Business man, programer, software developer working on laptop computer with network connection, monochrome, internet of things IoT, 4.0 digital technology development concept

What’s Happening in Our Market? 

Akira Jones, Director of Digital Services at HH Angus, was recently a featured speaker at the annual conference of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. His presentation (available below in both text and video) examines the drivers pushing greater adoption of new technologies and the impact of these on our clients and how we work, as well as the threats to our industry from non-engineering firms.

HH Angus has seen a lot of change in its 100+ years, from drafting on paper, the introduction of computers and CAD, the shift towards BIM, and now computational design. However, today’s rate and availability of technological change is unprecedented. HH Angus’ BIM team was born out of necessity to service a large healthcare infrastructure project. Initially, the team was created to help our designers with BIM-related activities and projects, which meant providing support using database-driven technologies associated with BIM, developing our reality capture and scan-to-BIM capabilities, and other tools around using Revit or BIM processes.

The Architecture-Engineering-Construction (AEC) industry has been slow to embrace productivity and technological advancements. Recently, the industry has been experiencing change through leveraging existing and emerging technologies in design and construction. BIM tools have become mainstream in our workflows, with increasing adoption of 3D imaging, estimating software, computational fluid dynamics analysis, computational modeling, and more.  

What’s driving our industry’s embrace of technology and new processes? Escalating project costs are a major factor. This typically flows back to consulting engineering firms through pressure for lower fees – do more or the same work for less. This can be an opportunity if we use new technologies to improve efficiency, improve workflows, provide novel solutions, and improve the quality of the solutions we deliver. Projects are also increasing in complexity, with design teams being more multidisciplinary, which requires greater collaboration and more quality assurance. BIM has helped with improving efficiency and collaboration within the firm and across project teams. For existing buildings, advances in 3D scanning technology have allowed us to quickly scan spaces and convert into REVIT models, which are far more accurate than 2D drawings or dated as-builts, and can be shared with project teams in any location.

Sustainability and resiliency are also driving adoption of new technologies. With buildings contributing nearly 40% of greenhouse gases, the AEC sector can make a positive impact by designing and constructing buildings more sustainably. Reducing use of materials with high embodied carbon, decarbonizing heating and cooling systems, and leveraging smart buildings technologies to realize more energy efficiency are some of the emerging technologies we can employ.

Over the last decade, our team has explored digital twinning, smart buildings/IoT and cloud technologies. Through pilot and research projects, I've had the opportunity to work with folks with new skillsets that will be valuable for future consulting engineers. There is vast potential to leverage, to really supercharge our ability to solve problems for our clients.

Our industry is changing rapidly in other ways, not just in technology adoption. Disruptive technologies are attracting non-engineering businesses into the AEC market. Both Google, with their Sidewalk Labs division, and Microsoft have made significant investments in developing services and products focused on the built environment. Tech start-ups focused on real estate technology seem to be emerging almost daily. And large, established consulting firms like Deloitte, KPMG, and Accenture have created practices and market offerings around smart buildings. We are in the era of smart buildings, IoT, big data and cloud computing, which are the ‘bread and butter’ for these technology and large professional service firms. A tremendous amount of technology and data collection will be critical for smart cities – representing opportunities for optimizing building operations as well as new revenue streams. These firms are very interested in providing their solutions to our clients.

Architect presenting project to a group of managers

What is the impact to consulting engineering?

How will these changes impact consulting engineering?

  • The way we do our work
  • The solutions we offer to our clients
  • New and enhanced services we provide to the market

Consulting engineering is in the process of reorganizing itself, not just because of technological advancements, but also market pressures, evolving client expectations and generational change.

Firms that embrace technology to improve operations are better able to scale, manage and attract talent, and improve productivity and profitability. We generate a wealth of data for projects – from design specifications, standards, products, materials, schedule, budget, facilities operations and more. Cloud computing, IoT, digital twins and machine learning are some of the technologies capable of automating routine tasks, quickly iterating design options and generally streamlining workflows. 

The growing role of technology has blurred the lines between traditional consulting engineering and technology work (i.e. software and application development). With digital and other technologies at the heart of much innovation and how projects are designed and delivered, engineering firms are doing much more technology work – developing custom scripts for computational design, creating digital twins, developing a single plane of glass (dashboard) for BAS and smart buildings solutions. We’re often as likely to be designing and developing apps, prototypes, databases, cloud platforms as we are doing project management, construction admin, load calculations or other ‘traditional engineering’ tasks. The distinction between an engineer and a software solution provider or cloud expert are converging, because the future requires understanding of all these.

