MEP Roundtable: Industrial strength

Manufacturing and industrial structures can have wide-ranging engineering needs, depending on the processes conducted inside.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 13, 2012


CSE: When starting out on a manufacturing/industrial facility, what are some of the questions you need to ask early in the project?

Michael Chow: It is important to develop the owner’s project requirements (OPR) and the basis of design (BOD). Questions to be asked early in the project include: Is the project going for U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification? Is U.S. EPA Energy Star a requirement? Is commissioning a requirement?

Jonathan M. Eisenberg: One of the first pieces of information to learn is the process description, starting with the incoming raw materials (how they are delivered, stored, and transferred into the batch or continuous process areas of the facility). The next step of our study of the process is to understand the conditions. Is this a chemical synthesis or simply a mixing process? What are the temperature and pressure conditions? What is the duration of the process and what role does the operations staff play? Is there a purification and/or drying step, and how is the final product packaged and stored?

Jason R. Gerke: The most important piece of information to obtain when starting an industrial project, or any project for that matter, is to find out from the end client what it wants to achieve with this project. Defining and understanding the client’s project goal is the most important piece of information you will document during a project.

Timothy E. Kuhlman: Similar to the components of any good story, you need to know the basics of what, where, when, how, and, of course, what the budget is. An established manufacturer will know most of these prior to contacting an architectural/engineering (A/E ) firm. A startup company may need more time understanding the design process or possibly the scaling up of its own manufacturing process. As the A/E I need to know what you want to manufacture and how much of it you want to make. Do you have a manufacturing process and is it scaled for the output you are targeting? Have you selected a site and have an understanding of the local permitting and taxes? When do you want the new factory to start up? Have you established a design, construction, and tool budget? Do you have funding?

CSE: Please describe a recent 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.

Eisenberg: We are currently working on the fire suppression system design for a new industrial/chemical facility. The project has required us to use our knowledge of foam/water suppression techniques and apply them to both external and internal tank protection on a large site. We needed to quickly develop an understanding of the many unit operations and processes at the facility. We are proud to bring the depth of our technical talent from multiple RJA offices together to deliver a valuable design that allowed the project to move forward.

CSE: What are some common missteps that engineers might make on a manufacturing/industrial facility project? Any lessons that you’ve learned?

Kuhlman: Once you have answered the basic project questions for a new facility, it is necessary to take the time to identify with the client the goals of the project. This goes beyond setting target dates and spending budgets. Through the use of a chartering session you can document the other goals and priorities of a client. For example, is the client targeting this project for LEED certification? What are the client’s criteria for considering this a successful project? What is the client’s perception of a quality design? Answering these questions at the beginning of the design process can make a difference in whether a client believes you have provided them a quality design. This comes down to communication. Our client has a corporate culture, and so do we. The time spent between our client and our design team in the project charting will help us to communicate.

Gerke: I see many engineers going into industrial facilities with the mind-set with rule-of-thumb estimates and “that’s how we have always done it” attitudes. It is a real disappointment to see that happen and wonder at what point the client will become frustrated with the results. My goal is listen to what clients have to say about their project goals and then strategize a game plan to help them achieve their goals in the most energy efficient and cost effective way. It is my objective whenever meeting a new industrial client to find out what the client actually wants to accomplish with the current project.

Eisenberg: Every industrial project is different, even if it may seem quite similar to a past job. We need to ask the same questions and look for those subtle differences that always seem to translate into unique fire protection and process safety features.


CSE: When working on such facilities outside the U.S., what differences, challenges, or best practices have you observed?

Kuhlman: There are the obvious language and cultural differences. We are often asked by a U.S. manufacturer to replicate a manufacturing facility in another country. A client may not understand that the level of detail in the design we show for a facility in the U.S. may need to be greater or less for a given system in foreign country. For example, on a project where we replicated a manufacturing facility in China, the U.S. design for the automation network cabling would typically show each network port, the cable plant layout, cable tray layout, and communication rooms all in 1/8-in. plan drawings. For the same facility in China, the system would be issued as a performance specification with a system one-line but no communication system plan drawings since the vendor is expected to do the detail design. In this case it has to be discussed with the client up front, do the client want a U.S. level of detail design in a foreign country or is it looking for a competitively locally produced design?

