

Daikin McQuay: Standard 62.1 has considerable influence on lab projects due to the increased need for energy efficiency and the design challenges of ventilation in lab design. Any lab project with Class 2, 3, or 4 air streams will need to carefully review the requirements of 62.1 for the potential of heat recovery.

CSE: Describe a unique fume hood project—describe the goals, challenges, and your product’s success. 

Schneider Electric: We are currently studying a pharmaceutical building with fume hoods for an energy upgrade. The project team is considering fume hood interior retrofits. In an ideal installation, the aerodynamics of each fume hood is improved such that safety is improved even as the energy use is reduced. The usual goal is to drop the minimum inflow velocity from 100 fpm to 60 fpm.

CSE: When working in facilities that have BSL-3 and BSL-4 containment, what unique systems or products do you provide? Describe a recent BSL facility. 

Schneider Electric: We are currently in design and construction on multiple BSL-4 facilities in the U.S. and overseas. Like race cars help companies design the family car, designing BSL-4 labs help us in designing BSL-3 and BSL-2 labs. One of the results of doing such complex buildings as BSL-4 is Schneider Electric’s TVDA approach. Ten years ago, many third-party systems like fire and life safety where integrated in the field for each building. The current approach of TVDA is to test, validate, and document each architecture in the test lab prior to installation in the field. This has led to quicker installation with higher quality and lower cost. This especially applies to integrating systems from third party providers into an overall building automation framework.