Crash Course Fire alarm – Signaling devices

Cloche d'alarme incendie

Introduction

 

Your boss puts you on an fire alarm design job, but your knowledge is limited to your smoke detector at home? Is it true that a pull station contains an inkjet to incriminate you if you pull it for no other reason than to shorten your Friday? These are the questions I will try to help you with in this series of posts on building fire alarm systems.

 

These posts are intended, but not limited to:

 

  • Electrical engineers from consulting engineering firms
  • Subcontractors at fire alarm companies
  • Junior engineers who have no idea what it is (trust me, i’ve been there once!)

 

The fire alarm scope is the responsibility of the electrical engineer. The fire alarm system is not intended to suppress the fire, but rather to detect the fire, facilitate the evacuation of personnel and alert the fire department.

I will introduce today the signaling devices that are part of fire alarm system.


1- Standards in force

Code de Construction du Québec

 

For current articles of the Quebec Construction Code, please refer to:

 

  • Warning Signals and Warning Signs (CCQ Article 3.2.4.17)
  • Audibility of Signals (CCQ Article 3.2.4.18)
  • Phonic communication network (CCQ Article 3.2.4.21)

 

Please note that while Quebec has its own Construction Code, you should also learn from the american National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA as an additional reference.


2- Non phonic signaling

 

Non-phonic communication is any form of auditory signal that is not verbal communication. For example, bells, horns, mini horns, sirens and bullhorns are examples.

 

A) Bell

Fire alarm bell

 

Bells are available in different sizes, motorized or vibrating. The sound produced is both powerful and metallic. Ideal for spaces occupied by many people. NFPA 72 requires that a non phonic signal be at least 15dB above ambient noise. Since the offices have an ambient noise of 50 to 60dB, the bells resonate at a power of 65 to 75dB! Colored with firefighter red, it is forbidden to paint them. The power supply is 120V AC, but can be 24V DC or even 6V DC.

Trustworthy manufacturer: Kidde

 

B) Horn

Fire alarm horn

 

The horn produces a deep, piercing sound that is easily distinguishable. The case is made of sturdy and flame retardant plastic in red or white color. The advantage of the horn over the bell is that it is possible to transmit a signal continuously or a signal punctuated with pauses.

For example, rather than having a beeeeeeeep, it is possible to have beep … beep … beep … pause … beep … beep … beep … pause, etc. Finally, it is possible to adjust the frequency of the horn to have an high pitch or a low pitch sound. Ideal for different scenarios of evacuation or relocation of staff according to the functionality of the building.

 

C) Mini horn

Fire alarm mini horn

 

Designed primarily for homes and condominiums, the mini horn is more discreet and less noisy. Molded in a sturdy plastic case, it can be red or white in color. It is possible to obtain it with an integrated silence function.

 

D) Bullhorn siren

Fire alarm bullhorn siren

Not exactly like your hand held bullhorn, but close. The bullhorn siren is able to transmit the voice, but with a lot of distortion and garble. It is also capable of producing an extremely high decibel sound. The sound is close to the warnings sirens used during the Second World War to warn citizens of incoming bombing raids. Today, they are found on sawmill yards, boats and in some factories.


3- Phonic Signaling – Speakers

 

Fire alarm speaker

 

The speakers allow the integrated broadcast of understandable emergency voice messages, warning and alarm signals. These are very discreet and blend well with the ceiling tiles. Ideal for office environments. The power is adjustable on site by the building maintenance team. Equipped with a steel case, round or square, they are usually white. However, it is forbidden to paint them under penalty of losing the certification.


4- Visual Signaling – Strobe

Fire alarm strobe

 

Visual signaling is used to alert people with hearing impairments or when the noise level is too high and workers are known to wear hearing protection. Ideal in the factory. Molded in a sturdy and flame retardant plastic case, it is usually red or white in color. There are also suspended ceiling models like this one.

Fire alarm ceiling strobe

The set of strobes requires the use of a synchronization module if it is desired that the strobes all flash at the same time.


5- Combined sound and visual signaling

 

As its name would suggest, sound and visual signaling combines both. Thus, there is the bell strobe,

Fire alarm bell strobe

 

the horn strobe

Fire alarm horn strobe

 

and the speaker strobe.

Fire alarm speaker strobe

 

With the advent of light-emitting diodes or LEDs, combined sound and visual signaling is replacing purely visual or sound systems. With the very low cost of LEDs, many residential, commercial and industrial property owners opt for the combined option for reasons of diligence towards the hearing impaired or for security reasons.

In hotels for example, thanks to the Internet of Things and the lower costs of LEDs, it is perfectly possible to have a set of visual and auditory signaling that flashes sequentially to indicate the flow of evacuation, such as the signaling on airport tarmac and runways.


6- Firefighter phone

Firefighter phone

 

As a kid, who hasn’t worn a firefighter hat while pretending to take emergency phone calls! The firefighter phone allows firefighters to communicate with the operator of the main fire alarm panel when they are on the different building floors. Thus, next to each manual pull station near an emergency exit is a firefighter phone.

The two-way communication request is made when the handset of a floor telephone is off-hook. The firefighter at the main fire panel charge at the station is then notified by visual and sound signals and can then connect to that circuit.


Conclusion

 

The fire alarm is a vast subject for which the electrical engineer is responsible. You learned today which articles were in force concerning signaling and where to look for them in the Quebec Construction Code. You’ve also learned about bells, horns, bullhorn sirens, speakers, strobes, combined signaling, and firefighter phones.

The next post will focus on the main fire alarm panel.

Crash Course Fire alarm – Detection devices

Avertisseur fumée avec fumée

Introduction

 

Your boss puts you on an fire alarm design job, but your knowledge is limited to your smoke detector at home? Is it true that a pull station contains an inkjet to incriminate you if you pull it for no other reason than to shorten your Friday? These are the questions I will try to help you with in this series of posts on building fire alarm systems.

 

These posts are intended, but not limited to:

 

  • Electrical engineers from consulting engineering firms
  • Subcontractors at fire alarm companies
  • Junior engineers who have no idea what it is (trust me, i’ve been there once!)

 

The fire alarm scope is the responsibility of the electrical engineer. The fire alarm system is not intended to suppress the fire, but rather to detect the fire, facilitate the evacuation of personnel and alert the fire department.

 

I will introduce today the detection devices that are part of fire alarm system.


1- Standards in force

Code de Construction du Québec

 

For current articles of the Quebec Construction Code, please refer to:

 

  • Requirements for manual pull stations (ref 3.2.4.16)
  • Requirements for fire detectors (ref 3.2.4.10)
  • Requirements for smoke detectors (ref 3.2.4.11)

 

Please note that while Quebec has its own Construction Code, you should also learn from the american National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA as an additional reference.


2- Manual pull station

 

Pull station

 

A manual pull station is a device designed to trigger the fire alarm system when operated manually.

A manual pull station is a set of contacts where a switch has the following characteristics:

 

  • A normally open contact, which closes when actuated
  • When triggered, the contact will hold the alarm on until it is rearmed. The rearming is done by the building maintenance team or the firemen with a ordinary key, a screwdriver or an Allen key.

 

The alarm is raised throughout the building or in an area only. Generally, the manual station is close to the emergency exits. Some models are installed in a glass enclosure or with a glass strip. This rod is simply intended to deter those who are tempted to trigger false alarms.

About false alarms, there is no inkjet to spray and incriminate a person for triggering a false alarm! However, with the advent of the Internet of Things, it would be very possible to have a smart manual pull station.