Clients’ expectations of engineering consultants are also changing, regarding how we solve their problems, and the types of consultants involved in design and construction. It may mean that non-traditional design consultants become involved – such as management consultants, tech start-ups or cloud computing consultants. Clients are more knowledgeable about artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), and are apt to hire engineering firms using these technologies to deliver better outcomes.

Two people working on virtual 3d building by using AR glasses.

The Consulting Engineer of the Future

As in many other industries, the perspective on how we work has shifted between older generations and the more digitally savvy next generation. So, what kind of skills will this consulting engineer of the future need? Certainly, a critical skill set will revolve around software development. Programming and software development are skills that have become required in many industries; however, it’s relatively new within the AEC industry. It is not just the knowledge of how to program software, it is understanding what software is capable of, from both specific applications to enterprise scale. Engineers don’t necessarily need to know how to code or write software, but they will need to understand how software can be applied to solve problems.

Understanding how software can improve processes will be an increasingly important key skill for consulting engineers. It is a unique skill in and of itself. It’s extremely important to understand how to use software to automate processes, or iterate in ways that would typically take a human significantly more time in a standard or traditional approach.

The application programming interfaces (APIs) for design software such as REVIT or Rhino affords the opportunity to easily automate routine tasks, which is made even easier with visual programming languages such as Dynamo or Grasshopper. Not only can we use these APIs for simple automation, but also for more sophisticated processes, such as running parametric simulation for spaces loads, or extracting data from our models to validate design assumptions and inform future designs.

There are tools available that improve how we conduct our work, validate our assumptions and use data to inform our future designs. Beyond that, there is a major opportunity for consulting engineers to provide unique solutions to clients. It might seem a stretch to say every engineering consultant is going to become a software developer/provider; however, by going beyond simple automations and engaging in research partnerships and pilot projects, we can provide valuable insights, and have the potential for creating something novel and valuable to the client. For example, today one can use predictive analytics on a data set to get a high-level picture of future patterns. But employing true machine learning could take that same data set to generate a system model that learns as new data points are created and potentially predicts future outcomes. How would this work with the built environment? In a current pilot project, we are collaborating with a commercial client and a large university to generate a purpose-built digital twin using existing BAS and IoT data sources to model how building systems behave in real life. The building owner’s facilities team can then predict how changes to the physical environment or building systems would impact operations or occupant comfort.

The application of machine learning to our workflows is not in the distant future - it can be applied effectively today in appropriate use cases.

IoT is a technology that allows us to gather data about how buildings, equipment and people behave, and it’s one that consulting engineers should become more familiar with. It has quickly become a mature technology in some sectors, like mining and manufacturing, with rapid uptake in other sectors like healthcare and commercial. As we design buildings, we need to understand how to leverage IoT devices and properly implement them.  And it does not stop at understanding IoT devices; we must also understand how data is gathered, architected, stored, analyzed and presented so that we can derive actionable insights. So, cloud computing comes into play, and building skills in technologies such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, Google Cloud and others will be important.

At HH Angus, we have found that engaging in pilot projects with clients is an effective way for us to understand the impact of these technologies to deliver better project and business outcomes for our clients, while also building our own competencies in these emerging technologies. We embarked on an internal pilot project to implement IoT sensors in our own office to gather environmental and space occupancy data, and then developed our own app and dashboard to view insights. In another pilot project, we partnered with a healthcare client on the implementation of 5G and IoT sensors in an ER setting. On other recent pursuits, we have developed strong expertise in designing Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) systems. The common theme is that we are employing and developing skills that are atypical of traditional engineering and with greater emphasis on new technology hardware and programming.

Automated guided vehicles at a hospital

Summary

The world is constantly evolving and sometimes change can be faster that we expect or want. Clients are adapting and they prefer consultants who are also adapting and able to deliver better value. To be relevant, consulting engineers need to expand beyond traditional roles and expectations. Fault lines are already emerging that will separate those who embrace technology and change, and those who cannot.

It's important for consulting engineers to invest in developing a range of skills. While it can be daunting to explore new areas, the reward is worth it. Through HH Angus’ research initiatives and pilot projects mentioned previously, we have enjoyed success and learned some key lessons:

  • Gain a better understanding these emerging technologies and when and where they can be most effectively employed
  • Create a work environment in which we can work more efficiently
  • Enable a culture where entrepreneurship and ideas are valued and new services can emerge
  • Better engage staff and attract new talent

Ultimately, we're in the business of solving more than just our clients’ infrastructure challenges – we also should be helping them discover opportunities to do more with their real estate assets and supporting their business goals. By expanding our skills so that we can understand and leverage emerging technologies, deliver novel solutions, become more efficient in our own processes, and better leverage their building assets, consulting engineers can continue to be trusted advisors to our clients.

