17th October 2014
A Unique Opportunity for Product Testing
A consultant in the construction industry has urged other SMEs in the West Midlands to use the only environmental test chamber in the region to test products in extreme conditions.
Sustainable Building Futures, which is based at the Engineering and Computing Building at Coventry University, gives SMEs, primarily in the construction industry, the opportunity to road-test their products ahead of going into mass production.
The service is free since the programme is fully funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Coventry University.
Peter Townend, director of Telford-based XQLE Ltd, is testing a product called Quad-Lock which is used to build walls, floors and roofs over a ten-week period in the environmental test chamber.
He said: “We are looking at a number of detailed factors to do with eliminating water ingress and understanding how moisture is handled by the product.
“We are testing both the junction between a tiled roof and the wall eaves and between a wall and window frame to make sure they are water-tight. Should water get in, it will dissolve dyes fitted in the tests pieces which will leave coloured traces where they flow. Even a small amount of water can turn the dye powder into ink.
“Through these tests we will evaluate the products in temperatures between minus ten degrees to plus 35 degrees centigrade. We will also be evaluating the test pieces for thermal movement and cracking.
“The importance of this free service to SMEs in the region can not be overstressed. This type of scientific research can help to ensure through evaluation that the designs of product are functioning as expected and if it isn’t give opportunity to fix it at the prototype stage rather than when it has been manufactured.
“It means you can have confidence in the product because you have followed through the processes and know it works.”
Dr Vinh Doan, Environmental Technologies Business Manager at Sustainable Building Futures, works with each client to determine their testing and technology requirements and how to replicate the environment and climate conditions needed to fully put their products through their paces.
“The environmental test chamber is ideal for any SMEs in the West Midlands who are involved in the construction industry because it is free to use. The three other chambers in the UK in Teddington, Watford and Glasgow are where companies have to pay to use them which costs thousands of pounds,” she said.
“The chamber measures 2.5m wide by 3m long by 2.1m high. It comprises two rooms, one to represent outdoor conditions and the other to replicate indoor conditions.
“All the different pieces of equipment provide vital information for SMEs to use at the construction stage of their product.
“The data obtained can aid removal of any potential problems because if they went ahead and supplied products without carrying out the necessary research and design, they could be storing up future legal problems and compensation claims which no business, particularly an SME, can afford.”
For further information about the Sustainable Building Futures project and how it can help SMEs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 024 7765 8800.
Reducing project delays and costs using Microsoft Excel
Would this be of interest to your business?
Delays are unnecessary acts or events that extend the time required to complete the activities of a project. They can be frustrating and costly, especially for small businesses with a limited budget. SMEs suffer delays in projects for a variety of reasons; one of them is lack of proper allocation of resources.
The SBF project is keen to hear from you if you are interested in a workshop or one-to-one support introducing the concepts, principals and management of delays in a project environment. Perhaps you have a real-life project?
Microsoft Excel is widely used, and it has a number of features that can be used to model delay management principles and practices. 3D-animation based “what-if” scenarios will be introduced to model and then reduce delays in a project. The modeling tools and techniques that will be introduced also include flowcharts and Activity Cycle Diagrams.
You will be given opportunities to apply these to an actual project. The goal is to manage delays for each operation or activity of a project, to improve delivery time and reduce costs to your business.
Please contact email@example.com to register your interest, so that we can assess the strength of demand for this new SBF theme.
The Green Deal cashback for energy saving home improvers
Householders in England and Wales can claim cash back from Government on energy saving improvements like insulation, front doors, windows and boilers.
Who is eligible?
The Cashback Scheme encourages people to make energy improvements to their home under the Green Deal. If you install certain energy efficiency improvements in your home, you may be able to claim cashback for each measure you install, up to a total of two thirds of the amount you have to pay. The more you do, the more you get.
How does it work?
To get Cashback you must:
- Have a Green Deal assessment carried out on your home. You will be able to apply for Cashback for any of the eligible improvements you plan to install, as recommended on your assessment.
- Get and agree quotes from a Green Deal Provider who‘s registered with the Cashback Scheme*.
- Apply for your Cashback voucher online or by phone, before you begin the work. Your Provider may be able to help with this – ask them.
- Complete works within three months (six months for solid wall insulation).
- You will receive payment once your Provider has confirmed work has been carried out and arranged for the Energy Performance Certificate to be updated.
You can choose to fund improvements through a Green Deal Finance Plan, or pay in other ways, and get the Cashback but you must use a Green Deal Provider to arrange the work. The more improvements you make, the bigger your Cashback. You can only make one claim for the Cashback, but it may cover a package of improvements recommended by the Green Deal assessment.