For example, it would have its IP address and would be able to communicate with the fire alarm panel. Once the manual pull station is pulled, the fire alarm panel could identify which station was pulled. Better yet, it would be possible to have a model with digital camera to photograph who pulled the station!

 

Trustworthy Manufacturers: SimplexGrinnell


3- Heat detector

Heat detector

 

A heat detector is used where a rapid increase in temperature is anticipated, sometimes without smoke or when a smoke detector can not be used for environmental reasons.

Industrial processes causing vapors or fumes, sterilizers, laundries and kitchens are examples. A smoke detector could be triggered repeatedly! In order to tell them apart from smoke detectors, it is good practice to identify them as such with lettering.

 

There are two types of heat detectors

 

A) Fixed temperature

The most common type. If the temperature of the central disk reaches the nominal threshold of the detector, the thermostatic element is triggered. The sensor contacts close to transmit an alarm to the control panel.

The thermostatic element can not be reused: when it has triggered, the detector must be replaced. The reason is that the heat causes the melting of the alloy that triggers the alarm, much like a fuse. Separation of the disc from the main body indicates that the detector needs to be replaced. The most common fixed temperature point for electrically connected heat detectors is 58.4 ° C (136.4 ° F).

 

B) Rate of Rise (ROR):

This detector is triggered when the temperature at the sensor increases at a rate of 6.7 to 8.3C per minute, regardless of the starting temperature. It has two thermocouples: the first thermocouple monitors the heat transferred by convection or radiation while the other reacts to the ambient temperature. The detector responds when the temperature of the first sensing element increases relative to the other. The sensor contacts close to transmit an alarm to the control panel. This type of detector is able to rearm itself.


4- Room smoke detector

 

Ionization type smoke detector

 

A room smoke detector is used to detect the presence of visible or invisible smoke produced by combustion and thus automatically raise an alarm. Thus there is the ionization type for invisible smoke and the electric photo type for visible smoke

 

A) Ionization type (invisible smoke)

There is very low radioactivity inside the detector that ionizes the air. The negative ions of the air molecules are attracted to the positive plate, circulating a current inside the chamber.

Since the smoke particles being larger than air molecules, when it enters the chamber, they provide greater resistance to current flow and trigger the alarm.

The reason this type of smoke detector is used is to spot fires known to produce little smoke. For example, the burning of ethanol. At home and on small-scale use, combustion makes it a smokeless fireplace or fire pit. However, in an industrial production of ethanol, a fire could occur in the tanks, be undetectable by the absence of smoke, then quickly become uncontrollable.

 

B) Photoelectric type (visible smoke)

The most common. The photocell detector has a dark chamber constructed so that smoke can penetrate without external light entering.

Inside the darkroom, there is a light source and a receiver element built in such a way that the light beam does not strike the photocell directly.

The visible smoke particles entering the darkroom reflect the light on the photocell, causing a change in conductivity and triggering the alarm.

This type of smoke detector is the most common because it can detect both paper fires and grease fires.

 

For more information between the two types, here is a link I found with the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA.

https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/Smoke-alarms/Ionization-vs-photoelectric


5- Smoke alarms

Smoke alarm

 

Mainly residential, it contains a fire detection circuit that controls a piezo electrical buzzer for local sound signaling. It is not connected to a fire alarm panel and can be powered by battery or 120V AC.

The difference between the smoke alarm shown here and the smoke detector above is that the alarm detects and produces an audible signal when there is smoke. On the other hand, the smoke detector sends an electric signal to an alarm device, for example a bell and it is thas bell that produces an audible signal.


6- Linear smoke detector

Linear smoke detector

 

The reflected linear beam detector consists of a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter emits an invisible infrared light beam that is reflected by a prism installed directly in alignment, with an unobstructed line of sight. The receiver detects and analyzes the infrared light reflected by the prism.

The presence of smoke in the light beam reduces the intensity of the infrared ray received proportionally to the density of the smoke. The detector analyzes the weakening of the beam and triggers the alarm.

These detectors are the ideal solution for protecting large open areas such as atriums, gymnasiums, warehouses, concert halls, sports centers, amphitheatres, etc.

 

Trustworthy manufacturers: Siemens, Honeywell, Bosch


7- Ventilation duct smoke detector

Ventilation duct smoke detector

 

The ventilation duct smoke detector continually samples and analyzes the air circulating in a ventilation duct and triggers an alarm as soon as it detects the presence of smoke.

The main purpose is to prevent smoke from spreading to the entire building. It consists of a sampling tube, an exhaust tube and a photoelectric smoke detector.

Another reason is to avoid contaminating the ducts with dust or combustion particles.

When installing, it is of course necessary to ensure that the holes in the sampling tube are aligned with the direction of the air flow. In addition, avoid installation after an elbow, because after a bend, the smoke tends to accumulate against the wall of the duct, thus defeating the sampling purpose.

 

Trustworthy manufacturers: Honeywell, Bosch


8- Flame detector

Flame detector

 

Flame detectors react directly to the presence of flame. They detect the ultraviolet rays emitted as soon as sparks appear that can ignite any combustible material nearby. Although capable of detecting fires and explosions in 3-4 milliseconds, a 2-3 second delay is often included to minimize false alarms that can be triggered by other UV sources such as lightning, arc welding, radiation and sunlight.

Other models work on infrared rays, on the same principle as thermography cameras. It becomes possible to save these images and send them back to the security station. These videos are very useful for determining the origin of the fire and claiming insurance.

These are visual range devices, so they must be installed at the location providing the most direct visual line with the anticipated fire source.

These detectors are designed to protect dangerous areas where a fire could develop quickly and where ignition is almost instantaneous (eg flammable liquids, natural gas, propane, petrochemicals, etc.)

 

Trustworthy: Honeywell, Emerson, Omicron


Conclusion

 

The fire alarm is a vast subject for which the electrical engineer is responsible. You learned today which articles were in force concerning the detection devices where to look for them in the Quebec Construction Code. You have also learned about manual stations, smoke detectors for rooms and ventilation ducts, heat detectors and flame detectors.

The next article will focus on fire alarm signaling devices.

Electrical systems crash course – Conductors and insulators

Introduction

 

Having some parents pressuring you into engineering? Wondering what is electrical engineering or how the grid actually works? Eyeing that job at Hydro Quebec? Look no further!

In the following weeks i will give you a solid crash course into electrical systems. While it will not turn you into a full fledged professional engineer, it will give you an idea of what lies ahead should you choose this career path. For seasoned professional engineers, you might learn something new as i hope to learn from you as well.

To make this more palletable, i will also add charts and infographics in the weeks to come, as an image is indeed worth a thousand words.

Today i will go over electrical conductors and insulators. By the end of this post you will know:

 

  • Which materials are used as electrical conductors and which are used as electrical insulators.
  • What is electrical resistance and its relation with distance
  • What is an electric arc and why clearance distances are important
  • What is the dielectric strength of electric cables

1- What is an electrical insulator

ceramic insulator

 

Here is a definition taken from Wikipedia:

 

An electrical insulator is a material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely; very little electric current will flow through it under the influence of an electric field.

 

Therefore, an electrical insulating material stops electricity and keeps you safe from getting electrical shocks. Think about the rubber or plastic your laptop power cord is made of.