Headshot of Akira Jones

Akira Jones, B.Sc., P.Eng., LEED AP
Director, Digital Services

HH Angus employee Jomar using the Matterport scanner at a site

Matterport Inc. recently announced a new add-on service that decreases time and cost for users of its Building Information Modeling software: Matterport BIM file. The new software from the spatial data company expedites the transformation of a Matterport digital twin into a ready-to-use BIM file at the click of a button.

HH Angus was an early adopter of Matterport software, and has been working with the developers since early days to refine its programs to better serve the consulting engineering industry.  Our Digital Services team recently spoke to Matterport about our experience with their new service, and how it can cut costs and improve efficiency.

Creating Better Outcomes Through Smarter Engineering

Click here to read the full conversation on how we’re helping clients save time and money while improving our processes with Matterport’s BIM files service.

Doctors discussing over screens in control room

A Framework for Standard-Based Solutions

HH Angus recently worked with CSA Group to develop a research report that investigated the current landscape of health care facility digital infrastructure standardization and developed recommendations aimed at establishing opportunities for a standard that addresses the implementation, adoption, and management of digital health infrastructure. The focus of the standard is to address both end devices and the infrastructure that supports them.

Participation in meeting

The CSA report proposes recommendations for standards-based solutions to address the complex challenges related to the deployment of digital infrastructure in Canadian health care facilities. The objectives of the report were to gain an understanding of the current state of digital infrastructure in healthcare facilities across Canada, identify where gaps exist, and outline how standards-based solutions can help support planning, implementation, integration, and life-cycle management of digital infrastructure.

Through a literature review and stakeholder interviews, it was revealed that there is a gap in standardization related to digital infrastructure which has resulted in healthcare organizations and health systems across Canada developing and using custom technology solutions and processes. This lack of standardization across departments, facilities, partners, and jurisdictions carries broad implications for interoperability and prevents lessons learned from being shared across organizations. To address the gaps between today’s healthcare facility digital infrastructure and the needs of the industry, recommendations for standards-based solutions have been identified.

The report also presents success stories from across Canada, highlighting their ‘lessons learned’ that were subsequently incorporated into the report’s 12 recommendations. 

The full report can be downloaded at: https://www.csagroup.org/article/research/deployment-of-health-care-facility-digital-infrastructure-in-canada/.

Medical gas panel

Edward Hood, HH Angus’ Medical Gas Specialist, recently joined an expert panel discussing the issues around medical O2 in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of his presentation for the Canadian Healthcare Engineering Society webinar:

Challenges of increasing the numbers of oxygen outlets to an existing system with a fixed supply pipe size

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have experienced extraordinary increases in oxygen consumption due to high numbers of patients admitted to intensive care units. A complicating factor in their care has been the challenge of adding oxygen outlets to an existing zone for the purpose of treating COVID patients. Why is this a challenge? Simply put, many existing oxygen zones within a healthcare facility were not sized for large increases in oxygen flow. Many older healthcare facilities had their oxygen zones sized on oxygen outlet counts, which applied a diversity factor. That approach changed in the last few editions of CSA Z7396.1, which now focuses on understanding specific high demand zones (critical care for example), and designing robustly-sized piping infrastructure to those zones. However, the outcome is the same – many existing oxygen zones were never designed for “overflow” condition; as such, loading up existing oxygen zones by adding outlets or high flow oxygen devices must be managed very carefully.

Why is that? Substantially increasing oxygen flow in an existing oxygen zone will introduce increased pipeline pressure drops in the zone. A drop to 40 PSI at a zone valve will normally trigger the low alarm at the zone valve.

For this reason, it is important to analyze anticipated flow demand within the zone with the size of the oxygen service available in order to manage acceptable pressure losses that will not trigger alarm conditions.

Medical gas alarm

Factors affecting how many COVID patients can be treated in an existing medical gas zone

In hospitals, typical patient room usage is 5 L/min of oxygen; however, oxygen usage for COVID-19 patients can be up to 60 L/min or possibly higher, depending on the types of high flow oxygen devices in use. In order to manage pressure drops within a zone and avoid low pressure alarms, table E.5 in CSA Z7396.1 provides some guidance regarding expected pressure drops per 100ft of copper piping for a given pipe size. These pipeline pressure drops are:

  • ½ inch pipe @ 190 L/min will have .5 pressure drop per 100ft
  • ¾ inch pipe @ 500 L/min will have .5 pressure drop per 100ft
  • 1 inch pipe @ 1000 L/min will have .5 pressure drop per 100ft
  • 1 ¼ inch pipe @ 1800 L/min will have .5 pressure drop per 100ft

