High expectations, high achievement

From its origins in Madison, Wis., Affiliated Engineers Inc. (AEI) has grown considerably in geography, scale and scope. The company has evolved into a true leader in the MEP space. In its four decades, AEI has consistently delivered high-quality projects in numerous markets. 

High profile projects, like the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) at the US DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), serve as functioning examples of AEI’s inherent dedication to its clients and to the needs of the community and the planet. The firm is committed to ensuring its work reflects the highest standards in functional, efficient and sustainable design. 

Plumbing Engineer recently had the chance to speak with Laura Halverson, PE, LEED AP, principal, Piping/Plumbing at Affiliated Engineers, Inc. She shared with us some of AEI’s history and vision. 

PE: Can you tell us a little about the history of AEI?

LH: Affiliated Engineers, Inc. was formed during a period of the 1970s when owners of energy-intensive and large-scale buildings were prioritizing the energy performance of their facilities’ engineered systems. Building a practice improving the energy efficiency of hospitals and corporate campuses, AEI, over time, diversified service offerings to include instrumentation and control (I&C), cost estimating, commissioning, technology, architectural lighting, sustainability, and master planning, and expanded the number of markets served. 
Today, our 600-person, 14-office firm is a national and global leader pioneering the planning, verification, design, engineering, and implementation of innovative sustainable, efficient, flexible, and resilient strategies and technologies. These apply to such markets as R&D, energy and utilities, higher education, mission critical, and industrial markets, as well as for health care. Through sector-leading expertise in high-performance buildings, AEI has become the largest science and technology engineering firm in the U.S. (as recognized by Building Design + Construction magazine in 2014). And, it has received three of the last four Laboratory of the Year awards from R&D magazine.

PE: How would you describe AEI's operating philosophy? 

LH: AEI operates with a focus on the end-user needs and a commitment to the owner goals of world-leading institutions working for the betterment of the human condition. This inspires best-in-class standards of professional performance and results in long-term client relationships, producing a company culture of continuity, high expectations, and high achievement.

PE: How do the engineers at AEI approach plumbing and mechanical design and water management? 

LH: AEI has a Water Stewardship Group that includes mechanical, plumbing and sustainable engineers. The group works together to remove divisional lines internally and also to blend with civil engineers and landscape architects so water can be viewed as an integrated building/site concern, rather than as a collection of siloed disciplines’ challenges. By removing these boundaries, condensate is no longer seen as a waste stream that the plumbing engineer needs to work with. It can, instead, be seen as a potential water source for irrigation or mechanical system make-up water. 

The UW Health at the American Center project is anticipating a 66 percent reduction in potable water usage over a traditionally designed facility. The savings are a result of across-the-board reductions, including efficient fixtures and sterilizers that eliminate quench cooling, in addition to water re-use and an innovative liquid pool cover that reduces evaporation.

PE: What does your involvement with ASPE bring to your business?

LH: Our involvement in ASPE has been vital to AEI. In the traditional sense, ASPE has been a resource to keep our teams up to date on recent technologies and industry standards. But, ASPE also offers leadership opportunities to people within AEI that allows them to grow both personally and professionally. 

PE: What kinds of projects are you seeing? Are there any building types or markets that are stronger or weaker going into 2015?

LH: All clients wish to spend their funds judiciously. Recently, we have seen a surge in conceptual studies. The studies weigh options, considering re-use of existing structures, selective renovation, and new construction to meet programmatic space needs, comparing both first costs and operating costs. In addition to studies, health care has seen a recent market boost. Over the last few years, health care owners, watchful of changes in healthcare delivery, have postponed construction, creating pent-up demand. As the organizations become more comfortable with the impacts of legislation, the health care market looks to be gaining strength going into 2015.

PE: Are there any particular jobs you take special pride in? 

LH: The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a recent project that embodies the firm’s frequent role of affecting far-reaching paradigm change through transformative engineering. AEI planned, designed, and engineered the ESIF laboratory systems, advancing microgrid and smart grid solutions including the Research Electrical Distribution Bus and the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems. Our focus in the lab facility also supports hydrogen research exploring simpler and more scalable energy storage, and fuel cell and cell component development. ESIF earned national recognition as R&D magazine’s 2014 Lab of the Year

PE: Can you think of any projects that gave you particular challenges? If so, how did you deal with them? 