Cashback applications close on 30 June 2014, or while funds last. Installations must be made and vouchers redeemed before 30 September, 2014.
The Government Cashback is separate to any similar offers that may be made by Green Deal Providers. You will not be able to claim Cashback for packages of improvements that have a contribution from Green Deal Communities and, from 1st April, ECO. You can also choose to donate some or all of your Cashback to a charity or community interest company of your choice signed up with the scheme administrator.
Not all vouchers will change as a result of the new rates, as cashback amounts for some improvements will remain the same. The Cashback Administrator will contact customers, where appropriate.
Please contact your Green Deal Provider, or the Cashback Administrator for more information on 0300 555 0201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor George Martin seeks some new thinking on how to make our 25 million homes more energy efficient.
Professor of Low Impact and Sustainable Buildings at Coventry University
The UK has some of the oldest – and leakiest – housing stock in the western world. The vast majority of it will still be standing in 2050, the year by which the government has set itself a target to cut UK carbon emissions by 80% in comparison to 1990 levels.
This would require retrofitting around 25 million homes to become considerably more energy efficient – a vast job that would need 3,000 homes to be kitted out every day for the next 37 years. The government needs to persuade householders and landlords to do the right thing and invest in their properties. Not such an easy task – as the abject failure of the Green Deal, the policy initiative that essentially bears this responsibility, has already demonstrated.
Any mass behaviour change takes time – especially when it’s perceived to be simply “worthy” more than “essential”. There’s no value in harping on about the Green Deal’s problems; we need ideas to make it work. We need to resurrect the idea of consequential improvements, which would have required those extending their home to spend a further 10% on upgrading the building’s energy efficiency. Having been suggested in 2006, it was enthusiastically supported until being dropped again last month. An appeal was rejected last month.
This approach targets those with the funds and the will to improve their homes. It makes a clear link between official planning permission and improving home energy ratings. Building firms doing the proposed work get additional business, creating jobs. And most important of all, piggybacking on improvements would create instant awareness and the potential for large-scale acceptance of the importance of retrofitting.
Once re-interpreted and wrongly labelled as the Conservatory Tax, driving up the cost of middle England’s home improvements, it was seen by politicians as an obvious vote loser. But the scale and significance of the retrofit issue and the lack of take-up for current initiatives like the Green Deal means policy makers need to take courage.
Another sensible way forward would be to look at zero VAT schemes for approved low carbon renovation projects. Currently no VAT is levied on new domestic buildings, something that could surely be extended, if only for a trial few years, to encourage more people to invest in insulating their homes against high future energy prices.
There also needs to be more attention paid to the issue of trust among occupiers, and how we get more people to invest in the long-term benefits (including comfort and health) from more energy efficient homes and the resulting lower energy costs. Who do we really trust to advise us on what will be effective and actually carry out the work? With this in mind, involving the big energy firms themselves, as well as a sector of businesses associated with miss-selling PPI or double-glazing may not be helpful.
What’s needed is more thinking and understanding of what has worked in other parts of the world in building trust in retrofit. San Francisco and other US local authorities use the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) framework. Scarcely a week passes without news that another US local government or state government has authorised a PACE program. In July for instance, the City of Milwaukee announced the launch of a $100-million PACE programme in partnership with California based Clean Fund and Johnson Controls. At the last count, 30 US states have passed PACE-enabling legislation.
We have something to learn from the US in terms of building trust. After all, how many homes did we retrofit today?
Solar Power Test System Installed at Coventry University
In August, the Sustainable Building Futures project team installed a new solar power test system on the roof of Coventry University’s Engineering and Computing Building comprising of two independent units with Off Grid (power stored in batteries) and Grid Connected capability ( power is fed into the building electrical system).
This equipment has been installed for the exclusive use and benefit of eligible West Midlands businesses seeking real (local) information about the performance of solar systems and we have already had an enquiry from a local business, Exergy, who want to evaluate the performance of some small off grid temporary solar power kits they are proposing to supply to the UK.
The solar power industry is starting to diversify into household and commercial energy management markets as the levels of Government subsidy falls for household solar electricity generation. The Sustainable Building Futures project wants to support this agenda by installing equipment that can use solar power in numerous ways and provide access for SMEs to learn from this. Companies are able to work with us to improve their understanding of solar power and also attend Workshops to develop their knowledge further.