In other words, the following occupancy adjustments should be considered:

  • ½ inch pipe
    Non-COVID use = 38 patients in a zone
    COVID use = 3 patients in a zone
  • ¾ inch pipe
    Non-COVID use = 100 patients in a zone
    COVID use = 8 patients in a zone
  • 1 inch pipe
    Non-COVID use = 200 patients in a zone
    COVID use = 16 patients in a zone
  • 1 ¼ inch pipe
    Non-COVID use = 360 patients in a zone
    COVID use = 30 patients in a zone

Concluding recommendations for ensuring adequate oxygen supply

  • Before admitting COVID patients to a typical patient room, facility staff need to check the zone valve to verify pipe size in order to determine occupancy limits. Larger-sized zone valves are typically an indicator of a zone having greater capacity to flow oxygen with lesser pressure drops.
  • Have a pandemic plan to identify where best to convert existing beds to COVID rooms. Consider the size of the oxygen zone valve serving the zone.
  • If you are designing for a new hospital, consider designing a pandemic floor with medical gas pipelines capable of the worst-case scenario load, and consider the pressure drops from the bulk pad/source equipment to the zone in order to keep pressure drop for the pipeline to below 5 PSI per CSA Z7396.1 requirements.

Edward Hood, P.Eng., B. Eng.
Technical Leader and Senior Mechanical Engineer
edward.hood@hhangus.com

Send medical equipment robot technology in hospital

Interest in and implementation of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) has become more common in healthcare capital projects, with clients recognizing the value these systems can bring in terms of productivity, safety and efficiency. While AGVs have been in use for some time in other industries, a hospital AGV system differs from these in that its ability to consistently achieve performance parameters and throughput is heavily influenced by both the users and the technical performance of the system. In hospitals, a large number of users from many different programs (eg., food service, pharmacy, logistics) must interact with the system. The ability to prevent backlogs and ensure critical deliveries relies on strict adherence to the AGV schedule, cart removal timing, and coordination with a central operator. The technical performance of the system is highly influenced by the space programmed, elevator capacity, programming and system capabilities, which differ among vendors.

Some factors driving increased adoption of AGVs by healthcare clients include:

  • The increased floor plate associated with new hospital builds, as a result of a higher ratio of single-patient rooms and improved circulation space
  • Improvements in sensor technology that have greatly enhanced the performance of AGVs in areas such as collision avoidance and environment recognition, navigation, fleet management, material tracking, and the ability to conduct detailed diagnostics and maintenance of individual vehicles
  • A greater need to improve sanitation (cleanliness) in the hospital environment, as well as the increased priority to disinfect various spaces (i.e. UV robots) – also supporting minimizing hospital acquired infections
  • Increasing labour costs, and a focus on workplace injury prevention

Benefits that can be realized include:

  • Improved productivity. AGVs can reduce supply chain management costs and deliver reliability of supplies compared to non-automated methods.
  • Availability. AGVs can operate on a 24/7/365 basis. Advances in battery technology have significantly shortened battery charging times, resulting in AGV systems that can be designed to be on call throughout the entire day to respond to demand. This also means that distribution can be scheduled for off-peak hours.
  • Reduced damage to facilities. With improved collision detection and environmental recognition, well designed AGV systems can almost eliminate damage to doors, walls, elevators and other structures in the hospital while also ensuring safety as they are programmed to never collide with other objects (including people).
  • Predictability. Because AGVs are programmed to operate to a schedule, it becomes easier to schedule complementary resources within the same delivery periods.

AGVs are currently being used for a range of tasks in hospitals. These include pick-up and delivery of meals, waste, linens, sterile supplies, medications, and other supplies. The systems are quite sophisticated and are capable of activating and navigating automatic doors, signaling and navigating elevators (both dedicated and shared), delivering carts for cleaning, activating cart-washing systems, and are able to safely navigate busy spaces, such as hallways and elevators, that are shared with humans. The use cases for AGVs increase as we discover more needs they can support!

Medical delivery robots moving in hospital. Infection prevention concept. 3D rendering image.

Designing AGV Systems

In designing AGV systems for healthcare facilities, HH Angus has the specialized expertise and experience to produce exceptional results in a highly technical process that requires insight and knowledge of healthcare facilities operations and logistics, vendor experience, and a depth of networking and integration expertise. Our Angus Connect Division is a Canadian leader in delivering forward-thinking and robust digital and technology strategies, along with design and implementation for healthcare and other facilities.