LH: NREL is a source of pride precisely because of the challenges it presented. Using hydrogen as a fuel, the project required detailed coordination with the structural engineer. The double inverted tee, which is the most cost effective structure for this high bay laboratory, created long pockets where lighter-than-air hydrogen could accumulate. 

In addition, the owner required a fume hood-free lab suitable for frequent tours. Thus a macro, not micro, containment strategy needed to be designed. AEI met these challenges by understanding intimately the inherent hydrogen equipment safeties; performing multiple runs of CFD analysis for various leakage scenarios in the greater lab macro environment; ascribing a severity and likelihood to each scenario; and implementing layers of “defense in depth” engineered controls to effect a safe, yet, tour-friendly hydrogen laboratory. A rigorous Process Hazards Analysis was performed, which became the basis for subsequent DOE ORR (Operational Readiness Reviews).

PE: What role does technology play in the work you do? How different is it in the role of the engineer today than it was 10 or 15 years ago?

LH: The wide adoption of building information modeling (BIM) has made a significant change in the role of the engineer. In the past, the engineer may have, by necessity, been seen as being focused on system selection and calculations. But, based on the engineering data necessary in a BIM model, the engineer needs to be much closer to drawing production. 
BIM also changes the workflow of a project, as placing information in the model requires more detailed information compared to the schematic level documentation of the past. For example, to place a pipe in the model, you need to know the pipe size, elevation, material and required slope, in contrast to the single line drawing placed on the floor plan 10 years ago.

PE: What are some key issues or challenges facing the plumbing/mechanical engineer going into 2015?

LH: Many of our clients are dealing with deferred maintenance on existing facilities. Recognizing the deferred maintenance challenges, clients are looking for system solutions that provide opportunities to reduce long-term maintenance costs, as compared to legacy systems. A delicate balance, different for each client, compels an energy- and water-efficient design that also meets the unique reliability requirements and maintainability capacities of the client. 

There is never a single solution for a project type. An identical building floor plan presented to two different clients will almost certainly be engineered in a completely different manner.

PE: Do you have any other thoughts or bits of wisdom to share with our readers? 

LH: Integrated delivery of MEP services – within the larger integration of disciplines on a building project team – introduces opportunities for greater efficiency, but it isn’t a shortcut. Balanced consideration of the disciplines doesn’t allow for any of them to be treated as an afterthought. AEI believes in the importance of a dedicated plumbing staff, which numbers 18 in the Madison office and 40 system-wide.

Case study: University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, UW Health at the American Center, Madison, Wis.

This 498,000 square foot, three-wing facility, scheduled to open in 2015, will house a 56-bed inpatient hospital for orthopedic and general medical/surgical patients; two floors of clinic exam rooms for outpatient care in a variety of clinical specialties; a universal care center for outpatient diagnostic and treatment procedures; physical and occupational therapy; a wellness, fitness, and sports performance wing with therapeutic pool, sports courts, sprint track, classrooms, and demonstration kitchen; and, a 24-hour emergency center for evaluation and treatment or transport to the main UWHC’s full service emergency department.

AEI was a member of an integrated project team, and provided MEP/FP/T engineering design, architectural lighting design, sustainable planning and design, and energy modeling. The firm’s scope of work extended to the site’s thermal utilities, which include a de-coupled central utility plant and distribution for chilled water and steam. 

Designed by AEI’s engineers to achieve a LEED Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the facility features such energy and water saving measures as:

• Comprehensive water management, projected to save 70 percent of the potable water or approximately 12 million gallons of potable water per year.

• Heat recovery chiller for base load heating and cooling, projected to save almost 2 million gallons of water. 

• Seven interconnected ponds receiving water from rooftops, air handling units, lawn, and parking areas; to be retained and filtered and used for site irrigation and the site’s cooling tower, saving 6 million gallons of potable water per year. 

• Chilled water cooled sterilizers projected to save 2 million gallons of potable water per year, and providing a base load for efficient heat recovery chiller operation.

• Isopropyl alcohol liquid pool cover, which reduces pool evaporation by 40 percent, and reduces dehumidification and makeup water heating.

• High performance glazing and roof reducing cooling and heating loads.

• High performance central plant with variable speed chillers, variable primary pumping, and boiler stack economizers.

• Efficient lighting, daylight harvesting, and lighting controls.

• Water cooled imaging equipment.

• High performance central kitchen with VAV hoods, end-skirts, efficient appliances, water cooled freezers, and efficient hood layout.

• Comprehensive HVAC controls to setback unoccupied air flows in operating rooms, imaging, and outpatient spaces.

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