Core Tenets of Industrial MEP Design

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Born from Necessity

The manufacturing and lab facility design requests that are received by mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers can be presented in a variety of ways. Industrial projects can arise through the need to build a new facility, conduct a renovation, or provide an addition to ensure the facility is operating at peak efficiency. Such improvements often trigger the need to update existing facility areas to current codes, sometimes expanding the project scope significantly beyond what was initially coordinated.

Many industrial MEP design projects are initiated through the necessity to fix critical infrastructure issues, which could involve sudden equipment failures or risks that must be addressed before they result in failures. Malfunctions to a building system can cause a part of or a whole facility to shut down, which can equate to lost money ranging from thousands to tens of thousands for the owner, depending on the size and scale of operation. At Alvine Engineering, our industrial design specialists understand the necessity to offer solutions in a highly coordinated and expedited fashion that helps owners avoid profit loss. Frank Scalise, a project manager and leading mechanical designer for Alvine Engineering, has 35 years of professional design experience, with a large portion dedicated to the industrial and laboratory market sector.

“Some of these facilities are meant to be operated 24/7,” Frank Scalise explained, “It’s imperative for our clients to stay on schedule.”

This also requires our team to design with the existing facilities and spaces in mind as the project moves forward through the delivery phases. Whether this requires isolating construction areas with temporary walls and duct covers or designing and installing temporary HVAC systems, our experts agree that it takes extensive coordination to ensure systems in surrounding spaces stay online during repairs or improvements.

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“We have to ensure that we’re not unintentionally redirecting dust and other contaminant particulates throughout the space,” Frank continued, “So that requires a lot of coordination. We may even be asked to help design the temporary systems that the construction team puts in place.”

Diagram of a Manufacturing Clean Room

Sanitation

The ability of a building system’s design to properly support a client’s cleanliness and sanitation standards, especially when it comes to the production of medical equipment, is paramount to the success of a project. There are instances where high-purity water and/or HEPA-filtered air are integral to production, ensuring products stay sterilized throughout their assembly. Craig Johnson, a mechanical engineer and project manager, has been providing industrial facilities with mechanical systems design for nearly two decades.

“There is a lot of crossover between design principles that we utilize in laboratories and those we use in industrial facilities,” Craig Johnson explained, “The quantity and scale of the utilities within the industrial market sector is usually the big differentiator.”

Craig and Frank have both noted a distinct increase in clientele demand involving the design and construction of manufacturing clean rooms. More manufacturers and their customers are requiring that products be produced in a clean room environment. Designing clean rooms requires intensive attention to detail and coordination due to the intricacies of cascading pressurization design. Cascading pressurization works by designing a series of spaces with varying levels of supply and return air, which determines whether the room contains a higher or lower pressure than its adjacent rooms. The room requiring sterilization is kept with the highest level of pressure so that sterile air flows out into adjacent spaces rather than allowing contaminated air into the sterile environment.

Our industrial team, spearheaded by Frank and Craig, has routinely designed specialty building systems that are unique to research and manufacturing processes.  This includes high vacuum systems that nearly replicate the vacuum of space as well as specialized chilled-water systems that cool multi-million dollar process equipment. High-purity water production is also critical for companies producing a variety of products that are utilized in hospital and research-related industries. Similarly, clean compressed air is needed by many automated manufacturing lines to minimize equipment maintenance and ensure products are free of particulate and oil contaminants.

Safety

Conducting code and design standard reviews with the client and the architect to ensure safety requirements are being met (as well as ADA and egress requirements) is vital to the success of any industrial project. It’s no secret that our clientele wants to create a safe and comfortable environment for their employees.

“There are a lot of safety contingencies that our clients care about that go well beyond the code minimum requirements,” Frank explained, “They have employee safety to consider as well as eligibility for certain insurance premiums that have safety requirements, there are a lot of factors that come into play as far as safety is concerned.”

Manufacturing and industrial facilities frequently house hazardous chemicals, so facilitating design to ensure chemicals can be stored safely and incorporating design elements to contain chemical leaks/spillage are critical. Achieving high safety standards ensures our clients can run an efficient operation with few accidents– meaning less downtime, fewer injured employees, and a more profitable facility. Our firm’s hands-on approach to learning industry and company-specific safety standards helps owners achieve a safe environment that complies with their corporate safety initiatives, OSHA, and satisfies the requirements of their insurance carriers.

Traditionally, Alvine Engineering has acted as the prime consultant in the industrial market sector, where we have the ability to select sub-consultants and offer specialized knowledge and expertise specific to industrial MEP design needs.

“We get to put together the dream team,” Craig stated with a smile, “It’s a really unique and wonderful opportunity to be the prime on a project.”

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Adaptability

Our technical teams have to be ready for the unknown when providing industrial MEP design. Oftentimes, while we are not directly involved in designing their workflows and processes, our team is providing utility infrastructure for prototype manufacturing equipment and processing flows that have never been applied in the field.

“They’re almost experimental,” Frank stated, “We’re trying to gather data for the supporting utilities for machines that don’t have finished designs.”

In addition to balancing variances in designs and keeping documents up-to-date with the latest iterations and changes, the layout of spaces can oftentimes change throughout the design process. Our design team can offer innovative suggestions on what is advantageous from a mechanical and electrical building system perspective on how to organize floors and machinery. However, clients have the final say on their facilities, as they know what is critical to the efficiency and profitability of their proprietary processes.

Clients could change how they want to assemble a floor halfway through the design. Or, clients could decide they need additional space for future growth and renovations or cancel part of a project due to a corporate program change. In order to support the client as they navigate these changes, our team keeps alternative ideas and schematics on hand to expedite the redesign process as a benefit to the owner.

Interested in learning more about industrial MEP design? We invite you to get in contact with our experts.