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Design-Build Services: Top 10 Critical Issues

Electrical engineers working on construction plans in the framework of Design-Build services

As an electrical engineering firm specializing in Design-Build services in the Houston, TX area, Blanco Electric has gained a deep understanding of the challenges faced by light industrial facilities such as machine shops, welding shops, warehouses, and small manufacturers.

Design-Build services refer to a project delivery method where a single electrical contractor like Blanco Electric is responsible for both the design and construction aspects of a project. Rather than dividing the responsibilities between contractors, the Design-Build approach streamlines the process, improves communication, and generally reduces costs and project duration since there is a single point of responsibility.

To help our clients understand how seriously we take on this responsibility, we detail in this article the 10 most critical issues we tackle when tasked with a Design-Build mission.

1. Comprehensive Energy Needs Assessment

Before any design work begins, we have to perform a thorough energy needs assessment. For facilities where machinery power demands can be high, we measure peak load requirements very accurately, using simulation tools and on-site evaluations to gauge energy consumption patterns.

Peak load (or "peak demand") is the maximum electrical power demand that occurs in a specified time frame. In industrial facilities, this is the moment when multiple heavy-duty machines are operating simultaneously, or when specific energy-intensive processes are initiated. Essentially, it is the highest point of energy consumption within a given period.

(a) How do we conduct our evaluation of peak load requirements?

The evaluation process involves several steps:

  • Historical data analysis: We review past energy bills and consumption patterns to gain insights into those times when peak demand typically occurs.

  • On-site observations: Our engineers monitor the operations of the client facility, noting when machines are used and identifying potential peak periods.

  • Simulation tools: Advanced software can simulate the operations of a facility, and predict potential peak load scenarios. Simulations are especially useful for new facilities or when installing new machinery in the framework of a capacity expansion project.

  • Interviews with the management: Managers of the day-to-day operations of the facility usually offer invaluable insights into when peak loads occur, based on their experience and a deep understanding of the workflow of their facility.

(b) What could happen when peak load evaluations are not done properly?

As electrical engineers, we have seen cases where Peak Loads were underestimated, and these had serious consequences:

  • Machine shops: When the peak load of a machine shop is underestimated, it results in circuit overloads when multiple machines operate simultaneously. This not only risks damaging the machinery, but can also lead to floor downtime, affecting productivity and profitability.

  • Welding shops: Welding processes are energy-intensive. Underestimating peak load means that when multiple welding stations are active, the electrical system won’t cope with the power demand. This leads to inconsistent welding quality due as power fluctuates. It even creates human safety risks when protective systems (like fume extractors) lose power.

  • Warehouses: When a warehouse uses automated systems for sorting and moving goods, assessing peak load incorrectly leads to system malfunctions during high-demand periods. This in turn creates logistical nightmares and potential damage to goods.

2. Design-Build: Local Electrical Codes and Regulations

Houston has specific electrical codes, on top of Federal standards. Our team stays updated with local regulations, ensuring all designs are compliant. This guarantees safety and smoothens the inspection/approval process, preventing costly revisions.

(a) How do we ensure compliance?

  • Continuous training: Our team undergoes regular training sessions to stay updated with the latest local codes and regulations.

  • Collaboration with local authorities: Before starting any project, we consult with local regulatory bodies to understand any specific requirements or changes to existing codes.

  • Review and audit: For every design project, we perform a thorough review process to meet all local standards. We conduct post-construction audits to ensure on-ground compliance.

(b) Potential issues from non-compliance

  • Safety hazards: Non-compliance can lead to unsafe installations, risking fires, electrical shocks, or equipment malfunctions.

  • Legal repercussions: Facilities found violating local codes face hefty fines, legal actions, even shutdowns.

  • Cost overruns: Non-compliant installations require revisions, leading to increased costs and project delays.

3. Safety concerns in hazardous environments

Electrical safety is paramount in industrial environments like welding shops. Our designs prioritize safety, incorporating features like arc flash mitigation and ground fault protection. Regular safety audits during the construction phase further enhance on-site safety.

(a) Why is electrical safety paramount in industrial settings?

Anyone who works in this type of environment knows the high risks associated with the type of load requirements and machinery use. Industrial settings like welding shops have equipment that operates at high voltages and currents. Any malfunction or mishap can lead to severe injuries, fires, and equipment damage.

(b) How do we prioritize safety?

  • Safety-first design: Our designs incorporate safety features like circuit breakers, ground fault protection, and arc flash mitigation.

  • Regular safety audits: We conduct regular safety checks during the construction phase, ensuring all installations are safe and up to code.

  • Employee training: All on-site personnel should undergo safety training, ensuring they're equipped to handle emergencies.

