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Engineers and designers tend to be analytical and struggle to creatively think outside the box when solving problems. How can we turn the tide and get creative with our designs?
Over this past year, I have been learning and practicing mindfulness in my everyday life (www.mindfulnessmuse.com). Then, I wondered what it would look like to apply mindfulness to my plumbing design toolbox.
Being a mindful activity or a new way to install a piece of equipment, I try to think outside the box. To gain a new perspective, we need to be curious and contemplate other ways to solve the problem (thinking outside the box).
Standard practice would have the designer or engineer follow a set design process (convergent thinking) to obtain an initial thought. We must diverge from this approach (divergent thinking) to open our creativity and problem-solving capabilities.
Divergent thinking is not really practiced or taught in engineering schooling, which focuses on a set of rules to apply and work through. Each standard practice plays a part in finding the best solution for the situation. This process, in part, puts us down the path of another designer just working through the math process to come up with an answer without taking a moment to think, “What if?”
Brainstorming is a method of divergent thinking that relies on common attitudes. One of these is being curious. Try to defer judgment of the standard solution and be curious about other ways to come up with a solution; this may bring forth a better solution for the client.
One of the eight basic characteristics of mindfulness that I apply to my everyday design practice is impartial watchfulness.
This characteristic does not follow one way or the other but allows you to gain perspective on a situation. This allows you to be more open-minded and detach from letting your ego decide. This approach allows us to have more creative ideas and solutions in the client’s best interest.
Examples of where divergent thinking begins:
1. Water heating systems:
2. Legionella control:
These are several areas in which divergent thinking can get creative in engineering these systems.
Take Legionella control. Immediately, most designers go directly to copper silver ionization without thinking, as they have their minds made up that it is the best solution.
Stop and pause for a moment to consider what are the other available options. Gain perspective on who will be maintaining the system you choose to design around.
On a larger facility, such as a 400-bed hospital, we know facility staff will be trained in maintaining the systems. So, we know a well-trained staff will be taking care of the equipment. Now consider the owner and his budget. Will he spend more on architectural features and mechanical equipment? Will the project be LEED-accredited?
Being mindful of the owner’s budget and wishes, we know that copper silver ionization systems include expensive upfront costs; replacement cells can be rather expensive as well. We begin asking ourselves, will we treat all the water in the facility or just the hot water? Will we incorporate a hybrid system of copper silver and hyperchlorination?
Water softening comes into play as well: Do we soften all the water or just hot water? Will we incorporate filtration in lieu of softening all the cold water? This is better defined with a water quality report to aid in your determination.
If we go away from copper silver ionization, do we go with superheating or hyperchlorinating the facility? How do we monitor the systems to record temperature, free chlorine, pH and total dissolved solids?
As we evaluate each method, think about how you can use each differently if possible. Research other ways to use each one, which may spark some creativity as to how to address your system design in a new way.
Out-Of-The-Box Thinking in Health Care Design
Now consider this out-of-the-box thought process for a sanitary waste vacuum system for a hospital. Your first thought is, heck no, it’s not proven.
Consider it has been used in the penal institution for approximately 10 years and has had very few issues from what I have determined.
The benefits of using it in a health-care system are quite interesting. The plume effect is now a nonissue when a toilet is flushed. Water usage goes way down, and water pipe size goes down. Sanitary can be piped without a slope and on the floor it serves. It also removes vent piping, clogs go way down, and leaks are a nonissue; and it is sucking in, not out.
So, the initial equipment cost is higher, but installation is much lower. At current cast-iron prices, it makes more sense to consider it. There could be more than $200,000 in material and labor savings for a medium-sized project and even more on a larger one.
To treat the outflowing waste, it will be more concentrated now that water use has been reduced considerably. We need to start conversations with waste management for the project to better understand the levels of contaminants coming from the facility and how to treat or pre-treat them.
Noise levels are another issue to consider, and how to mitigate the noise levels when a fixture is flushed.
When we begin to think outside the box, we need to ask more questions to gain a more educated perspective and understanding of how to do it another way.