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Article - March 2001
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HVAC Solution

New Mechanical Engineering Software Should Have Major Impact on Industry

Brad Fullmer, Editor 
 F.W. Dodge Intermountain Contractor

Mechanical engineers Ben Davis and Joe Simmons of Van Boerum & Frank Associates (VBF&A), Salt Lake City, along with VBF&A executives, have teamed up with software programming expert Alan Nicoll (formerly of Word Perfect) to develop a new Windows-based mechanical engineering software program that could have a profound impact on the industry.

PlantPROCORE HVAC Solution is a visual-based, object-oriented HVAC software program for designing and modeling new and existing heating and cooling systems for commercial and industrial facilities.

The development team realized a need for a software program that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of traditional design, while aiding the continually progressive design-build market.

Users will be able to visually design HVAC systems, utilizing the familiar Windows drag-and-drop format, by clicking on various system components and placing them within the schematic design. Once the HVAC components (pumps, chillers, boilers, coils, etc.) have been placed on the screen, the user simply connects the desired components together - all relative information is automatically calculated. Once the components are connected into the schematic/diagram, the user has the ability to transfer information back and forth, without having to continually retrace steps and backtrack to change calculations and other pertinent information.

"It's basically a big accountant that keeps track of everything on a job," said Simmons. "Whenever you create anything on this menu, it automatically keeps a report of everything - you have complete psychometric calculations of the whole system."

The design of HVAC Solution, as it stands today, was started a little over two years ago when Davis and Simmons hooked up with Nicoll, yet the basic premise of the software has been used within VBF&A since 1994 and incorporates mechanical engineering information garnered from 30-plus years of VBF&A history.

Davis, who has been with the firm since graduating from Brigham Young University in '92, started using the spreadsheet program Quattro Pro to help him make engineering calculations more consistent. He soon realized that using a spreadsheet for his calculations, although superior to traditional methods, was still time-consuming and at times painstakingly slow.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," said Davis. "When I first started doing (engineering) calculations by hand, I thought, 'this is a bunch of baloney - I'm going to put this on a computer'. The spreadsheet (program) is useful, but is so complex that I have to sit down literally for hours to train someone just to get them started. With the Windows-based program, they're up and running in a couple of minutes. It's just been a (gradual) progression."

"The old (spreadsheet) system Ben created has been a real asset in creating efficiency in the way we calculate, document, keep track of and update our engineering decisions on projects," said Howard Van Boerum. "It became apparent that (the program) could be used more than just in-house, and had such great application, we thought that it probably would appeal to almost any engineer in this business.

"The computer has revolutionized the way we design and produce drawings," added Van Boerum, a 38-year veteran of the industry. "Everything is on a CAD-basis nowadays, so it only makes sense that other tasks that are manually performed also have the opportunity to be computer-based and have an interactive relationship with each other. Having all these calculations inter-related to each in a (software) program is a big advantage."

Information Retrieval;
Storage Efficiency
HVAC Solution, besides its ease-of-use, provides an in-depth analysis of every aspect of a mechanical system. Unlike the current method of schematic design, which can easily get buried in a thick stack of papers, HVAC Solution allows the design information to be stored and retrieved easily throughout the various design and construction phases. All data is stored in a single computer file that can be retrieved instantly, and by multiple parties. This information may be passed from designer, to contractor, to owner. Completed projects can be easily modified to account for adjustments in new projects.

A user will be able to change design data in one component, and the program will instantaneously update all associated equipment (chillers, pumps, piping sizes, etc.). With the click of a button the user can add or delete chillers and pumps from a schematic/diagram, and can also change the look of each component. For example, a pump can be changed to one of 12 types of pumps, including different manufacturer brands and models.

HVAC Solution also allows all design data to be changed 'on the fly'. This is especially valuable to accommodate ongoing and last minute design changes. All changes are immediately updated and incorporated into the flow system diagrams and tabular schedules. System variables can be changed to analyze system options and effectiveness.

"It doesn't just keep track of equipment - it has all the engineering parameters and calculations behind everything," said Davis, adding that the old spreadsheet program was used effectively in managing mammoth projects like Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, and the Grand Summit Hotel in Park City. "It was very helpful in keeping track of these large, complex jobs, and making sure all information was accounted for. HVAC Solution will be that much better."

"We're able to be more efficient on jobs and can analyze things closer and be more accurate overall," said Simmons. "We will be able to save owners money by saving time and reducing potential errors. With the program as it is now, we can sit down with design-build contractors and save a lot of time and effort."

"This program brings the design and construction team together by allowing options to be evaluated in a quick, efficient, and accurate manner," said Ron Peck of Ellsworth-Peck Construction, American Fork. "HVAC Solution will be a valuable design-build tool by allowing the mechanical systems to be designed to meet construction costs and fast-track schedules."

To Market 
According to Nicoll, HVAC Solution is in its final stages of design and testing. A version of the software should be available to the mechanical engineering marketplace by April of this year. Davis and Simmons demonstrated the program at the annual AHR/Expo where hundreds of engineers and designers signed up for the soon to be released free demo.

All members of the HVAC Solution team said they are optimistic about the future success of the software. "As a company, we've always tried to be on the leading edge in our industry," said Simmons. "We want to use (HVAC Solution) as a tool to help owners, contractors and others in the (mechanical) engineering industry. This hasn't been an easy process. It has taken six years of putting equations together and looking at data sheets over and over. But as far as we know, there's nothing out there like this."


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