Eisenberg: We need to get alignment from the design team on the applicable codes and standards and obtain English translations. If we do not have a local office, we look to retain local engineers that are able to assist in analyzing the requirements, speak the native language, and attend meetings as needed. We turn to these resources to review our reports so we don’t miss anything that may be specific to the local country or regional codes.

CSE: What factors do you need to take into account when designing BAS and controls for a manufacturing/industrial facility?

Gerke: The design engineer needs to determine how the end users will make use of the information that is available to them through the proposed automation system. Defining how the client will use the information it can obtain through the control system will direct the design engineer down the path to a happy client. So many clients will ask for an automation system or say they want a full direct digital control (DDC) system. However, really, the client simply needs a system that will schedule equipment run times/setpoints and will provide alarms if critical situations occur. Working with the client on what is actually important and whether it will really be able to use the information obtained through the DDC system will save the client money now and in the long run.

Eisenberg: A key is to understand and document how the controls and interlocks will function and what will occur when they are activated. What are the alarm points? Who responds to an alarm and what is the response protocol? Is the local fire department notified and the plant evacuated?

CSE: What are some common problems you encounter when working on such systems?

Gerke: One very common issue I see is that the system requirements are defined by a high-level manager who is not the everyday user of the DDC or energy management system. This management-level person uses the buzzwords of the day to say we need to have “this,” go procure it. However, I have seen situations where management has excellent goals and they actually receive the system they wanted, only to end up with a facility engineer who is not trained to operate the system. It is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Organizations need to realize that the best way to get the most out of their fancy new control system is to make sure the users are trained on how to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities.

Eisenberg: The detection and controls need to match the specific hazard. For example, if we are specifying a flame detector and interlocks for hydrogen dispensing, the detector must be capable of seeing the hydrogen flame in multiple bands of the ultraviolet/infrared (UV/IR) spectrum, several of which are not visible. I recall one project where a flame detector based on heptane was about to be installed in a hydrogen fueling area.

CSE: What new automation systems are plant managers or controls engineers requesting in these facilities?

Kuhlman: We are seeing an increase in the use of industrial Ethernet. It used to be where Ethernet was only used in connectivity above the programmable logic controller (PLC) for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Communication from the PLC down to the I/O was some form of deterministic proprietary communications protocol established by the PLC vendor. We are seeing where industrial Ethernet is replacing the proprietary deterministic communications.

Gerke: We are currently involved with a client that has requested a wireless sensor-based control system due to the size of the plant. The request for this wireless system is based on perceived savings from elimination of a wired control system. There are a number of concerns with a wireless system in a factory setting, one being other wireless signals in the manufacturing facility and another issue of will any of the manufacturing equipment produce frequencies or create false signals while operating.

CSE: In these facilities, how often do you act as a system integrator, and what’s your role? Describe a recent project.

Eisenberg: We conduct a site visit to review controls and interlocks and verify that they meet the requirements of our code analysis. Also, we want to witness the acceptance testing of these systems, and confirm that they are consistent with the sequence of operations that we recommended.

Kuhlman: For, the projects I have visibility to, I would estimate we are self-performing the system integration on 40% of the projects. There is still a mind-set with some clients that the system integration work is something that should be bid out separately from the rest of the A/E design services. Since we designed the control system for a facility, we believe we are best suited to understand the intent of the design for integration in the facility. The system integration work can be a measurable amount of project revenue. Often when competitively bidding on a project, we may choose to exclude this work if not specifically requested in the request for proposal (RFP) to avoid placing our bid at a financial disadvantage.

CSE: Which aspect of codes and standards has presented the most challenges or obstacles?

Kuhlman: In the manufacturing of semiconductors, the types and quantities of hazardous production materials can have an effect on the occupancy classification of the building. In turn this can affect the design of the building and systems. In leading-edge technologies it is not uncommon to see new chemistries not yet comprehended by the codes or by the local jurisdiction enforcing the codes. We go through a process with the factory owner, the local jurisdiction, and the underwriter for all parties to comprehend the hazardous production materials in the factory along with design and operation of the facility.

Eisenberg: There are many codes and standards on the chemical process side that are not well-known and understood. One of our roles is to identify the applicable code for a specific industrial process (e.g., NFPA 86 for ovens and furnaces) and help a facility understand how it applies to its situation.

CSE: Can you name a recent challenge you encountered in these facilities, and how you worked to overcome it?