In common with many installations the photovoltaic panels can by connected to the building electrical supply to offset some of the power drawn from the national grid. In reality the size of our generating capacity is very small compared to the building demand such that it will not be exported as surplus power but is used in the building. However the systems have switching systems that can allow the panels to charge lead-acid batteries. Charge control devices ensure that the batteries are charged and when full are prevented from overcharging. The battery systems can also be discharged via inverter units which convert the battery DC electrical current to AC (mains) suitable to feed back to the building electrical system. If this wasn’t enough, a programmable electrical load can be connected to the battery systems to simulate variable electrical demand, for example a pattern of demand on a typical household appliance such as a washing machine
Clearly a flexible system such as this has to have some monitoring requires systems to allow businesses working on them to find out what is happening. A computer monitoring system has been linked to the equipment which allows data to be captured, trended and reported.
The other major factor that influences solar power is of course the weather; we’ve installed a compressive weather monitoring station on the roof to monitor the local environmental conditions including the solar irradiance level which is a measure of the power of the sun’s radiation being received.
To BIM or not to BIM? That is the question
Review by Danny McGough, Architectural Design Technologist, Coventry University
The SBF project recently funded a workshop on one of the hot topics in construction at the moment, BIM or Building Information Modelling.
Held within ECB the event was one of a number of recurring workshops and events which are funded by SBF project with the aim of assisting SME's on their road towards greater BIM adoption.
For the uninitiated, BIM is in many ways the Construction Industry being pushed to catch up with the huge technological leaps made in the use of 3D, virtual and integrated information systems that the Aeronautical, Automotive and Manufacturing sectors have already been using for many years to drive efficiency, quality and cost control.
At this point the driver is the Government who have mandated that ALL public construction projects over a value of £5m MUST use BIM processes. The large contractors are starting to react and prepare for this and it is very likely that the private sector will not be far behind. The push for BIM is based on evidence that points to up to 20% cost saving in construction costs by building virtually first and resolving major issues before they are found on site where they become expensive and adversarial to resolve.
The two days were presented by David Emery and David Jellings from Virtechs Ltd with many years experience of real world BIM application. From my perspective it was great to hear BIM described and discussed in terms of real applications and experiences. The Presenters used examples from post completed projects they've been involved in and learnt from as well as drawing on previous career experience in Architecture and Manufacturing. Five members of University staff attended this workshop and the interaction with businesses initiated some great discussions about how BIM should be integrated into our University undergraduate courses.
Many topics within BIM were covered, from the origins of BIM right the way through to what BIM actually is and maybe more importantly isn't! As many who understand BIM already know, BIM isn't something new. This point was highlighted by David Jellings with some nice references to historical builds which data right back to the pyramids and in later times the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building was built back in the 1930's, way before the acronym of BIM was even envisaged but crucially integrated and collaborative processes and protocols were at the heart of the project.
The way that 'What is BIM?' was explained was put in a nicely succinct manner as 'the access to information when you need it’; this was something which the SME's present immediately related to which led to multiple discussions on the topic. What was also expressed was the need to move beyond the early definition of BIM, as in Building Information Modelling, as it often leads to the confusion that BIM is simply a 3D model. From all the definitions that are out there in my opinion if, as we are, we are stuck with some kind of acronym then personally I prefer the BIMM acronym that has been banded around, Building Information Modelling and Management (BIMM). I feel it covers all the bases and achieves greater clarity as to what BIM entails.
On day 2 we had various run through’s of some of the more technical aspects of BIM such as the common data language COBie and quality assurance checking via software systems such as Solibri. It's clear to me that COBie for many is a bit of an unknown territory, so it was nice to see it running live in a software environment and see actual outputs of intelligent data. Seeing the technology in action and hearing the opinions of the Presenter as well as the other SME’s present enabled many of the SME's to gain a greater understanding of management and technical aspects of BIM, without bamboozling them!
The workshop achieved several new business assistance outputs for the SBF project and another workshop is planned for the end of September – see the project website for details.
Overall the content was a gentle introduction which helped to allay many of the fears that the SME's held due to lack of true awareness of what BIM will actually mean to their company. The aim of the workshop, which I feel was achieved was to enlighten the SME's present with a greater knowledge, of what BIM will mean for them on a SME level and go beyond the general media coverage that often floats around the industry at current.
UK BIM Strategy
What clients have to say about SBF
The intervention by the SBF project benefited my business by enabling the practice to compete with other architects in applying for major development projects. The potential increase in project efficiency and staff personnel should result in an increase in turnover of at least 30% (£25–35,000), enabling me to employ another member of staff.
Roger Davis, Chartered Architect