Here is a few materials ranked in terms of their insulating properties from highest to lowest:

  • Glass or ceramic
  • Plastic – Rubber
  • Wood
  • Air
  • Teflon

 

Main insulating materials used in the electrical industry are air, rubber, plastic, glass & ceramic. The choice for insulating material are based on factors such as:

  • Cost of material
  • Easy to manufacture
  • Easy to install
  • Weight
  • Mechanical resistance
  • Heat resistance

 

As you can see, choosing an insulating material is tricky. To standardize the choices and make it easier for electrical engineers is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association or NEMA. It establishes standards to which the electrical industry must comply to bear its seal. It is also a quality standard of having a NEMA approved product installed. Most engineering firms technical specifications required installed products to be NEMA approved.

Here is link to their description of electrical insulating materials.

 

https://www.nema.org/Products/Pages/Insulating-Materials.aspx

 

Also, if you are looking for manufacturing specifications of insulating materials, i recommend that you look at Hubbell products:

 

https://www.hubbell.com/hubbellpowersystems/en/


2- What is an electrical conductor

electrical cables

 

Again, here is the definition from Wikipedia:

 

In physics and electrical engineering, an electrical conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of an electrical current in one or more directions.

 

Some materials are better electrical conductors than others. Here is a short list of conductive materials, from lowest to highest:

  • Brass
  • Aluminium
  • Gold
  • Copper
  • Silver

 

It can be seen that most of the good conductors of electricity are metals. The more conductive a material is, the less heat is generated as electricity pass through it. While power generation and overhead lines as less concerned by this phenomenon because heat is dissipated through the air, conductivity is a major factor in electronics. That is why silver is used in computer chips. Gold is sometimes used in electronics, but rarely due to its price.

Back to electrical utilities, brass, copper and aluminium are the most widely used materials due to their relative abundance on earth and low cost.

Also, if you are looking for manufacturing specifications of electrical conductors and cables, i recommend that you look at Nexans and General Cable:

 

https://www.nexans.ca/eservice/Canada-en_CA/navigate_-15/Nexans_Canada_Worldwide_Leader_of_Electrical_Cables.html

 

https://www.generalcable.com/


3- Resistivity and conductivity

power cable

 

While copper and aluminium are used as electrical conductors because they easily allow the flow of electricity, they do offer some resistance. This resistance may be very low for short distances, but increase greatly as you get further and further away.

Also bear in mind that as the cross sectional area of a conductor increases, the resistance goes down. That is, the larger the conductor is, the easier it is for electricity to flow through it. The drawback is that a larger conductor is more expensive.


4- Resistance and voltage drop in electrical conductors

construction engineer

 

As the length of the conductor increases, the resistance also increases. This is major factor when designing a factory and its electrical equipment. For example, if you are 200 ft from an electrical source, voltage may drop by 5%, maybe even 8%. This will impede the normal operation of your equipment.

That is why electrical engineers conduct what is called a voltage drop study, where the electrical equipment will be checked whether they are too far from an electrical power source and should be relocated. Nowadays, voltage drop calculations are done on power modeling software such as CYME or SKM.

More on voltage drop studies in another blog post. More on CYME and SKM in another blog post!


5- Air and electric arcs

lightning hitting tree

 

Air is a good insulator, but has its limits. If we approach an uninsulated high voltage conductor, like an overhead transmission line, the electricity wants to leave the live conductor and find a path back to its source. In Quebec, it would probably be the hydroelectric dam that produces this electricity.

If we get close enough, the air will break down and turn from an insulator into a conductor. An electric arc will form through the air, like lightning.

This is why during thunderstorms, one should never take refuge beneath the highest tree, as lightning will seek its quickest path to the ground through that tree. Similarly during a thunderstorm, one should never walk in an open field, as lightning will seek its quickest path to the ground through you!


6- Arcing distance

lightning in city

 

The higher the voltage applied to the conductor, the farther the electricity will jump through the air. The distance that the electricity can jump is called the arcing distance.

The arcing distances depends on the weather. When it is raining or humid, the electricity can use the moisture to break down the air more easily.

The electrical system operators know the worst case arcing distances and use this information to set safe minimum distances from live equipments, which increase as the system voltage increases.


7- Arcing distance and electrical clearances

electrical linemen

 

The electric clearance is a safety distance that further protects linemen, operators and electricians when working near live conductors.

Clearance distances are much greater than arc distance to protect electricians and take into consideration the worst case scenario with rain.

This distance takes into account risks of missteps, for example tripping over and falling towards the live conductors. If properly implemented, an electrician will still be safe from an electric arc.

The best practice is to deenergize conductors and equipments while an electrician is working close by. Because this is not always possible or because the job is to diagnose faulty electrical equipments, an electrician may have to work close to live conductors.


8- Arc flash dangers

Arc flash level 4 PPE

 

The dangers of an electric arc flash are not only in terms of electricity passing through the human body, but also to surrounding equipments. An operator exposed to or close to an arc may be thrown back by the explosive force, turned deaf by the noise, blind by the flash of light, experience 2nd and 3rd degree burns. He or she may even suffer from internal damage due to concussive forces from the explosion.

On this picture, the electrician is protected by a Level 4 Personal Protective Equipment. This is the highest level of protection there is. More on the damages from electric arc flash in another post!

The danger of the electric arc flash is well known and now mandatory per Canadian Standard CSA Z462 norm, while in the United States, it is the NFPA70E norm.

More on the CSA Z462 in another blog post! More on the NFPA70E in yet another post!


9 – Dielectrical strength

electrical treeing

 

The ability of an insulator to stop an electric arc passing through it depends on the material dielectric strength and material thickness. It is the ability to withstand high current and voltage. It is of great importance to the condition of any live electrical cable.

As an electrical cable ages, its dielectrical strength diminishes, making it more likely to experience an arc. At the microscopic level, we can start seeing physical damage through the insulation layer of a cable.

Since this damage looks like little trees, this phenomenon got the name of electrical treeing. As the cable ages, these trees grow. Eventually, they will be long enough that electricity will flow from the copper core, through the trees, through the insulation and out of the cable.

At that point, an electric fault has occurred and the cable must be deenergized and removed from service. The cable insulation is said to have failed. Electrical treeing is especially problematic for cables in humid underground applications, because of the moisture that may appear inside the cables. More on how electrical treeing is mitigated in another post!


10- Insulator tracking

glass insulator

 

If we have a potential voltage difference across an insulator, it will limit the current flowing through it due to its high resistivity. As the voltage increases, the electricity can’t pass through it, so it will try and go round the outside of the insulator. This is called insulator tracking.

This tends to be an issue when the system voltage gets to a high level (+36kV), when the insulator is located outside and subjected to rain and pollution that sticks to the outside of the insulator, creating a lower resistance path for the electricity.

One way to reduce the effect of tracking is to increase the distance around the outside of the insulator. By increasing the linear distance that the electricity needs to flow from one side to the next, we make it more difficult for tracking to occur. That is why high voltage insulators have that shape. If we want to use the insulator for a higher voltage, we can simply stack the insulators in series.


Conclusion

 

With this blog post, you have learned conductive and insulating materials used in power cables and that resistance increases as distance increases. You have also learned what are electric arcs and why power cables eventually fail because of the electrical treeing phenomenon.

Next post will be about circuit breakers, why and how we use them. Stay tuned!

Electrical systems crash course – Introduction

cours intensif systèmes électriques

Introduction

 

Having some parents pressuring you into engineering? Wondering what is electrical engineering or how the grid actually works? Eyeing that job at Hydro Quebec? Look no further!