Kuhlman: I was working on the design for a new semiconductor manufacturing facility. Our client was using an older factory as a reference model and we were scaling up the manufacturing process from the older model. One of the problems we had was in the old factory design—a code variance was required for the automation cabling to be terminated in the cable tray. The local jurisdiction considered this an insignificant issue being that it dealt with power limited circuits. The issue had more significance when trying to replicate the factory in other jurisdictions. You can’t assume any two jurisdictions will look at a variance issue the same way. We consulted with our client and developed a new network automation design for it that was fully code compliant and required no variance. Our client was reluctant to change from the older factory model that worked for it but came to realize that in order to make the replication of the factory easier, it was best to start with minimal code variances.

Eisenberg: We did the code consulting work for a facility that has been in operation for 35 years, as a successful family-run business. The challenge was to convince the owners that today’s codes are more specific and at times more restrictive than decades ago. These present-day requirements apply to the client’s newly designed facility and we did a good job of educating the client on why these fire protection and life safety features are needed.

CSE: What’s the most important factor to keep in mind when wrestling with codes/standards issues in a manufacturing facility?

Kuhlman: The local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has to understand and be comfortable that the new facility will meet its requirements and be code compliant. A manufacturing or industrial facility can be very complex. A company deciding to open a new manufacturing facility in a small town can sound like blessing to the local workforce, but it can also be a nightmare for a local jurisdiction or fire marshal to comprehend the complexities of the facility and the applicable codes. Often third-party consulting services for the jurisdiction are required to bolster the local permitting processes. As the design firm for the new factory, it is necessary to be constantly engaged with the jurisdiction and its permitting or code consultant such that when it is time to grant operational readiness to the factory, there are no outstanding code issues.

Eisenberg: It is important to know that a facility may not be able to implement all of the applicable code requirements immediately or even in the first year after a survey or audit. As consultants, one of the most important tasks is to help categorize our recommendations into priorities, so facility managers can put together a multiyear compliance plan. Also, our findings need to be in a form that is useful for the facility—i.e., (1) code requirement, (2) how it applies to the specific site condition, and (3) our recommended solution. Simply put, a code summary with no context or recommended solutions is of little use to a plant manager.

CSE: What’s the one factor most commonly overlooked in electrical and power systems in such facilities?

Chow: Proper arc-flash training and procedures are often overlooked. We heard of an arc-flash that occurred on a project that had a 480-V panelboard left energized with its cover off. A painter got too close to the panel and an arc-flash occurred, resulting in injuries.

Kuhlman: In a manufacturing/industrial facility it is important to perform a circuit breaker coordination study. Due to the critical nature of the manufacturing process or the cost impact to the interruption of manufacturing, it is important that an electrical fault is isolated at the source without unnecessarily impacting other systems.

Eisenberg: There should be a clear agreement on what systems should be on emergency or standby power, and for how long.

CSE: What types of products do you most commonly specify in manufacturing/industrial facilities, and why?

Eisenberg: We get involved in many hazardous electrical classification studies and assist in solving challenging issues where equipment may not be able to be procured as Class I or II, Division 1 or 2, and meet the requirements of Article 500 of the National Electrical Code.

Chow: Lightning protection, surge suppression devices, UPS, and generators are specified in manufacturing/industrial facilities. These devices are important as they contribute to providing clean uninterrupted power.

CSE: How have sustainability requirements affected how you approach electrical systems?

Kuhlman: One of the largest costs to manufacturing is the cost of energy. Therefore, these types of facilities would typically have some degree of power monitoring to help them in understanding their energy use. There continues to be progress in the industry to reduce energy usage in lighting systems. This is being achieved in implementing lighting controls and new products for efficient lighting.

Chow: Energy efficiency is an important part of a sustainable facility. Lighting controls are important in reducing energy consumption. Our firm commissioned a large distribution center with over 2,000 lighting fixtures each with their own occupancy sensor. The cost savings with using occupancy sensors was tremendous compared to leaving the lights on 24/7/365. More LED lighting fixtures are being specified due to their long life (up to 50,000 hours), and in LEDs there are not any toxins such as the mercury found in fluorescent lamps. Also, LEDs are able to be switched on and off continuously without shortening their life; fluorescent lamp life is decreased if the lamp is switched on and off frequently (e.g., with an occupancy sensor).

Eisenberg: On laboratory ventilation systems, for example, we are often faced with questions on the number of air changes required in occupied and unoccupied modes. There may be acceptable methods for maintaining employee and facility safety, while addressing some of the sustainability challenges.

