The integration of computers and modelling into engineering is a futuristic technology that is not so futuristic anymore. Joe Murphy, a BIM Manager at Connect 2 Cleanrooms (C2C) is an expert in these, coming from a computer-aided engineering education background.
Murphy explains that computer-aided engineering focuses on Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) within a Building Information Modelling (BIM) environment. The advantage of this is that design models can be viewed and analysed before construction commences. This allows early identification of potential design errors, reducing onsite programme risk and costly on-site remedial works.
"I've always had an interest in modern design and construction methods and recognised that digital engineering solutions were the future of construction. That's what originally attracted me to engineering and the specific degree," Murphy says.
I've always had an interest in modern design and construction methods
Murphy goes on to explain that recent research has shown a skills gap for qualified workers within the construction industry. "Starting a career in a design/engineering position is a great career choice for any graduate," he enthuses.
Speaking about the earmarks of these roles, Murphy explains that they require interaction with many internal/external departments and a real core understanding of the product and service a company provides.
To gain this core understanding requires education and experience. In addition to his degree, Murphy has spent 16 years in the construction industry, 10 of those as a qualified engineer. During this time, he worked as a CAD Technician for a Structural Steel Fabrication specialist and then as a Manufacturing Manager for a plumbing and heating expert. Talking about his transition into controlled environments and cleanrooms, Murphy explains that there are many similarities between this and other construction sectors, although, with cleanrooms, serious consideration has to be given to critical variable parameters which may affect the controlled environment.
Learning the ropes
"My first introduction to controlled environments was when I started my position at C2C in October 2020," Murphy recounts. "In my role as BIM manager, I am responsible for ensuring that the operation of digital construction, product improvement and electrical engineering is seamlessly supplied to multiple projects situated in the UK and Europe."
In this time, Murphy has expanded his expertise to cleanrooms. A factor that he identifies as more important than usual in this sector is the need to communicate with not just the client, but also the end-user. "Given the nature of cleanrooms, it is really important to understand how the end-users propose to use the space. For example, furniture layouts can dramatically affect airflow paths and therefore the efficiency of the cleanroom," Murphy says. "Communication with both the end-user and client needed to happen as early on in the process as practically possible."
I am responsible for ensuring that the operation of digital construction, product improvement and electrical engineering is seamlessly supplied to multiple projects
Communication will not solve all your problems though, it is merely there to identify them as soon as possible. In this situation, it is all about flexibility and problem-solving. "Building a cleanroom requires good communication across a range of disciplines and the ability to be flexible when things go wrong. I've always enjoyed the challenge of lateral thinking to problem solve and my perfectionism has been critical to the delivery of some successful cleanrooms."
Since starting at C2C, Murphy's role has evolved to allow him to best contribute to the company's operations. He has moved from Product and Process Development Lead to BIM Manager in his short time there. "As Product and Process Development Lead I led the successful and consistent delivery of continuous improvement within the organisation," he explains. "That included implementation of our current BIM processes which have led to operational and financial efficiencies across the organisation."
Teamwork makes the dream work
Since Murphy's start with C2C, the company has been on an upward trajectory to improve the cleanroom design process. This has incorporated the implementation of some new design platforms, the most noteworthy being Autodesk Revit. This has improved pre-construction project visualisation for our clients and helped develop internal communication within C2C.
Murphy sneaks in some advice about learning these computer programmes. "I've always found that the best way to learn new skills is to try things out for yourself," he says. "The best way to learn Revit is to have a go at building your designs and use educational material available through Autodesk to make each design incrementally better than the last."
We changed workflows to ensure that more departments could have an influence on design
For the company, this was just the start. "The development of the team since I started in my position has been incredible. We deal with clients who have very different requirements. The team is very versatile and focused on providing individual, bespoke solutions. It's a real credit to the team how much improvement has been achieved in a relatively short period."