In the following weeks i will give you a solid crash course into electrical systems. From conductors to transformers, from network design to grounding, i will take you through all these different aspects of the profession. While it will not turn you into a full fledged professional engineer, it will give you an idea of what lies ahead should you choose this career path. For seasoned professional engineers, you might learn something new as i hope to learn from you as well.

This blog post is an overview of the material i will cover in the next weeks. To make this more palletable, i will also add charts and infographics in the weeks to come, as an image is indeed worth a thousand words.

Now that the Charbonneau Commission is behind us, it is time to rebuild our profession!


1- Conductors & Insulators

high voltage insulator

 

  • What is an electrical insulating material
  • What is an electrical conductive material
  • Resistivity and conductivity
  • Resistance and voltage drop in electrical conductors
  • Air and electric arcs
  • Arcing distance
  • Arcing distance and electrical clearances
  • Arc flash dangers
  • Dielectrical strength
  • Insulator tracking

2- Circuit breakers

circuit breaker

 

  • Electrical contacts and arcs
  • Definition of a circuit breaker
  • Circuit breakers vs fuses
  • Types of circuit breakers
  • Common insulating material inside circuit breaker
  • Air Circuit Breaker types
  • Current that opens circuit breakers
  • Single line diagram
  • Electrical fault discrimination
  • Comments about fault discrimination

3- Grounding

grounding mat

 

  • Purpose of grounding system
  • Grounded vs ungrounded systems
  • Touch potential
  • Step potential
  • How to mitigate touch and step potentials
  • Copper ground rod
  • Substation grounding system
  • Transmission grounding substation

4- Network design

plans and specifications

 

  • Typical electric network
  • Radial circuit
  • Ring circuit
  • Ring main unit configuration
  • Ring main unit operation in distribution systems
  • Ring configuration for transmission systems

5- Low voltage systems

low voltage systems

 

  • Transport and distribution voltage levels
  • Industrial and domestic voltage levels
  • Industrial network
  • Domestic network

6- Electrical cables

electrical cables

 

  • Distribution cables
  • Transmission cables
  • Design and installation
  • Single core vs multicore
  • Electrical treeing

7- Overhead lines

overhead lines

 

  • Purpose of transport lines
  • Transport vs distribution
  • Clearance levels
  • Tower Design
  • Tower insulators
  • Types of transmission towers
  • Conductor strands and binding

8- Transformers

oil and forced air transformer

 

  • Purposes of transformer
  • Single phase vs three phases
  • Single phase transformer design and operation
  • Characteristics of a single phase transformer
  • Power rating of a transformer
  • Current transformer or CT
  • Three phases transformer design and operation
  • Characteristics of three phases transformer
  • Cooling of transformers
  • Tap changing

Conclusion

 

As you have seen through this post, the professional electrical engineer body of knowledge is vast. From power generation to overhead transmission lines all the way down to the power outlet, we have a tendency of taking electric power for granted. Next post will be on electrical conductors and insulators.

These posts also seek to rebuild the shattered image of the professional engineer in Quebec, following the Charbonneau Commission. Although tainted by a few rotten apples and some politicians, the perception of corruption still lingers about the title of professional engineer. Now that it is behind us, it is time to rebuild and make sure it never happens again.

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 3 of 3

Internet des Objets

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the line, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

In the last two posts, i have introduced the smart grid, its benefits and how the Internet of Things will make it happen. Today, i will present challenges brought by cryptocurrency mining, data centers and potential cyber attacks on the grid.

 

This is the final push!


Cryptocurrency mining and data centers.

Bitcoin

 

The arrival of cryptocurrencies in our lives will add electrical loads that were never anticipated by any grid operator. Once people realize that money can be made by letting your computer run complex algorithms at night, once your regular joe realizes that this can be a stream of passive income and that this cryptocurrency can appreciate in value like stocks, this will be the goldrush of our time, similar to those in California or the Klondike or the tar sands in Alberta.

Same thing as for data centers, like the one Amazon plans to build near Varennes. Now that’s a great way to use all that La Romaine project hydro power!

 

More on cryptocurrency mining in another blog post. More on data centers in yet another blog post!


Wind power

Wind turbine

 

Quebec, with its cooler climate and windy conditions, will be the perfect place for wind farms dedicated to cryptocurrency mining. Once connected to the grid, they will also be able to provide extra power if need be. There will be a great need for precise weather forecasts, energy modeling and regional heavy industry power needs. And this is where the Internet of Things will come in.

For example, weather forecast predict reliable winds for the next 36 hours over the St-Laurence gulf area. Wind farms would then calculate the amount of MW of power that will be generated. Knowing this, local heavy industries could plan for power consumption processes to be performed mostly during this timeframe (one can only wish for such close coordination!) and bid on this block of power.


Cybersecurity and the power grid

cyberattack anonymous

 

As we have now learned from the Internet of people, anything that is connected can be hacked. While ransomeware and identity theft may cost hundreds of dollars to individuals, thousands to businesses, a cyberattack on a smart grid or a connected power plant has a far greater cost , both in terms of money as in lives.

It has been 8 years since the Stuxnet virus was discovered by Iranian authorities at the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities. This virus attacked the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system of centrifuges at the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) level, making them spin out of control.

No saber rattling, no drone strikes, no CNN Breaking News, no missile strikes, no protests, no boots on the ground. Yet the damage was extensive and it is believe it has delayed the Iran nuclear program for years and prompted the Iran government to play catch up. Expect such operations to happen again abroad, but also here on Canadian soil.


Cybersecurity and the power grid

nuclear power plant

 

In June 2017, it was reported that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kansas, was hacked into. It is unclear whether the hacking was intended to test the cybersecurity of the plant, gather information or cause harm but it is enough to know that it happened and will happen again.

The nightmare scenario is of course a cyberattack that would block uranium rods in the reactor, causing a reactor meltdown. Such an attack reminds us that we are never too far from Tchernobyl or Three Miles Island disasters. This is why the Internet of Things must be developed hand in hand with cyber security at all levels.

This is also why i believe it is better to leave nuclear reactor control systems completely isolated from the Internet of Things. From 9/11 to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in Afghanistan, terrorists have shown they too can be brilliantly creative and dedicated. So must we rise up and meet this challenge, as we have always done.


Conclusion

 

Historically, the power generation industry has not evolved at the same pace as communication or electronics. As we all know now, the internet of people has changed us more than we ever imagined. There are 7 billions humans on Earth. Now ask yourself how many physical objects there are on this planet and you’ll get an idea of how impactful the Internet of Things will be.

Making the grid more resilient, data collecting of power customers and mapping out their behavior then selling power blocks tailored to their needs, all this seems like Facebook algorithms! Yet here we are talking about wind farms, steel mills, data centers and cryptocurrency mines, all with their own power consumption or production profile.

The threat of cyber attacks will be as present as they are on the Internet of people. People acknowledge how much they can’t live without the Internet of people, so will it be that power utilities and large power consumers won’t be able to live without the Internet of Things

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 2 of 3

Internet des Objets, IoT

Introduction

The Internet of Things or IoT has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. Key elements are in gray, while my comments are in black. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the line, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

Last time, we discovered what is the Internet of Things and how it can transform a traditional power grid into a smart one. Today, i will take you through the 3 phases as recommended by Deloitte on how this can be achieved.

 

Let’s get started!


Summary of The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation

Phase 1: Resilience

solar and wind

 

The initial phase of grid modernization is resilience. Resilience is about grid reliability and durability, a goal made more difficult by the growing trend toward decentralized energy resources.

Because the current system generally has no ability to store electricity, grid operators are constantly balancing the amount of centrally generated electricity injected into the system with demand.