CSE: When commissioning electrical/power systems in such facilities, what issues do you face?

Kuhlman: It is not uncommon for our clients to include in the commissioning requirements for us to field verify such things as power system circuiting or that the wire gauge matches the design. To do this requires our field personnel to observe panels with the covers removed. The issue with this is personnel safety. Our field personnel are typically engineers and designers that were part of the design team. They are not electricians. However, they too need to be trained in arc flash safety, how to recognize and validate a de-energized panel before they start the field verification work.

Chow: It is difficult to find qualified commissioning agents for electrical and power systems. Lighting controls (e.g., light sensors) are frequently not calibrated correctly from the factory and/or installed incorrectly.

CSE: What trends and technologies have affected changes in fire detection/suppression systems in manufacturing/industrial facilities?

Eisenberg: There are more specific gas and flame detectors available than in the past, which enables us to specify additional methods. Also, for some of the water-reactive chemicals, there are automatic suppression systems now available. Lastly, technologies such as water mist suppression have been a welcome addition for facilities that need to contain and treat sprinkler discharge.

CSE: What are some important factors to consider when designing a fire and life safety system in such a facility? What aspects often get overlooked?

Eisenberg: Many facilities have multiple chemical processes that may each have a different set of hazard criteria. What this means is that the fire suppression systems for adjacent areas in a plant may also be different. We need to be aware of these conditions and take care to not specify a system that may interfere with the effectiveness of a nearby system.

CSE: In what ways can the type of product being manufactured in the facility affect the structure’s design and fire suppression systems?

Eisenberg: For example, a facility that handles pyrophoric gases will likely require a Group H-2 occupancy classification per the International Building Code (IBC). The corresponding fire resistance (construction type) of the building will be impacted. Also, the best suppression method may be to shut off the gas flow via interlock with a detection system.

CSE: In high-voltage electrical systems, how do you help mitigate arc flash? What techniques or systems are you specifying?

Chow: Specify arc-proof switchgear. Control equipment (e.g., PLCs) should be located in separate enclosures and not be located with 480 V equipment. Also, follow the NEC Article 250.36 on High-Impedance Grounding systems for systems with 480 to 1000 V.

CSE: What sustainability issues concern your manufacturing clients?

Gerke: One of the most prevalent issues I have seen is water use. There are so many older existing factories with city water-cooled equipment still in operation. Most of these manufacturers are attempting to reduce water use not from a monetary savings point of view, but rather from the angle of this is the right thing to do. Many manufacturers will then market the fact they have reduced water use in their facilities. Water use reduction importance will vary from point to point in this country and may count for even more in other parts of the world.

Kuhlman: The issues concerning manufacturing have more to do with their resources and materials for manufacturing than the facility we are designing. The facility is still a concern, but unlike commercial or institutional facilities, the highest monthly costs for manufacturing will be from resources and manufacturing and not the facility operations. We will consult with our clients on whether the use of a manufacturing material will have an impact on the design or operation of the facility. For example, the manufacturing choice for an etching process may have an impact on the waste treatment process. We would consult with our client if the process it selected meets the project sustainability goals.

Chow: Several manufacturing clients are demanding LEED certification, and some require a minimum of LEED Silver certification.

Eisenberg: We field many questions these days on supply and exhaust ventilation requirements, and how they match up with sustainability goals.

CSE: Do you think sustainability ever takes a back seat to other considerations?

Kuhlman: I believe there are times when sustainability does not have the highest priority. Each manufacturer weighs the balance of what it needs to do to be a successful business and what it can do to integrate sustainability in the manufacturing process, operational practices, and the design of its facilities.

Chow: The upfront incremental costs of sustainable products (e.g., LED lighting fixtures) can influence an owner’s decision to go with green products. Many owners perceive LEED certification to be high-cost and elect not to pursue LEED certification.

Gerke: Absolutely. I have worked with multiple clients that do not want to hear about making a project more environmentally friendly or sustainable if that solution involves something they do not completely understand. Manufacturing clients will continue to be unreceptive to sustainable design concepts if they think the solution could possibly endanger production of their product. Client education on these issues will go a long way to help the client realize what it can gain by considering most sustainable features in its projects.