At the outset, our team examines our clients’ overall business objectives and operational goals. Some of these include improved supply management for clinical services, timely medication dispensing, and reduction in portering and housekeeping steps to deliver supplies. Drawing on our clinical, building and AGV design experience, we collaborate with the client to understand their vision, and then contribute our deep knowledge of materials management, hospital flows and implementation of AGV systems to successfully tie together workflows and technical requirements. Taking time early in the design stage to fully understand the project requirements allows us to track changes in client requirements that can occur over the design and construction life of the project. Ensuring the operational assumptions and the AGV and hospital designs align with the overall goals of our clients is crucial to delivering a successful AGV system.

Through our extensive experience with the P3 (public-private partnership) model, both in proponent and compliance roles, we have developed some methodologies for success, which include:

Informed Decision Making Based on Clinical and Hospital Operations Best Practices

Our Connect team has significant knowledge of hospital operations, with the expertise of four clinicians who bring hands-on experience and consulting advisory on process flows.  We also bring the knowledge gained from previous AGV and materials management work with key hospital clients, such as Providence Health Care for its New St. Paul’s Hospital, Alberta Health Services for its proposed New Edmonton Hospital, the Nova Scotia Health Authority for the QEII Halifax Infirmary Expansion, and SickKids Hospital as part of its massive Project Horizon Redevelopment project. Work on over 10 large-scale AGV projects globally has given us an in-depth appreciation for the technical and operating challenges our clients face when implementing an AGV system. Given the heavy clinical and operational implications of AGVs, clients have often extended our team’s engagement in order to provide comprehensive planning, design and compliance support.

By combining our clinical and technical skillsets and AGV knowledge, we were able to deliver a design that was highly commended by the hospital.

The significance of this was put into particular focus during our proponent role for the New St. Paul’s Hospital. We were able to support the hospital in defining their scheduling and operational assumptions, developed a well-thought out AGV design that recognized infection control and staff safety requirements, and applied LEAN design principles to optimize workflows, creating optimal efficiency for supply chain management across the site. By combining our clinical and technical skillsets and AGV knowledge, we were able to deliver a design that was highly commended by the hospital.

Rendering of New St. Paul's Hospital BC
New St. Paul's Hospital BC (Rendering courtesy of PCL & Providence Health Care)

Elements of a Successful Implementation

A key to a successful AGV system is fully defining the operational processes of the AGV users in concert with the AGV system design. It is heavily dependent upon the human interfaces with the system, such as users respecting the design of the AGV Cart Matrix, prompt removal of carts upon delivery within the design time parameters, keeping all AGV areas free of obstacles, cart alignment, and having a central operator who monitors the system, proactively ensuring on-time deliveries and preventing system backlog. It is critical that the AGV and associated departmental operations, policies, procedures and staffing are reflected in the basis of design. In addition to these operational impacts, throughput of an AGV system is also significantly influenced by the design of the system, including space (including corridor widths, send/receive locations, and elevator lobbies), design of routes, the technical capability of the system, proper maintenance, WiFi, Local Area Network (LAN), elevator capacity, and integrations with the fire alarm and access control systems.

There are key differences between the implementation of AGVs in new builds versus existing sites. To name just a few, AGVs require wider corridors and pathways that support their turning radius’, specially-designed elevator lobbies that support not only the AGV navigation but also the cart-associated workflows, elevator type and capacity, battery charging locations, maintenance rooms and ‘send and receive’ locations within programs. The required space is driven by the AGV schedule and cart quantities, thereby making early planning critical to the end success of the system. While new builds can incorporate these requirements into early planning by ensuring the programmed space captures these, there are limitations to retrofitting existing hospital buildings with an AGV system due to narrow hallways, non-compliant elevators and WiFi limitations. While a thorough examination is needed to determine the options available to existing sites, there have been promising advances in Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) that can help automate certain supply management services such as food, medication and supply delivery. AMRs do not require the same space requirements as AGVs and therefore can mitigate the need for renovations, making it a cost-effective technology for organizations interested in automating their supply chain management processes or implementing just-in-time deliveries.

Our team has experience developing AGV business cases, cost estimates, cart matrixes, specifications, and technical design on several large AGV-related projects, including SickKids, New Edmonton Hospital, Halifax Infirmary, and the New St. Paul’s hospital. These projects have provided us with a wealth of lessons learned and experience, allowing us to provide expert consulting for the successful planning, design, implementation, ongoing operation and maintenance of your AGV system.

For more information about how our AGV experience can help your healthcare facility, please contact:

Megan Angus

Megan Angus, RN, MBA, Lean
Division Director, Angus Connect
megan.angus@hhangus.com

Headshot of Robyn Munro

Robyn Munro, RN
ICAT Analyst, Angus Connect
robyn.munro@hhangus.com