The introduction of large numbers of decentralized, uncontrolled, and unmonitored generators could threaten this balance, degrade power quality, or even potentially endanger the grid and the public.

 

This tendency to turn towards Distributed Energy Resources or DER is worldwide. Here’s what is going on in California, Germany and Denmark.


Distribued Energy Resources in California

California

 

The state of California is pushing beyond its original renewable energy portfolio target of 30 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030.12 A core component of this is the addition of 12,000 MW of power from DERs by 2020.

 

Germany has been a shining example of wind power generation and integration.


Distribued Energy Resources in Germany

Germany

Germany has crossed a symbolic milestone in its energy transition by briefly covering around 100 percent of electricity use with renewables for the first time ever on 1 January 2018.

Sören Amelang, Clean Energy Wire

 

Here is the rest of the article:

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/renewables-cover-about-100-german-power-use-first-time-ever

 

Same thing for Denmark


Distribued Energy Resources in Denmark

Denmark

 

Wind turbines delivered power equivalent to 43.6 percent of Denmark’s electricity consumption in 2017.

Jesper Berggreen, Clean Technica

 

For those interested, here is the complete article:

https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/06/44-wind-denmark-smashed-already-huge-wind-energy-records-2017/


The smart inverter

smart inverter

 

A device critical to integrating Distributed Energy Resources or DERs on this scale with the grid is the power inverter, which transforms electricity from direct current to alternating current so that it can be injected into the grid for consumption. However, these products lack the external control functions and communications standards necessary to facilitate mass integration into the grid.

However, solutions to this challenge may be emerging. Adding IoT technology to an inverter can enable intelligent automated local actions and standards-based monitoring and control of the device, making it a “smart inverter.”

 

Attach an Arduino ESP8266 micro controller and boom, you start measuring and transmitting via the cloud to a database solar illumination, voltage, current and power factor of all solar equipment on the grid. Here is a Youtube video that shows it is possible.

 

 

More on the Arduino ESP8266 and the Internet of Things in another blog!


Phase 2: Enablement

Data analytics

 

The second phase is enablement, in which the aggregation and analysis of collected data enable augmented intelligence and new insights into grid operations and customer interactions.

 

Say you want to become CEO on the Fortune 500 list, but don’t know where to start. An augmented intelligence app would scan Jobboom and LinkedIn resumes of thousands of CEO across different sectors and industries, establish correlations between such factors as race, gender, school, field of study, contacts, etc. Then given your particular situation, it would provide a probabilistic route to your goal.

That is, who should you meet to advance, what field should you graduate in, what city should you move to, etc. And if impossible, it will still recommend the next best thing, say becoming VP or Director. No more coin tossing and hoping for the best!

 

Distribution system operators need control points that eliminate the need for human interaction and can handle the increasing number of IoT-enabled devices and applications within the grid.

These control points must manage customer- and third-party-owned assets as well as utility assets. The rapid rise of grid complexity and the accompanying operational systems is quickly outpacing the grid operator’s ability to quickly and effectively assess a situation, create a plan of action, and execute that plan.


Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS)

Advanced Distribution Management Systems

 

Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) are an IoT technology that solution providers are developing to achieve this level of situational awareness.

An ADMS is an integrated software application that takes advantage of new and existing applications to create a unified monitoring and control system.

This control system is required to maintain reliability, leverage all manner of embedded systems and distributed resources, and safeguard property and people from the variability inherent in a modern grid.

Similar to a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition system (SCADA) in factories, the ADMS allows for reduction the duration of outages and improve the speed and accuracy of outage predictions. With the Intenet of Things, it will allow for improve service reliability by tracking all customers affected by an outage, determining electrical configurations of every device on every feeder, and compiling details about each restoration process.

 

More on Advanced Distribution Management System and IoT in another post!


Phase 3: Competition/ optimization

Stock market

 

Using the data and insights generated in the enablement phase, grid stakeholders are able to make informed business decisions.

Interoperability across the meter from the utility to the customer enables new optimization capabilities and a more efficient use of resources.

An intelligent platform such as an ADMS, composed of various IoT technologies and solutions, can provide the necessary grid intelligence to facilitate stakeholder perspective-driven optimization decisions.

This intelligence enables decisions about what assets are needed and where. For the utility, it means a feeder-level profitability assessment tool is needed to evaluate which investments make sense and which are better suited for the market to satisfy.

Who should we sell power to? Who should we buy it from? At what rate? Should we acquired generation assets or let the private sector do it? These will be questions to which the smart grid will have an answer based on data, not educated guesses.


Beginning the journey

recrutement

 

While many observers have commented on aging workforce issues in the electric utility industry, the IoT poses the additional challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining the next-generation workforce, a workforce that is comfortable with the pace, magnitude, and risk of IoT-driven changes.

The rising number of systems involved in the grid means troubleshooting faults will involve marshaling multidisciplinary teams composed of everyone, from data scientists to linemen.

Many utilities see this as a recruiting opportunity to reignite career interest in the industry. It is a chance to offer those entering the workforce opportunities to learn cutting-edge skills and be a part of an industry that is modernizing rapidly.

In many cases, the skills needed to support the new and sophisticated back-office and operational systems are in extremely high demand in other industries.

 

I am myself an electrical engineer with a power generation background during my university years and electronic background during my college years. My interest in the Internet of Things and Augmented Intelligence have shown me that the smart grid is now emerging in different parts of the world, while being only a concept ten years ago.

It will allow for the efficient use of electricity throughout the grid, integration of intermittent power, but also new power consumption profiles cryptocurrency mining, electrical car recharging and data centers voracious use of electricity.

 

The utility’s barriers to the adoption of these new IoT tools can be high, but the risk and cost of not pursuing them is greater.


Conclusion

 

You have discovered the three phases as recommended by Deloitte to transform the traditional power grid into a smart one through the Internet of Things.

In the resilience phase, the safe integration of intermittent source to the grid is made. Then, in the enablement phase, measurement of all connected devices and the analysis of all data will allow new and better power consumption profiling of large and small clients. Finally, the purchase/optimization phase truly allows for the best use of analytics in planification and asset management.

Next post will be a bonus! My two cents on the challenges brought by cryptocurrency mining, data centers and potential cyberattacks on the grid. Stay tuned!

Deloitte Summaries – The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation – Part 1 of 3

Internet des Objets

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage in the development of new products in the consumer market and how people use them. But what about IoT applications for manufacturing, or better yet power utilities?

This post is the first in a series of summaries on Deloitte studies. Deloitte is a UK incorporated multinational professional services network. Mostly known for its tax, financial and audit consulting, it also provides reports on technological trends, in this case energy and the Internet of Things. This is a summary of the article The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation. Key elements of the article are in gray, while my comments are in black. You can download it for free at:

 

https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/internet-of-things/iot-in-electric-power-industry.html

 

As an electrical engineer or anyone with an interest in power utilities, you will be amazed at how IoT allows engineers to know the exact state of every equipment on the grid, precisely locate faults and even start mapping out predictive power consumption models that are based on data, not educated guesses.

I will first go over what is the Internet of Things and a few of its applications. Then, i will bring out key elements of this article and chip a few comments in. Finally, since IoT equipments can be hacked, i will discuss the issue of cyber security when it comes to energy utilities.

By the end of this post, i hope that you will be as excited as i am at the prospects and challenges the Internet of Things will bring us.

 

Let’s dive in!


