Construction projects are elaborate and challenging on many levels. They require complex coordination and a close eye on schedule. Challenges include the timing and availability of labor and materials. Safety of personnel is also a top concern on any active site. Changes in scope can inflict havoc on schedules, and the logistical challenge of getting correct equipment to the site ready to install can become intense.
Builders are often reluctant to employ new technologies. If construction materials or methods do not meet expectations, impact on the project schedule could be irreparable. On the other hand, making informed choices and using the latest innovations have the potential to save considerable time and money.
Construction projects would benefit from access to adjustable components that make equipment more versatile and easier to install, but finding the right answers is difficult, and making the wrong choices can be extremely costly. This poses a problem for builders.
Identifying a Need
Regardless of the considerations affecting a project, certain construction materials are integral to functionality, performance and installation. For example, in an ideal mechanical room, the equipment would have a minimal footprint and be easily accessible and simple to repair. Unfortunately, this is an elusive ideal. In some cases, the biggest impediment is the smallest component.
Developing innovative construction materials takes more than vision, ingenuity and creativity; it takes the ability to evaluate individual components for performance and select the best parts and pieces to make up the whole. The goal is to find the perfect intersection of form and function.
From Concept to Reality
One equipment designer and manufacturer has acted on the realization that the market would benefit from more agile and adjustable components that could be customized and installed in a range of conditions by properly trained laborers. The potential capital cost savings alone would be a convincing selling point, but equipment that could be assembled easily and consistently, serviced quickly, and expanded or modified to accommodate changing needs would be an even more significant incentive for giving this new solution a try.
So how does a company with a good idea develop a new product and introduce it to the market?
According to Doug Smith, president, and CEO of IDAC, an innovation leader in the hydronics industry that provides fluid system solutions, understanding the mechanics of production is the foundation for delivering quality, innovative solutions. A company must be able to accelerate development timelines, set up fabrication capability very quickly and rapidly achieve product consistency.
“Introducing a new product is much more than offering significant differentiated value,” says Smith. “It’s a matter of reliably manufacturing products where everything looks, feels and operates the same.”
Achieving that goal depends on finding partners with whom a company can align, who are comfortable buying into new ideas and are willing to examine their product offerings to determine what components potentially could fit into a novel design to deliver functionality and flexibility. Getting the right partners in place and the right components queued up for production expedites fabrication and fast-tracks achieving product consistency.
One of the first innovations IDAC introduced was a wall-mounted booster pump skid that could be installed upright in mechanical rooms to take up less space.
“That branched into other opportunities for larger booster pump skids,” Smith explains, noting that the key to his company’s ability to offer new products was Victaulic pipe joining components, which were integral to the designs.
For IDAC’s water system skids, the NSF 372 certified components were consistently reliable, and because the couplings are easy to install and do not require specialized tooling, using them eliminated excessive time prototyping and welding, allowing the focus to be on efficient design, development and packaging.
“Victaulic products are very forgiving,” he says, explaining that while IDAC uses threading, welding and grooving processes for joining pipe, the threading and welding operations usually involve much longer build times and more effort to achieve the same level of consistency and precision delivered by the mechanical grooved couplings.
In some cases, equipment that traditionally ships from other vendors in six to eight weeks can be packaged, pressure tested and shipped by IDAC in the span of a single week. The difference this makes to schedules on the job site can be tremendous.
Reducing the time invested in pressure testing before shipping has been particularly valuable. Finding leak points on small ports where it is necessary to use threaded connectors is not unusual, Smith says, but even though these failures are anticipated, fixing them is time-consuming because the system has to be drained so the threads can be cleaned, re-taped, re-doped and allowed to cure before being re-tested.
"We have never had a single leak or failure of a Victaulic component,” says Smith. “They work to spec every time.”
The success of the wall-mounted booster pump skid led to opportunities for larger booster pump skids. According to Smith, using these proven couplings helped to create an environment in which designers could operate much more fluidly and inject value and innovation much faster.
One of the most beneficial capabilities designed into the IDAC packages is the flexibility they afford during installation. While the company’s original equipment platform was developed to provide a precise solution for mechanical rooms, its design allows packages to be added into the system quickly and seamlessly, making maintenance straightforward and changing out pieces and parts easy.
Downtime is inevitable when equipment has reached the end of its functional design life, but modular construction limits the amount of time machinery has to be taken offline while systems are being switched out. Incorporating mechanical pipe joints facilitates maintenance and allows for fast access to equipment that requires upgrades or replacement.
Even when the orientation of the new package is not the same as the original, it is possible to use flexible couplings to safely and quickly connect the equipment to flanges on the walls, Smith says. “This capability allows new solutions to be integrated easily into an old plant,” he explains.
Safety is always a concern in any construction or maintenance effort, which is why these solutions are so valuable. Commonly, the onsite risk is shared by a few stakeholders; so it is not surprising that owners, developers and construction managers are looking for ways to minimize site risk.
Using fully functioning, modular, skid-mounted equipment for which assembly, piping and testing have been performed in another facility is a plus on site. The onsite work is reduced because the equipment arrives tested and ready to install. This explains why the trend toward skid-mounted, modular, portable equipment is rapidly growing for domestic water, chilled water, hot water, and process piping systems.