Eisenberg: We do see some cultural misconceptions that “green” is equivalent to “safe.” For example, a biofuel facility may have very similar flammable liquid hazards to a conventional fuels plant, even though the biofuels are aqueous-based and made from sustainable sources.

CSE: Are you seeing increased demand for sustainable building features in manufacturing/industrial facilities? Has the economy affected this?

Kuhlman: When the “green building” initiative such as LEED was developed, I don’t think they had manufacturing or industrial facilities in mind. However, we are seeing some of our clients press for LEED certification for their semiconductor manufacturing facilities or industrial facilities. I haven’t seen where the current state of the economy has impacted this. The current business culture is that sustainability is good for business and good for corporate image.

Eisenberg: We are seeing this trend more in our commercial and higher education laboratory work. On the industrial/chemical side, the focus is more on the hazards involved, although occasionally we field questions on sustainable materials for finishes in areas such as clean rooms.

CSE: Do you see retrofitting existing structures to be more sustainable as especially challenging?

Eisenberg: Yes, especially where we may have challenges just achieving building and fire code compliance.

Gerke: There are so many advantages to reusing existing structure, either to update or repurpose the building. The energy savings of not procuring so many of the building materials from the building envelope to the skeleton save untold amounts of embodied energy. Of course, new shiny and modern-looking structures are the sexy part of the building design and construction industry, but existing buildings are the large core of our market. We need to work together as an industry of building design and construction professionals to tackle projects which reuse existing buildings and work to overcome the challenges with these projects that are often more complex than a new ground-up project.

CSE: What unique requirements do manufacturing HVAC systems have that you wouldn’t encounter on other structures?

Chow: Manufacturing HVAC systems may need to exhaust fumes, vapors, or mists from oil. Also, dust collection may be a requirement.

Eisenberg: There are often requirements for dedicated exhaust systems from certain areas of the facility, with complications around the routing of the exhaust to the outdoors. Some areas need low supply and exhaust to get a complete air change for vapors that are heavier than air.

CSE: Do HVAC systems in manufacturing facilities tend to have more, or fewer, high-tech features than in other structures?

Eisenberg: These systems are definitely more complicated, as “hazardous exhaust” carries many requirements that are different from general building exhaust.

Gerke: This really depends on your clients and their processes. I have had multiple clients who want sophisticated and high-end control systems and others what want bare-bones local control technology. I believe the biggest factor for incorporating high-tech controls into any industrial project relates to how educated is the client on energy use and monitoring. One of the largest advantages to a high-tech control system is the ability to trend equipment operating conditions and find ways to reduce run time, temperature, or the amount of work a system is doing. The result of this reduction is energy savings and money in the pocket of the owner.

CSE: Describe a challenging indoor air quality project you worked on recently. What were the problems and solutions?

Eisenberg: We are working with clients on lab exhaust monitoring, to evaluate the safety and compliance of potentially reducing the number of air changes in lab general exhaust. We performed vapor calculations in several worst-case spill scenarios to check the lab room concentrations versus 25% of the lower flammable limit (LFL).

CSE: How can automated features and remote HVAC system control benefit these clients?

Gerke: An automated HVAC control system is able to benefit end users in many ways. Take for example the “run to failure” operator. The HVAC control system is able to provide this client type with simple status signals and alarms that help recognize system components that are nearing failure. The client can then perform maintenance on this equipment before it does fail. Now take a look at the “preventive maintenance (PM) checklist for everything client.” This client is able to leverage the capabilities of the HVAC control system to help it improve its monitoring and diagnostic activities. The client who has an organized PM program will be able to take advantage of the system to fine-tune setpoints and use trend log data to review system performance. This performance can be reviewed down to the level of a particular system component and schedule maintenance for this item directly from the HVAC control system data.

Eisenberg: Features such as real-time exhaust monitoring can automatically alert the facility staff (including off-hours), initiate their response, and also log the data and time to help determine the cause of a spill or release.

CSE: What are the most important factors to consider when working on such a system?

Gerke: The design engineer needs to take great care when specifying any modifications to existing HVAC control systems. It is very important to understand what information the current system provides the end-user and how that person is using the information. The project engineer also needs to consider how the new equipment or system modifications will affect operation of existing components in the control system. Do current setpoints and schedules need to be adjusted? Do existing alarm settings need to be modified to work with new system parameters? It is dangerous for someone to go into a project where existing controls are to be modified and not consider how the existing system operates? This is not a time to put your blinders on.