What is the Internet of Things

Internet of Things

According to Wikipedia

 

The Internet of Things is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

 

The Apple watch, Amazon Alexa and Google Home are but a few example of objects that are connected to the Internet of Things. And similar to the internet of persons, these objects talk to one another. What might these conversations look like?  Here’s a few examples:

 

What is the temperature of the room?

What time is it and what is the luminosity in the baby bedroom?

 

To which the other device may answer:

The temperature is currently 19° C

Time is 5h32AM and the lighting in the baby’s room is currently 926 lux.

 

And logic statements may also be programmed onto these devices

If the temperature is below 25° C, turn on the heating unit.

If the time is before 7h00AM and the lighting is above 300 lux, close the shades.

 

Finally actions can be taken based on whether those logical statements are true or false.

The heating unit is now ON

The shades are now Closed

 

This is done through the internet as every connected device has an IP address. Therefore, you could control the lighting in the baby’s room from the office. The Internet of Things or IoT offers tremendous potential in turning any physical object into a smart device. And the applications are limitless. More on which sectors will benefit the most from IoT in another post!


Summary of The power is on: How IoT technology is driving energy innovation

1- Throwback

electrical power measurement

 

Historically, utilities have been able to invest heavily in generation and delivery infrastructure because steady growth in demand maintained affordable prices for customers and yielded reasonable returns.

Yet, tighter emission regulations, greater reliability expectations, and the aging transmission and distribution system require more than maintenance; they need expensive upgrades and replacements.

 

That is why many public utilities now turn to private capital for power generation. The Boralex wind farms are an example. This is the opening of a monopolistic market by having private companies build and manage power generating assets. The intention is to induce competition and keep power generation costs low. The opening of the telecommunications market in the 90s and early 2000 is an example of such attempt.

 

The most straightforward response— raising rates—is not always attractive, as both utilities and their regulators are charged with keeping rates affordable, and higher rates increase the competitiveness of alternatives to utility-provided power.

 

Hydro Quebec business model is a great example of this: provide electricity to citizens of Quebec at a low price through the “bloc patrimonial” rate and generate revenues by selling hydro power to business clients and other utilities through interconnexion with other grids in North America.


2- IoT and the Smart Grid

Smart Grid

 

IoT can improve the efficiency and performance of the power grid in three phases: first, by gathering data from sensors to improve the resilience of the grid; then through enablement, where utilities use that data to actively manage resources; and finally, optimization, where all stakeholders are able to make informed decisions about power usage and generation.

 

For example, through IoT measurement of the power consumption of heavy industrial clients such as mines and foundries, it will be possible to build predictive consumer models. These models will not only take into account the power consumption, but also the cost of ore and the selling price of metal bars. Power brokers will be able to buy and sell blocks of power with a greater degree of confidence, rather than going with educated guesses.

 

The grid is evolving from a oneway system where power flows from centralized generation stations to consumers, to a platform that can detect, accept, and control decentralized consumption and production assets so that power and information can flow as needed in multiple directions. This common industry vision is known as the “intelligent grid.”

 

The integration of wind and solar power is a great example of decentralized production. We are seeing now intermittent power generation coexist on the grid with traditional thermic power plants and hydro power generation. The output of the former being fluctuating, while the output of the latter being predictive.

That is, an electricity producer knows how much water he has in his dams and can predict how much electricity he can produce, while wind and solar are subject to the mood swings of the weather. The interconnexion with New England grids and Ontario grids and the selling of power is another example of this multi directional reality.

 

Our view is that the electric grid should modernize in three phases, which we refer to as the resilience, enablement, and competition/ optimization phases.

 

This will be the subject of my next post on IoT and power generation.


Conclusion

 

Through this introduction, you have discovered what is the Intenet of Things, what benefits can it bring to the power grid and how it will transform a traditional grid into a smart one. Next post, i will present the 3 phases Deloitte recommends to make such a transformation, namely the resilience, enablement and competition/optimization phases.

The after Charbonneau Commission – Job prospects in engineering consultancy – 5 of 5

job prospect

 

After the rain comes the good weather, they say. After the hurricane of the Charbonneau Commission and the thousands of jobs lost, has the sunshine returned to the Quebec consulting engineers? This is an excellent question to which I will explore in a four-step answer: the operation of public contracts under construction in Quebec, an overview of the Charbonneau Commission, engineering consulting firms and its engineers and job prospects in this sector.

During the previous article, I spoke about the engineering profession within consulting engineering firms and its importance for the Quebec economy. Today, we will explore together employment opportunities in this sector, as well as some clouds on the horizon that could darken this blue sky.

This blog article is the latest in a series on Quebec consulting engineering. Having been an engineer at SNC-Lavalin, I have every credibility to be able to express myself on this subject.


Employment Outlook in Consulting Engineering

Good – We are in the after Charbonneau Commission era

water under the bridge

 

Water has flowed under the bridges and the issue of ethics is now on the radar of all stakeholders in public contracts in the construction industry. It is now time to rebuild.


Good – Quebec is rebuilding itself after the collapse of the Souvenir overpass

souvenir overpass

 

The collapse of the Souvenir overpass put aging infrastructure on the agenda of citizens and politicians. Thus, it is no longer conceivable that they try to balance the budget by delaying the work until the next election. It is unfortunate that it took the loss of human lives to change things, but it is so in life: it takes a disaster to wake people up.


3. Warning – End of economic cycle in 2019 or 2020

financial crisis

 

1973, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2008 were years of recession. Like a clock, crises occur every 10 years. We are therefore approaching the next.


4. Warning – The return of corruption in one form or another

corruption

 

As the saying goes, where there are men, there is temptation. An issue that has never been addressed in the Charbonneau Commission hearings is whether the wages and working conditions of city officials and public sector engineers are high enough to prevent them from being tempted by fraud.

It is an open secret that Quebec engineers who work with the public sector are significantly underpaid compared to those in the private sector (Hydro-Québec is the exception that confirms the rule!). Moreover, it is THE REASON that explains the loss of technical expertise in government bodies, namely that the government attaches little importance to it. The strike of the engineers members of the Professional Association of Engineers of the Government of Quebec or APIGQ in 2017 and the wage raises offered by the government are the proof.


Wage raises for engineers in the public sector

construction engineer

 

“The Professional Association of Engineers of the Government of Quebec (APIGQ) asks for 20% wage raises over five years to enhance the attractiveness of the public sector to the private sector. The Couillard government is offering 9.15% over the same period in order to respect its financial framework and out of fairness to the other employees of the public service. “

  • – Translation from the news article Grève des ingénieurs: le gouvernement s’impatiente, 14 novembre 2017 à 13:49, TVA Nouvelles


Wage raises for specialized physicians

physician

“Wage raises of 11.2% will be paid by 2023 and represent approximately $ 550 million.”

