A change of pace

MEP conference speakers on the changes that lie ahead.

Richard Smith.
Richard Smith.
Jeff Willis.
Jeff Willis.
Matthew Plumbridge.
Matthew Plumbridge.

The impact of the credit crunch on the MEP sector may simply be a slowing of project pace, according to speakers at the inaugural MEP conference, which took place in December.

Speakers and delegates alike felt that although there would be an inevitable slowdown, projects would continue to be completed, just at a reduced pace.

During a panel discussion several key industry figures warned delegates that there are challenges ahead for the industry, but with those challenges will come an opportunity to consolidate and improve. What was clear though was that no matter what happens in the next few months, as Richard Smith, technical director at Atkins put it: “There is an awful lot of change ahead.”

What this change of pace may afford MEP contractors is greater time to complete work and develop higher regional standards. One speaker described it as the possibility that thinking time may emerge, allowing people to design, build and procure in smarter ways.

Jeff Willis, head of sustainability at Arup, raised the point that although more time would be a positive benefit of the slowdown, he was concerned that it may also lead to a reduction in innovation. It makes sense that a market short of cash may prefer the tried and tested to the unknown, but it is up to the industry to keep pushing at the boundaries of its achievements.

Another danger that the industry needs to be alert to is the falling cost of energy. While there are clear benefits to reduced energy costs, there is a danger it will discourage people from paying attention to energy saving.

These same issues need a clear demonstration in the market to help encourage uptake. While discussions touched on the Masdar project and the impact it will have, there was a feeling that the envelope needs to be pushed on a smaller scale, so results can be assessed and lessons learned more quickly.

Money spent on the right innovations, tested on a small scale, could quickly come to save the industry time and money. As always when times are tough, smart investment is needed to keep pushing innovation forward, regardless of any slowdown.

“Green building is architecture for the people.”
– Matthew Plumbridge, head of R&D at Nakheel, talking about how sustainable engineering ideas were reclaiming architecture for the people who use buildings, rather than those who design them.
“We can only engineer our way out of the problem.”
– Matthew Plumbridge again, a few minutes later, explaining how engineers hold the key to creating more environmentally viable designs.
“The highest point on the world’s tallest building [the Burj Dubai Tower] is an MEP installation.”
– Alastair Mitchell, senior mechanical engineer with Hyder Consulting, plays to his audience by referring to the aircraft warning lights on the very tip of the tower’s spire.
“Make it clear who does what during a fire.”
– Stephen Wyngaard, group safety manager for Al Shafar General Contracting, gets quickly to the point on how to handle fire safety.
“We can make a difference if we take safety all the way down to the grass roots level.”
– Anil Menon, director, CKR Consulting, on the importance of not only having a safety plan, but making sure everyone knows and understands it, no matter what their language.

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