(c) Potential Issues resulting from overlooking safety

  • Injuries: Electrical mishaps can lead to severe injuries or even fatalities.

  • Equipment damage: A short circuit or overload can damage expensive machinery.

  • Operational delays: Safety incidents can halt operations, leading to project delays and financial losses.

4. Leveraging Sensor Technology for Enhanced Energy Efficiency

Sensor technology plays a pivotal role in modern electrical systems, especially in the context of energy efficiency. Sensors provide real-time data on various parameters, allowing for dynamic adjustments, early detection of inefficiencies, and optimization of energy consumption.

(a) How do we leverage sensor technology?

  • Smart lighting systems: Light sensors can detect ambient light levels and adjust artificial lighting accordingly. For instance, on a bright day, sensors can dim or turn off lights near windows, thereby conserving energy.

  • HVAC optimization: Temperature and humidity sensors can dynamically adjust HVAC systems, ensuring they operate only when needed and at optimal levels. This not only conserves energy but also enhances the comfort of the facility.

  • Machinery monitoring: Sensors can monitor the operation of machinery, adjusting power supply based on real-time demand. For instance, a machine not in use won't draw unnecessary power. Sensors also evaluate the state of a system: if a machine starts operating outside of specifications, sensors will detect the malfunction and send warning signals. Modern machinery typically integrates factory sensors, but older machinery does not necessarily: in this case, a retrofit is probably a good idea.

  • Energy consumption monitoring: By installing sensors that monitor energy consumption patterns, facilities can identify peak load times, inefficiencies, or equipment that might be drawing more power than necessary.

  • Integration with control systems: The data from sensors is fed into advanced control systems, which can make real-time decisions to optimize energy consumption across the facility.

(b) Potential benefits of using sensor technology:

  • Reduced energy bills: By optimizing energy consumption, facilities can significantly reduce their monthly energy bills.

  • Enhanced equipment lifespan: Machinery that operates optimally, without drawing unnecessary power, tends to have a longer operational lifespan.

  • Sustainability: Reducing energy consumption directly correlates with a reduced carbon footprint, making the facility more environmentally friendly.

  • Predictive maintenance: Sensors can detect anomalies in machinery operation, allowing for predictive maintenance. This not only prevents potential breakdowns but also ensures machinery operates efficiently.

(c) Potential issues from not leveraging sensor technology:

  • Operational inefficiencies: Without real-time monitoring, machinery and systems might operate sub-optimally, leading to increased energy consumption.

  • Increased wear & tear: Machinery that doesn't adjust based on real-time demands will overtime be subjected to faster wear & tear.

  • Missed savings opportunities: Without sensors, facilities miss out on potential energy-saving opportunities, leading to higher operational costs.

5. Scalability for future expansion

It is reasonable to expect any light industrial facility to expand over time. Our designs are forward-thinking, allowing for easy scalability. Whether it is additional machinery in a machine shop or increased storage in a warehouse, our electrical systems can adapt without major overhauls.

(a) How do we design for scalability?

  • Future-proofing designs: We anticipate potential future needs to ensure that the foundational systems can accommodate growth.

  • Modular systems: Where possible, we design systems modularly, allowing for easy additions or modifications.

  • Regular consultations with clients: By understanding a client's long-term vision, we can design systems that align with their future goals.

(b) Potential issues resulting from the lack of scalability

  • Increased future costs: Non-scalable systems might require complete overhauls when expansion is needed.

  • Operational delays: Adapting non-scalable systems can be time-consuming, leading to longer downtimes during expansions.

  • Integration challenges: Introducing new machinery or systems to a non-scalable infrastructure can lead to integration challenges and inefficiencies.

6. Efficient lighting solutions

Research studies and floor experience have demonstrated that proper lighting is crucial for productivity and safety. We recommend LED solutions that offer excellent illumination while reducing energy consumption. Whenever possible, our designs consider bringing natural lighting in the facility to reduce eye fatigue and the side effects of LED-generated blue light.

(a) How do we ensure efficient lighting?

  • LED solutions: LED lights offer excellent illumination while consuming less energy than traditional bulbs.

  • Natural lighting: Where possible, designs incorporate windows or skylights to make use of natural light, reducing energy costs and workers’ eye fatigue.

  • Automated systems: Light sensors and timers can be used to ensure lights are only on when needed, further reducing energy consumption.

(b) Potential issues stemming from poor lighting

  • Decreased productivity: Poor lighting strains workers' eyes, leading to fatigue and decreased productivity.

  • Safety hazards: Inadequate lighting leads to accidents, especially around machinery. Non-compliance with OSHA regulations is also a costly risk.