– Translation from the Médecins spécialistes: hausses de 11,2% d’ici 2023, 14 février 2018 à 7h30, LaPresse

 

It is useful to have representation in the National Assembly, is not it? Even worse, the numbers used to justify these raises were wrong:

 

“To make up for it, forecasts have been made for growth in medical compensation elsewhere in Canada over a ten-year period. However, they were wrong: we overestimated the revenues that doctors in the rest of Canada would make. The government is committed to making pay increases so that Quebec specialists earn more than the Canadian average and their colleagues in Ontario today. “

  • – Translation from the news article Spécialistes: Québec paie des hausses basées sur des prévisions erronées, 15 février 2018 à 11h20, LaPresse

Elements not addressed at the Charbonneau Commission

item list

 

In my opinion, here are some elements that the Charbonneau Commission did not address and contributed to the corruption of engineers:

 

  • Underpaid in relation to the level of education and qualification required
  • Having no representation in the National Assembly
  • Not enjoying a special social status with the population (for example doctor) or women (for example professional hockey player)
  • Afflicted with the image of “nerd”
  • Little or non unionized profession
  • Loss of interest for the “Engineer + MBA” fad

 

Here is a funny video about an engineer who wants to get an MBA

 

And here are other elements

  • Victim of offshoring of manufacturing companies and deindustrialization in America
  • Stuck in their own technicality
  • Can not aspire to manage (where the money and career advancements are)
  • Unable to shift the blame to other groups who also colluded in the corruption scandal because not being skilled enough in communication
  • Not protected by a sufficiently combative professional order or  union (read Collège des Médecins du Québec, Bar of Quebec, Association des Pompiers de Montréal, Fraternité des Policiers de Montréal, Montreal Blue Collar Union, etc.)
  • Ignoring that meritocracy stops at the university
  • Victim of the speech about the “shortage of engineers”

 

More on all these elements not addressed at the Charbonneau Commission and which contributed to the corruption at the engineers during another blog post!

 

A bottle of Pinot Noir over here, a pair of Canadian hockey game tickets there, combined with a dinner La Queue de Cheval, to finish with a trip on a sailboat in the Caribbean and you’ve got your arm stuck in the gear of corruption. To have to choose between all these small gifts and a code of ethics, one would have to be virtuous like a saint not to give in to temptation. That’s why I believe that corruption will come back, in one form or another.


Conclusion

hope

 

Let’s finish this blog post on a positive note

 

“In Business As in Life – You Don’t Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate”

– Chester Karras


Comme un million de gens

 

And with the my freely translated version of “Comme un million de gens” by Claude Dubois:

 

Like a million engineers,

Who could gather themselves

To be much less exploited

And way more connected.

To distinguish ourselves, to think, to emancipate

To liberate ourselves, to manage ourselves!

The after Charbonneau Commission – Rebuilding the engineering consultancy – 4 of 5

engineering firm construction

 

After the rain comes the good weather, they say. After the hurricane of the Charbonneau Commission and the thousands of jobs lost, has the sunshine returned to the Quebec consulting engineers? This is an excellent question to which I will explore in a four-step answer: the operation of public contracts under construction in Quebec, an overview of the Charbonneau Commission, engineering consulting firms and its engineers and job prospects in this sector.

In the last two posts, we made a brief throwback to the Charbonneau Commission, where the real culprits were identified. Let us now look to the future without forgetting the lessons of the past. Today, I will discuss the tasks and responsibilities of consulting engineers. We will end this series on job prospects in this sector.

This blog article is the fourth in a series on Quebec consulting engineering. Having been an engineer at SNC-Lavalin, I have every credibility to be able to express myself on this subject.


Consulting engineering and its engineers

 

Engineers working in consulting engineering firms come from all technical backgrounds. For the building, for example, we find the specialties of building mechanics, building electricity, plumbing, ventilation, fire alarm, etc. For infrastructure, for example, we find specialties in roads, overpasses, seaports, airports, etc. More on how a building is built in another series of blog posts.


Here is a list of tasks and responsibilities of the consulting engineer

1- Win professional services contracts

win contract

 

Money being the life and blood of any company, a consulting engineering firm depends on public contracts for professional services as an income stream. These services include the preparation of plans and specifications, as well as the supervision of construction work. Nervous at the idea of being associated with companies that have been spattered by the corruption scandal, public works authorities have shut the tap of public funds, resulting in a bloodbath in consulting engineering firms.

 

According to the Association of Engineering Consulting Firms (AFG), no less than 5,000 jobs were lost in engineering firms between 2012 and 2015

– 5000 jobs lost, Journal de Montréal, Monday, November 23, 2015 9:50 PM


2- Prepare plans and specifications for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and construction companies

plans and specifications

 

The consulting engineer assesses the nature of the projects and prepares the plans and specifications, ie how the work will be done. For example, during a refurbishment of a drinking water plant, it is inconceivable to completely cut off the power supply to replace the pumps. Thus, the engineer evaluates how to maintain the continuity of service thanks to the redundancy of the equipment. That is to say, he establishes in what order will take place the work to minimize the downtime. This is called the sequencing of the work.

To return to our example, the consulting engineer determines which sectors will be without electricity, the time for the equipment manufacturers to dismantle the old pumps, then to install new ones and to carry out the performance tests. Once the work is finished in this sector, it is reenergized with electricity and another section of the work can be done.

The specifications also indicate which types of equipment will have to be installed, their performance according to established standards, etc.


3- Estimate how much time and money will the construction work take

estimation

 

Based on his experience, previous work done by his firm and the reference guides in force, the consulting engineer assesses how much time will be needed to complete the work and how much it will cost. In terms of estimation, the experience is worth its weight in gold. However, an engineer with less experience can still rely on reference books such as NECA for electrical work or RSMeans for any type of work.

These are books that detail all the work done by a construction contractor. Each task is associated with the time to execute it by a competent worker, as well as a schedule of hourly rates by trade. More about using NECA and RSMeans in another blog post. More about work estimation classes in another blog post.


4- Prepare the bidding process for construction companies and equipment manufacturers

bidding process

 

Once the consulting engineer has prepared the detailed estimate, as well as the plans and specifications, the public works authorities undertakes a public bidding process for construction companies and equipment manufacturers. In the case of an over-the-counter contract, ie where the cost of the work is less than $ 25,000, the consulting engineer may have to oversee and prepare bidding documents on behalf of the public works authorities for construction companies and equipment manufacturers.

This invitation to bid will explain the nature of the work, the equipment to be kept and those to be replaced, etc. A site visit with all the bidders will allow them to discuss the process with the consulting engineer and the client. More about the bidding process in another blog post.


5- Evaluate bidding construction companies and OEMs

Compare

 

The evaluation of the bidding companies will take into account experience during similar work, experience and availability of the team, etc. This evaluation is done according to a grid of points with weighted criteria. This is called bid compliance. The evaluation also takes into account the cost of the work that the bidders have estimated separately.


6- Choose the winning construction companies and OEMs

Choose winner

 

In general, a bidder whose estimation is much lower than the others is automatically rejected because it can not be compliant with the bidding technical criteria. Same thing for a quote with a much higher cost. The others go to the scorecard. The one whose score is reasonably high and whose cost is the lowest wins the bid and is awarded the contract of construction. Same thing with the OEMs.


7- Manage the project according to PMBOK

 

project management

 

Although it is not always mandatory, it is strongly recommended that the consulting engineer who manages the project be accredited Project Management Professional or PMP. This certification, offered by the Project Management Institute or PMI, is an indication that the consulting engineer understands the factors that can derail a project.

After having absorbed the 10 areas of knowledge and the 47 project management processes from the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK), the consulting engineer can take the exam. If he succeeds, he can wear the title of PMP. More on PMP and PMI in another blog post. Same thing for the PMBOK!


8- Monitor the work and manage the budget

construction inspection

 

Because a million things happen on a construction site, the consulting engineer must carefully monitor the work, the budget and the deadlines.

For example, work in a sector can not progress further without the signature of a site inspector, who validated that everything was compliant with the specifications. In case of non-compliancy, this will be noted and the contractor will have to start the work again until it is considered adequate.

As for the budget and payment of contractors, they must always be paid by disbursement according to the evolution and conformity of the work.


