By the time this article goes to print — and if the snow ever leaves the ground in New England — you’ll have more luck finding me on the golf course or kayaking a Maine river than in a cleanroom. Yep…I’ve decided to retire, hang up the spurs, and spend more time hanging out with my wife and friends than HVAC computations. Racquetball wins over redundant system design; golf beats gloveboxes; the beach beats biotech. Kind of a “rock/paper/scissors” approach to life.
After more than three decades, I want to focus on a different kind of fun, even though every minute of my technology adventure has been a blast. (Not literally. Thankfully. And while that last sentence maybe a slight exaggeration, it’s my retirement so I can embellish if I want to.)
But before heading out, there was one more column to write. In the academic world, they call it “the last lecture.” A little elevated for my tastes, but who can resist the opportunity to pass along a few thoughts to the next generation? I’ve enjoyed working with the talented, intellectually curious, and fun younger crew — and hope their careers are as interesting as mine. So, here are some random thoughts, tips, and tricks.
Change is constant, but so is your capacity to learn. If you want to stay at the top of your game, keep on learning. This is especially true in the controlled environments world — where else can you facilitate the “next big thing”? Without your facilities, the newest gizmo, whiz-mo, lifesaving treatment, or got-to-have gadget would be nothing more than a gleam in another engineer’s or researcher’s eye. Your engineering makes their engineering a reality.
Cost is king. No getting around this, the capital improvements you need cost real money. And when you are scoping a project’s cost, make sure you include the total project costs — including the irritating stuff like legal and accounting fees, regulatory permits, and other items on the soft side of the balance sheet.
Embrace technology, but don’t love technology for technology’s sake. You should have gotten over your infatuation with being the cool guy in high school. Technology is cool, but make sure it’s useful, cost-effective, reliable, and truly efficient. Your focus is on the facility, the project, and the improvements at hand — not swagging for the cool dude or dudette title around the office.
Safety is a state of mind — and job #1. Trust me, you do want to reach the age of golf, kayaking, and racquetball, while hanging with your family and friends. You don’t want to be the recipient of a Darwin Award. And you want to retire with a clear conscience. As a facilities engineer, you’re responsible for the safety of others.
Always plan for what you hope never happens. While we’re on the subject of safety, make sure your risk management program is well developed, carefully thought out, updated, and trained to regularly.
Energy costs money; always consider total project costs. Choosing to be cheap on the front end of a project will cost you in the long run. Carefully consider operations costs; energy is a big factor.
Assume a leadership role. If the facilities department is relegated to a second-tier role in your organization, you have only yourself to blame. Work at making facilities issues top of mind, as a central factor in your company’s success. Cultivate your relationship with key section heads, the C-suite, and corporate departments including finance, communications, and legal. Seek their input, and invite their participation in initiatives like risk management planning, disaster recovery, and crisis
Back-up power is your friend — in stormy weather, maybe your best friend. Lines down and lab shutdowns are a nightmare. And a costly nightmare at that. Ruined product, failed trials, expired cultures. This is not a debate about global warming, but a reality check about that potentially career limiting event called power outage. Whether caused by a significant weather event, or a stupid squirrel scampering (for a short time during its last moments of life) through your substation, power failures aren’t fun. Engineer, test, maintain, and test again a redundant power supply operations can count on.
Building Management Systems may be your next best friend. What’s not to like about an opportunity to add a 24/7 staffer to your team that can monitor, control, and manage a building’s mechanical and electrical systems, including lighting, ventilation, power systems, security, and fire systems. Your eager-beaver team member will take on mission critical operations equipment, or even access/egress and energy controls. It can be programmed to diagnose and alarm faults in equipment, controls, and system operations. Systems can be linked — a classic example is connecting fire detection with air circulation systems and elevators — with signals from the first shutting down the latter two.
BMS can become the backbone of a facility maintenance program. By analyzing data and, for example, alarm patterns, it can aid in identifying and prioritizing equipment maintenance plans. Additionally, by monitoring building systems on an ongoing basis, BMS can detect performance slippage and assist with retro-commissioning to maximize system performance in alignment with original design criteria. The capabilities of BMS continue to evolve.
Don’t let AMC control initiatives be an incident driven response. Meeting the goal of contamination free manufacturing goes beyond source control and source monitoring combined with air filtration systems. Future scenario planning can maximize the effectiveness of the budget and greatly reduce tomorrow’s issues, costs, and delays when expanding or retrofitting clean manufacturing spaces down the road. Anticipating a variety of future scenarios is more practical than prophetic.
Transform your facilities department from an emergency “fire drill” team to a consistent, predictable operation. Avoid production downtime, while stabilizing costs and maximizing the reliability and life of your tools by developing a well thought out Equipment Reliability (ER) Program. Your team will thank you, and reducing that stress will add years of fun to your retirement years.
If you don’t educate your operations people about Hazardous Production Materials (HPMs), nobody will. Regulations rule the HPM world, and operations people tend to focus on what they want to do to drive success, often honestly ignorant of
rules and regulations that are sometimes so dense they could benefit from a full time monitor. But improper ordering, storage, handling, and disposal of HPMs can be costly and dangerous. Step up, take responsibility, and make sure all parties involved
understand the regs and the risks.
One final word: have fun in your work. Facilities engineering and management is interesting, always evolving, challenging, and fun. Like what you do, or change horses early in the race. Take some time to reach out and mentor those coming up behind you — from a practical perspective they may be your boss someday, somewhere. From a more honest perspective, you have an opportunity and obligation to help advance those who will advance a rewarding profession. But through it all, have fun in your work.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts over the last few years through my “Ask the Facilities Guy” column. See you on the river.
Visit the CE website for some of The Facility Guy’s best tips and tricks:
Budget for total project costs
Engineer a culture of safety
Cheaping out could cost you
Develop your backup power supply plan
Roadmap for AMC control
Establish your equipment reliability program
Create a Hazardous Production Materials plan
Controlled Environments thanks Richard for his service to our publication, and we wish him a very happy retirement.
Richard Bilodeau, PE, recently retired as director of engineering at SMRT Architects and Engineers (www.smrtinc.com). His 30+ year career included plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. Richard has engineered, designed, operated, and supervised the construction of numerous controlled environments and labs for advanced technology, life sciences, industrial, healthcare, academic, and corporate clients. His colleagues at SMRT hope he’s having fun, and miss the unique way he kept us all in line.
This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Controlled Environments.