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Five ways to ensure a successful beam project

Harnessing maximum time and cost savings are possible by exploiting the practical advantages of chilled beams, says Amanda Sayers

The industry has had a number of years to assess the practical and logistical advantages of chilled beams. They deliver all of the benefits we associate with off-site construction, such as faster installation and commissioning times, greater control of build schedules, minimisation of risk, and greater consistency of quality for the installed equipment.

There are also, of course, those benefits that are more difficult to quantify in financial terms. For example constructing the chilled beam in the closely controlled factory environment can provide greater control over health and safety, reduce site traffic, and streamline day-to-day project management.

These benefits increase exponentially with the size and complexity of the project. But how can the project team be sure that they are harnessing all of the time and cost saving opportunities made available by chilled beams?

Having had the privilege of being a partner in the delivery of many chilled beam projects over the years, we have found that the following approaches deliver results every time.

1. A single source of responsibility

This is important, to minimise the risk of poor communication between parties and to prevent the customer being 'bounced' between multiple suppliers in the event of a problem. It is particularly valuable for multi-service chilled beams (MSCBs) where a single raft might contain a number of additional features such as luminaires, PIRs, smoke detection devices etc.

Another important aspect is integration of equipment. A supplier with a broad portfolio can supply products already proven to work effectively within a single assembly.

2. Pooled expertise and shared information

The chances of success of projects are often reduced because insufficient information has been shared, or details have been made available too late in the process to harness the potential time and cost savings.

Often this is because the customer is not familiar with chilled beam installations and needs assistance with co-ordination and collation of the information required by the chilled beam supplier. The chilled beam supplier can provide guidance to fill this gap.

Having secured the order for the chilled beams on a project, for example, TROX needs 'Construction Status' information in the form of Consultants Mechanical and Electrical drawings, Specifications, Architects Layouts and details of other services to be incorporated within the chilled beams.

It is critical from the outset that we understand the site construction programme and any restraints that may affect the chilled beam design. We need to understand how beams are to be moved to the relevant floors i.e. whether they have to be moved in a goods lift of restricted size, as this may govern the maximum size of the chilled beam sections that can be supplied to site.

On receipt of the relevant information we prepare floor layout drawings that will show the beam section splits, luminaires, and any other elements to be incorporated. These have to be co-ordinated with any structural restraints such as downstand beams, columns and the position of services within the bulkhead to connect with the chilled beam, and sprinkler head positions where relevant.

The chilled beam layout drawings will be prepared in conjunction with the Chilled Beam Technical Schedule that will detail all aspects of the performance of the chilled beam. We then work with other suppliers and subcontractors to co-ordinate all elements required to be incorporated into the chilled beam design.

3. Design concepts proved to the satisfaction of the relevant parties ahead of installation.

Changes to design at later stages in the project, demanded by any party in the supply chain, can have a catastrophic effect on sometimes fragile profit margins. So time spent proving concepts prior to installation always pays dividends.

Facilities for proving design concepts will vary according to the supplier. TROX for example has comprehensive testing facilities at its laboratories in Thetford, Norfolk. If elected, performance testing will take place to confirm outputs based on simulation of the actual site conditions including bulkhead details, window details, beam infill and ceiling finishes. On approval of the test proposal, we organise and conduct the in-house test at our laboratory. This will be witnessed and approved by the design team.

There are three test cells available for real room mock up tests, offering capability up to a room size of 9m x 6m. Height is adjustable between 2m to 4m with 6m x 4m simulated glazing wall to simulate temperatures between 8 deg C and 38 deg C. The room also has a heavy duty computer floor system with 500mm under floor void to allow testing of floor mounted diffusers.

4. Ensuring the supplier has sufficient manufacturing capacity ... and more!

Off-site manufacture enables chilled beam assembly to progress concurrently with other aspects of the construction project, without constraints of weather and bottlenecks. To harness the time and cost savings however, particularly on large contracts, the supplier must have sufficient capacity to meet the schedule. Most chilled beam contracts involve customised designs. Large-scale projects can typically demand multiple designs, all customised. A recent TROX project for example involved around 6,000 different engineering variants.

When choosing a supplier, ask for evidence of the company's ability to combine high levels of customisation with high volume.

Flexibility is also important. For example, in a recent project, TROX was able to accelerate the beam delivery programme, at the customer's request, from a manufacture and delivery rate of 25 beams sections per day to 52 beams sections, delivering two full articulated lorries of product to site daily.

5. Harnessing supply chain strategies from other industries.

Just In Time delivery did not originate in the construction industry, but the same approaches developed for line-side delivery of automotive components are extremely effective when applied to chilled beams.

In conclusion, over the coming years, particularly for large-scale projects, the question will be how to lock down ways of working that fully exploit the practical and logistical advantages of chilled beams.

// The author is commercial manager of TROX UK //
8 November 2012

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