Affiliated engineers designs building systems to meet ‘central challenges’ of society madison wisconsin business news host.madison.com gas examples

And because the ESIF labs, where some 200 researchers now work, were designed to test and try to integrate renewable energy technologies into mock grids at mega-watt, utility-scale power levels, designing the research building’s electrical system was no mundane matter.

“It’s about studying next-generation, renewable energy technologies,” said Greg Quinn, managing director of AEI’s Madison office, about ESIF’s overarching purpose. “And it’s intended to be a scale-up facility, so it’s to take small-scale ideas and bring them to life and monitor them to see if they’re actually going to work.”

“For example, the sun goes behind the clouds or the wind goes calm, yet the surgical suite, for instance, still needs power,” he said. “The optimization of seamless infusion of renewable energy without compromising robustness of delivery is what ESIF is all about.”

The company’s other Lab of the Year awards since 2011 were for facilities for biomedical research and, again, for renewable energy sources — part of what Strupp described as AEI’s work on building systems engineering that “addresses central challenges of our times.” Company started

The privately held company formed 36 years ago as an off-shoot of Madison’s Flad Architects, with some 25 people initially. It now employs 600, almost 40 percent in Madison and the rest in 13 additional locations, including two international outposts — in the United Kingdom and in the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain.

AEI’s expertise, known as technical systems engineering, engineered building systems or simply MEP (short for mechanical, electrical and piping/plumbing) differs from structural engineering, which generally refers to designing the building itself, rather than its systems, such as heating and ventilation, lights and phone lines.

“Building systems engineering boils down to the fundamentals of applied physics,” Strupp added, “thinking of how heat, light, electricity and data behave, to make buildings (that are) places of enhanced comfort, wellness, and resource efficiency.”

The core markets for AEI’s services are in three sectors: health care, science and technology, and energy and utilities — so for systems engineered inside buildings such as hospitals and clinics, research centers and power plants, for often public or private universities, pharmaceutical companies and federal agencies.

Another unique project involves helping the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston replace and improve its destroyed underground utility systems after Hurricane Ike in 2008 left the entire campus — over one million square feet — under five feet of water. Frei, who’s leading the UTMB project, said the work of rebuilding those utilities is now about three-quarters of the way finished.

The project included key design features such as the elevation of boilers and chillers to better protect against future storms; replacement of much of the original steam system with a more resilient and efficient hot water system; and creation of an on-site, 15-megawatt micro-power grid to supplement off-site energy sources and ensure the campus is never again isolated with all systems down, as it was for three months after the hurricane, pending repair of outside electric utilities.

“In the case of UTMB, we lost water, we lost gas, we lost electricity,” Frei said. “We lost all those utilities. As we go forward, we’re able to generate our own electricity, our own gas, our own (hot) water — we’re in a position now that (the campus) can be sufficient as an island.”

For this year’s Lab of the Year award winner, the federal renewable energy research facility in Colorado — which was structurally engineered and built by SmithGroupJJR and JE Dunn Construction, respectively — one of AEI’s system-engineering contributions was the design of the labs’ central power circuit. It can connect different sources of renewable energy at mega-watt scale with the experiments that go on there, through more than 20,000 possible test circuit permutations, while another system monitors the results and can share them in real time with research and industry partners worldwide.

AEI’s other two Lab of the Year awards in the past four years featured one that was close to home and another far afield. In 2012, UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery won the award, with AEI responsible for all the mechanical, electrical and lighting systems for the $150 million public/private hub for biomedical research.

And in 2011, AEI designed technical systems for all the science buildings in the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a 6.5-million-square-foot campus in Saudi Arabia, built to help focus alternative energy research for that nation’s post-oil economy. Industry moves toward 3-D tools

In recent years, Quinn said one of the biggest changes in the way AEI delivers work has been the growing, industry-wide push for the use of more three-dimensional tools, such as the planning and design software known as Building Information Modeling, or BIM, coupled with a continuing increased drive for more energy efficiency and sustainability in clients’ projects. Going forward, Frei said AEI would consider opening offices in new geographic markets including Los Angeles and, perhaps, Boston and New York in the next few years.

Meanwhile, the need for more workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills already has resulted in more work for AEI building systems for several engineering colleges across the country, Frei said. He believed that push would continue, along with an increased need for more research and clinical facilities dedicated to translational work, or moving basic science discoveries more quickly from the lab to doctors’ offices.

Quinn, who also leads the company’s national healthcare facility market, said implementation of the Affordable Care Act would drive additional new work and changes, including the increased need for day-patient medical centers, rather than traditional in-patient facilities.

“As the ACA becomes more prominent and reimbursement policy changes, the expectation of providers to move in-patient care service out to save money is becoming very real,” Quinn said. “And so providers are looking to alter the facility types to do that. We’re seeing a movement toward (hospital) satellites, small-scale clinical facilities and ambulatory centers.”