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Welcome to the Construction Informer the podcast for September 21st, 2010.
It’s always cool to discover a way to make a building component do double duty. One example of this comes from recent research done by previous students of Daniel Stancil, a former Carnegie-Mellon professor who is now heading up the electrical and computer engineering department at North Carolina State University.
In the not-to-distant future HVAC techs might be installing radio equipment inside the ductwork, turning it into conduits for ultra-high frequencies (UHF) used by radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. You often hear about these tags being used to track inventory and to travel with shipments of goods, but they can also be fitted with sensors that will monitor environmental conditions like temperature and humidity and send that information to a control device that might then turn on an air conditioning unit.
RFID tags that operate on UHF are hamstrung somewhat because they have to be placed within 33 feet of the device that will receive their signal. The researchers discovered that they can extend that distance to more than 98 feet if the signals are transmitted through HVAC ducts. This could be great for health and safety monitoring systems since it will eliminate all the wiring that is currently needed. Now, RFID tags could be smoke detectors, carbon monoxide monitors, and could also detect chemical, biological and radiological agents.
The ducts work well for these kinds of radio frequencies since it corrals the waves, keeping them from dispersing so the signal stays strong over a longer distance. There could be some potential limitations though. Storefront Backtalk published an article based on the press release from North Carolina State and one commenter suggested there could be limitations due to fire code technicalities for items installed inside plenums that would eliminate any plastic or fiberglass components. The commenter also noted the UHF system would have to be shut down for any HVAC maintenance to protect people from concentrated radio frequencies.
Well, just like those UHF radio waves that tend to disperse over large areas, construction workforces do the same thing, so it’s very difficult to get everybody together in one place for meetings. By its nature construction sends us all to the four winds. But there is a solution and it’s called Go-To-Meeting. Right now, listeners of this show can try GoToMeeting free for 45 days. Just visit GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast. I tried it for the first time a couple of years ago and found it to be straight forward, easy to use and very effective. For the AEC industries it’s especially powerful because of this document intensive world we operate in. You can share documents and plans, and you can even mark things up and give everyone updated copies, all right there online. So why not try it out and corral your team the easy way. Try GoToMeeting free for 45 days by simply visiting GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast.
Mikron, maker of extruded products, has just come out with MikronWood. They call it a “new hybrid composite window frame material, performs like no other material on the market.” Indeed the company says it has significantly better thermal performance than wood, fiberglass or hollow PVC. Unlike other materials like fiberglass, MikronWood does not require pre-drilling or mechanical joinery. It offers the ability to be milled and fabricates just like wood but is also bendable and weldable for watertight corner joinery. Because the frame is more energy efficient the company says it has gone through certified lab testing by the National Fenestration Rating Council and Mikron claims the results show the material as having better thermal performance than wood, fiberglass or hollow PVC. The frame is for a double slider, replacement window and by using this frame you don’t have to remove exterior stops when replacing old wood windows.
The company provides a 20-year warranty for dimensional performance. Well, I’m wondering two things. What happens when it burns, if it does, and what in the heck is dimensional performance? After an exhaustive search using a bunch of negative operators all I’ve found is a reference to it in relation to plastic injection molding. It would be better if companies would think very hard about what it is they are saying and then try to do it as precisely as possible.
Sure, based on my life experience and electro-mechanical ability I can assume it means something about how well the item maintains its shape. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of next questions. So does it just refer to the frame deforming? If that’s the case it’s not much of a guarantee since it is fastened in place to framing. Anything similarly rigid, mounted similarly to windows mounted in a wooden frame would require some extraordinary stress to deform it…like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake. I know there’s probably some industry standards that tell all about just what dimensional performance means, but most people don’t have access to that information and most people really don’t want to spend their time finding out what it means so they can assess the value of a product. I’m not picking on Mikron here because really, this is done all the time by countless manufacturers. A claim is made that has absolutely no meaning to most anybody, and is used, in a way that implies it’s some kind of a benefit.
The finish on these window frames is also supposed to be tough since it is molecularly fused.
I got an email from Chase Gugenheim telling me about a Website called Construction Management Degree.com. This is a comprehensive list of construction management educational programs that is really comprehensive. Of course Chase acknowledges there may be omissions and at the bottom of the page you can make suggestions. It’s kind of an interesting story how this page came to be, and it IS just a one page site – a very long page at that. Chase was trying to find the right fit with a school to get a construction management degree, did loads of research and then put it all on the Website, on one page, right down to schools by state. Check it out sometime.
Finally, the depth of the greatest depression, this one we’re currently in, was made even more painfully clear in a survey done by CBIZ Tofias, an accounting and tax provider, ( well maybe they mean something other than that, they probably don’t provide taxes they’re probably tax accountants), anyway it seems they surveyed the architects in Boston and found this year’s profits are the lowest in 25 years. The company says the drop in profits started in late 2008. Some firms made things into an advantage by getting more efficient and improving their project management processes so they actually ended up with higher profits. It just goes to show there’s nothing like a great depression to increase productivity. Kind of makes you wonder what our economic system has in store for us next.
And, that’s it for this edition of the Construction Informer. Thanks for tuning in and until next time…build it well.