  • Increased energy costs: Relying only on artificial lighting leads to higher energy bills.

7. Backup power solutions

Power outages can halt production, leading to significant losses. Our designs incorporate robust backup solutions, from uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for critical equipment to standby generators capable of powering entire facilities.

(a) How do we implement backup solutions?

  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS): For critical equipment, UPS systems provide immediate backup power, ensuring no interruption in operations. However, UPS are only temporary solutions, mostly adequate for computer systems: batteries do not store and deliver enough energy to power industrial machinery

  • Standby generators: Standby generators can power the most crucial machinery in the facility, and they ensure that lights stay on, including safety lights if an evacuation becomes necessary.

(b) Potential issues from a lack of backup power

  • Operational halts: Even short power outages can disrupt production schedules.

  • Data loss: For facilities that rely on digital systems, power outages typically lead to data loss.

  • Equipment damage: Some machinery can be damaged if power is suddenly cut off.

  • Safety hazards: Although safety lights typically work on separate circuits backed up by batteries, a catastrophic loss of power typically leads to evacuating the facility, and standby generators help keep the evacuation routes clearly lit. The absence of back-up power on evacuation routes is a surefire recipe for disaster.

8. Advanced control systems

Modern facilities benefit from advanced control systems, from automated lighting to machinery operation. Our team integrates these systems into our designs, ensuring smooth operation and enhanced energy efficiency.

(a) Why are advanced control systems important?

Advanced control systems allow for precise operation, monitoring, and optimization of electrical systems and machinery. They enhance efficiency, reduce human error, and generate significant energy savings.

(b) How do we implement advanced control systems?

  • Integration with existing systems: We ensure that new control systems can seamlessly integrate with existing machinery and infrastructure.

  • User-friendly interfaces: Manufacturers design their systems with user-friendly interfaces, ensuring that facility staff can easily monitor and control operations.

  • Remote monitoring: Advanced systems allow for remote monitoring, enabling issues to be detected and addressed promptly, often before they escalate.

(c) Potential issues stemming from the absence of advanced control systems

  • Operational inefficiencies: Without advanced controls, machinery runs sub-optimally, leading to increased energy consumption and wear.

  • Increased downtime: Detecting and diagnosing issues without advanced monitoring is time-consuming, and leads to longer downtimes.

  • Human error: Manual controls are susceptible to human error. This will create operational mishaps and inefficiencies.

9. Design-Build: Cost Overruns

Cost overruns are a significant concern in Design-Build projects. We use rigorous project management techniques, regularly reviewing progress against budgets. Transparent communication with our clients ensures they are kept in the loop, which helps prevent unpleasant financial surprises.

(a) Why is budget management a crucial feature of Design-Build projects?

Cost overruns strain client-supplier relationships, reduce profitability, and jeopardize the completion of a project. Effective budget management ensures that projects stay on track financially and meet client expectations.

(b) How do we prevent cost overruns?

  • Detailed project estimates: Before starting on a project, we provide a detailed cost estimate, accounting for potential challenges and risks.

  • Regular financial reviews: We proceed with regular reviews of a project's financial health, comparing actual costs with estimates.

  • Transparent communication: We keep our clients in the loop about any financial concerns, ensuring there are no surprises.

(c) Potential issues stemming from cost overruns

  • Project delays or failure: Insufficient funds can halt work until additional financing is secured. In the absence of such financing, projects can become crippled and fail.

  • Reduced quality: To cut costs, contractors can resort to buying lower quality materials or labor, compromising mid-to-long term expectations and outputs.

  • Strained client relationships: Unexpected costs will strain relationships, potentially affecting future business opportunities.

10. Coordination with Other Contractors

In any Design-Build project, coordination with other contractors (e.g. HVAC, plumbing, security, roofing, etc.) is crucial. Our team maintains open lines of communication, ensuring all systems integrate seamlessly. Regular coordination meetings prevent conflicts and ensure timely project completion.

(a) How do we ensure effective coordination?

  • Regular coordination meetings: These meetings ensure all contractors are aligned in terms of schedules, responsibilities, and expectations.

  • Clear documentation: We document detailed plans, schedules, and responsibilities, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

  • Dedicated project managers: One of our project managers oversees coordination, acting as a point of contact and ensuring smooth communication between all parties.

(b) Potential issues stemming from poor coordination

  • Project delays: Overlapping schedules or misunderstandings can halt work, and will slow it down.

  • Increased costs: Redoing work due to miscommunication or conflicts will increase costs.

  • System incompatibilities: Without coordination, different systems (like electrical and HVAC) might fail to integrate seamlessly, leading to costly operational issues.

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