The personal development of himself and his team is a top priority for Murphy. "I know that a leader is only as good as the team around them," he says. "I'm passionate about developing the people around me and pride myself on finding ambitious people and helping them find their career paths in engineering. At the moment, the design team consists of 7 people, 6 of which are under 25 and this team is delivering outstanding designs."
Murphy shows no hesitation in diving into the technicals of his job. In fact, this was one of the main reasons he entered the cleanroom sector in the first place. "My priority when starting at C2C was to implement BIM," he says. "With this, we changed workflows to ensure that more departments could have an influence on design and to make design documents more readily accessible," he adds.
The BIM expert explains that each different lifecycle stage will have different requirements for modelling. "When creating designs we apply focus to every stage of the cleanroom lifecycle: pre-construction, construction stage, future operational and decommissioning," says Murphy. "Different stages of the lifecycle have different requirements, and it is key that the required information is readily available. The designs we complete are carried out to BIM Level 2. BIM level 2 is mandated by the UK government for any public sector construction project."
Specifically for cleanrooms, airflow modelling is key to the design. As we all know, airflow design can make or break a cleanroom. "Using specialist software to map the proposed airflow routes allows us to eliminate any dead spots," Murphy explains. "We can also assess the temperature requirements and offset any process heat gains ensuring a cleanroom runs to specification."
The importance of airflow means the HVAC/air handling plant is where most of the environmental efficiencies can be made. For example, if you have a fan filter unit running at a higher speed than required, this increases cost and carbon footprint. Murphy talks about the control system they have at C2C that allows system set back/night mode in an effort to improve this.
Despite its importance, Murphy is aware that airflow is not the only consideration, and that sometimes, these things can clash. This is where something called a 'federated model' comes into play. "When we design a cleanroom there could be several different disciplines working on a project, i.e. Architect, Structural Designer, MEP Designer. A federated model is a combined model from all designers," he explains.
The C2C manager goes on to explain that these federated models are especially useful when reviewing designs as it's very common to find service clashes between disciplines. For example, an electrical cable route could clash with a proposed ductwork route. "In most cases, there is a single company responsible for collating and reviewing federated models," Murphy says. "Removing issues at the design stage reduces possible onsite re-working and costly project delays."
A federated model is made to avoid errors in design, but another interesting way to avoid issues that Murphy discusses is a point cloud survey. "A point cloud survey allows us to scan and capture a potential cleanroom area with specialist surveying equipment at an accuracy tolerance of +/- 2mm," he explains. "We can then overlap the point cloud model with our cleanroom design to ensure that the design is dimensionally suitable for the proposed environment. This also allows us to identify possible design improvements before starting works on site." All these initiatives work together to provide for as smooth a construction workflow as possible.
It is great to hear Murphy talk about his experience on some of C2C's most interesting projects. Such as the company's ATMP manufacturing facility for RoslinCT within an existing 2-storey building.
Murphy recounted that the cleanroom design achieved space efficiency by using decentralised air-handling technology. "We created a Computational Fluid Dynamic study to plot airflow throughout the building and used 3D point cloud surveys to plan HVAC ducting, gas lines, interlocks, and raceways," he says. "BIM allowed us to plan HVAC ducting in tight ceiling voids to maximise space. This resulted in RoslinCT being able to retain office space in the building, without sacrificing it for a plant room."
This experience was hugely valuable to Murphy and the team about the technology in practice. And now, the team is involved in a project to support the production of electric vehicles. The project is for Driving the Electric Revolution, Industrialisation Centres (DER-IC) and the team has spent a lot of time designing the specifications for the cleanroom to ensure a short lead time. Murphy explains that this is an important project as the UK looks to grow in this industry sector.
Taking a computer-aided engineering degree and turning it into a wealth of expertise in building modelling is a fantastic accomplishment, and a path that many engineers can look at to model themselves. Making this big career move during a pandemic, when demand in the cleanroom industry has never been higher, but neither has the pressure, only makes the achievement more commendable.