In this month’s FM Insider, Phil Brompton, managing director of Powrmatic, steps into the shoes of a facilities manager and considers the challenge of managing building services projects.
FMJ: How does it feel to be wearing the facilities manager’s shoes?
Phil Brompton: It’s certainly very interesting, but also quite challenging. In fact, it seems to me that FMs are being thrown more and more challenges by their organisations.
FMJ: Why do you think is that?
PB: I think it reflects growing recognition of the importance of FM and the contribution it makes to the enterprise as a whole. So, in that respect, it is a very positive development for the FM profession. However, it also means that many FMs are expected to have an understanding of a very wide range of specialised areas where they may have no direct experience.
FMJ: Can you give us some examples?
PB: As a manufacturer of heating products, we often encounter FMs and others with a building management role who have no experience of building services engineering but they are expected to manage this area of the building’s operation. They will often have a remit to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, while also safeguarding the comfort conditions of the workforce – which creates a complex situation. For example, energy costs can be cut by using less heating, but a shivering workforce is hardly a productive workforce and low temperatures are a common cause of complaints to the help desk.
The result is that the FM needs to steer a path through these potentially choppy waters by addressing the efficiency of the heating. Given the wide range of heating options available, it helps to have some technical understanding of the different products and how they work.
Nor is this issue confined to heating as the same is true of other services, such as lighting, but the same principles apply so heating is a good way of illustrating this.
FMJ: But isn’t it just a matter of replacing the current heating with more modern and more efficient alternatives?
PB: That can be the case at times but more often than not there will have been changes since the heating was installed that will impact on the choice of new system. For example, many of our products are designed for factories, warehouses and other ‘shed’ type buildings. In recent years, many owners of these buildings will have taken measures to improve the energy performance of their buildings by increasing insulation and making the buildings more airtight. This alters the heating dynamics considerably.
A typical scenario might be an old draughty ‘shed’ where the most efficient option had originally been rows of radiant heaters. When that building is upgraded to modern standards, warm air heating may be a more efficient option.
FMJ: So it’s important to consider the heating, or other services, in the context of the whole building?
PB: Certainly – and clearly the FM will have a good knowledge of the buildings in the portfolio. And the other factor to take into account relates to the Building Regulations, as minimum efficiency standards for most energy-consuming products are tightened each time the regulations change. Of course, this also helps the FM achieve the balance between energy efficiency and comfort.
FMJ: Given the requirement for specialist knowledge, does this mean that the FM should hand over the responsibility for this type of project to others?
PB: I think specialist advice is always valuable but the FM still has a key role to play because nobody else will have such a good understanding of how the building is used and how the services should reflect this. Also, it’s probably true to say that buildings are expected to be more flexible these days and the FM is ideally placed to anticipate future changes and ensure any new systems can respond.
A case in point is warehousing where the company seeks to make maximum use of the space by installing high, dense racking. Traditionally, the heating system would comprise a network of ducts with grilles sited above aisles to deliver the heat to where people are working. The trouble is, if the company wants to change the configuration of the racking, they also have to completely re-design the layout of the heating. And that is both expensive and disruptive.
So if the FM is aware that changes are planned for the future they may opt for a more flexible solution, such as a standalone rotation heater that brings all of the air in the space to the heater, rather than trying to direct the warm air to specific parts of the space. This approach means that the configuration of the racking has no impact on the effectiveness of the heating.
FMJ: So the FM has more of a supervisory role in such projects.
PB: Yes, the FM is essentially the key interface between the organisation and the specialist supervisors and installers who may be involved in the project. Nobody else has such a good overview of the project’s scope and objectives; whatever the goal is, it should fit the organisation’s needs and aspirations. So I believe the FM’s role is pivotal to the success of the project.
FMJ: Finally, if you had a magic wand, what would you change about the industry?
PB: As I indicated earlier, I believe the value of FM is being recognised more widely within many organisations and I would like to see that recognition extend to all organisations at a faster rate.
The FM Insider is a series in which we invite the specialists serving us to imagine they are sitting in the facilities manager’s chair. We ask them to look at their world from your perspective; if they had to be an FM for a day, how would they approach the job? What insider knowledge would they bring to bear on the role?
If you are interested in participating in The FM Insider, please contact the editor on 020 8298 6490 or email email@example.com.