9- Ensures the final delivery of the project

project delivery

 

At the end of each phase of the project, the representative of public works authorities makes his tour with the consulting engineer. If all is in order, the representative signs and, in so doing, accepts that he can not pretend ignorance of the end of the work. He accepts by the same token that he will not be able to appeal for incomplete work or refuse to pay.


Conclusion

 

We have just discovered what consulting engineers: they compete to win the public bidding process for professional services offered by the public works authorities. Then they study the nature of the project, prepare plans and technical specifications. They estimate the costs and duration of the work. When the project’s value is less than $25 000, they may also write the bidding document themselves for construction companies and OEMs. They manage the project, monitor the work and manage budgets. Finally, they ensure the final delivery of the project to the public works authorities.

Despite the scandal of corruption in the construction industry and precisely because it is quite recent, because the infrastructures in Quebec are crumbling and need to be revamped and that there is a political will since the collapse of the Souvenir overpass, the prospect of jobs should be good for many years to come. This will be the subject of the last post in this series on Quebec consulting engineering. One last effort!

 

Be the change you want to see in the world

  • – Mahatma Ghandi

 

 

The after Charbonneau Commission – The engineering firms, the water metering device affair and Union Montreal – 3 of 5

Charbonneau Commission

After the rain comes the good weather, they say. After the hurricane of the Charbonneau Commission and the thousands of jobs lost, has the sunshine returned to the Quebec consulting engineers? This is an excellent question to which I will explore in a four-step answer: the operation of public contracts under construction in Quebec, an overview of the Charbonneau Commission, engineering consulting firms and its engineers and job prospects in this sector.

During the previous blog post, the Charbonneau Commission revealed to us how the mafia, the cartels under construction, the city officials and even Union Montreal’s number 2, Frank Zampino, were involved. Today, we will see other aspects brought to light by the commission, namely the consulting engineering firms, the water metering device affair and the political financing of Union Montreal.

This blog article is the third in a series on Quebec consulting engineering. Having been an engineer at SNC-Lavalin, I have every credibility to be able to express myself on this subject.


Overview of the Charbonneau Commission report

 

In order to fully understand the future of consulting engineering in Quebec, it is important to go back to the Charbonneau Commission. As this is an overview, I will only talk about corruption in Montreal, but know that it had spread to Laval, Gatineau, Quebec city, Terrebonne, etc.

All that following material have been taken directly from of the Charbonneau Commission final report and translated, except for my comments which are clearly identified. You can download it at:

https://www.ceic.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/Fichiers_client/fichiers/Rapport_final/Rapport_final_CEIC_Integral_c.pdf


The engineering firms

engineering firm

 

When the Tremblay-Zampino team enters City Hall, a new law is shaking relations between the city administration and the engineering consulting firms.

Law 29 first and then Law 106 upset this environment. Except in exceptional cases, legislative changes put an end to the awarding of private contracts. Only contracts of $ 25,000 or less may be awarded by mutual agreement. If the planned expenditure is greater than $ 100,000, the city must issue a bidding process. If it varies between $ 25,000 and $ 100,000, a written invitation must be sent to at least two suppliers.

 

The results are almost instantaneous: prices fall. Michel Lalonde, of Groupe Séguin, spoke of a “fierce competition” which encouraged firms to bid up to 25% under the price lists. Stunned for a while, the engineering consulting firms finally recover. Their presidents are working together to avoid a price war, said Patrice Mathieu, vice president at Tecsult.

Signatories undertake in writing to “charge fees commensurate with the value of the services rendered [or] to be rendered and recognized in a given sector”, in short to respect the AICQ (“Association des Ingénieurs Conseils du Québec”, rebranded “Association des Firmes de Génie Conseil” or AFG) scales. The commitment includes the signature of the presidents of Dessau, SNC-Lavalin, Genivar, BPR, CIMA +, Roche, Groupe S.M., Groupe Séguin, Tecsult and Macogep.

 

Like the cartels on the sidewalks or the sewers, this commitment is intended to prevent competition between firms from completely eroding profits. More about consulting engineering firms and the Charbonneau Commission in another blog post.

 

The cartel is the merger-acquisition for those who can not afford it.

  • – Me!

 

Montreal-based engineering consulting firms expect the Tremblay-Zampino team to meet its commitments to them. We remember that before the elections, Frank Zampino had asked for a contribution of $ 100,000 to the firm Roche; he had made it clear to his representative, Marc-Yvan Côté, that Union Montréal wanted to obtain the financial help of large firms.

 

Reading this request from Frank Zampino, we realize that the real culprits of the corruption scandal were the politicians and not the engineering consulting firms, even though they were involved. Let’s not forget that not so long ago, some Quebec Prime Minister during the Quiet Revolution played the same song.

 

If you want subsidies, vote on the good side

– Maurice Duplessis


The water metering devices affair

water meter genieau

 

The contract has two components: the implementation of water meters in industries, businesses and institutions (ICI) and the optimization of the water distribution network. It is awarded for $ 356 million, making it one of the largest contracts in the history of the City of Montreal. Considering all the costs, the budget for the project is about $ 600 million.

In September 2009, a report by the City’s Auditor General, Jacques Bergeron, highlighted several administrative irregularities in the management of the water meter project. The report notes that the contract was awarded “in a context that did not favor the best price”. The auditor points out that at least one decision “significantly restricts the competition market”.

He is concerned about inappropriate meetings that were likely taking place during the process between city officials and bidders (whom he does not name):

 

On the face of it, he says, this information casts doubt on the promiscuity links between these people and on the influence that these meetings might have had on the progress of the project.

  • – Translation from the testimony of Jacques Bergeron, Auditor General of the City of Montreal, Room 41P-534, p. 1-2.41P-534, p. 16-17.

 

He sends his case to the SQ. The conclusions of the report, published during the election campaign, are so disturbing that Mayor Gérald Tremblay decides to announce the termination of the contract.

More about the water metering devices affair in another blog post.


Union Montreal

Union Montreal Gerald Tremblay

 

NAME LENDING SCHEME

In March 2013, André Noël, a Commission investigator, analyzed the lists of Union Montréal contributors for these two election years, 2005 and 2009, and isolated some 1,350 donations of $ 1,000, as well as a few dozen donations. $ 500. He sorted out these contributions to keep only those made by voters living in middle-class neighborhoods.

In 2005, the average pre-tax income of Montrealers aged 15 and over with income was approximately $ 33,000. Using Google Street View, Christmas has identified a hundred or so dwellings that could likely be lived in by voters earning this average income, such as apartments in duplexes. He chose 32 addresses among these dwellings, in order to have a portrait of different areas of the City.

 

When respondents were visited by Commission investigators, a fear of another type could make them silent: the need to testify in public. Despite this, most of them responded frankly. Four name lenders were identified during this tour also appeared before the Commission.

Trepanier recounted the following example. A company won a good contract: he then called its manager or sponsor and sold him 30 $ 500 tickets for a total of $ 15,000. The company would try to find enough name lenders to officially buy these tickets. If it did not succeed, its representative could pay the difference in cash: “We put it in … he put it in the hat,” Trépanier said.

 

Bernard Trépanier was the fundraiser for Union Montreal during the Tremblay-Zampino era. He was also known as Mister 3%, taking a 3% cut for every construction contract that was awarded by the City of Montreal.


THE BRIEFCASE FULL OF MONEY

briefcase money

 

For his part, organizer Martin Dumont stated that Union Montréal temporary employee Alexandra Pion had complained to him that Trépanier had asked him to count money bills totaling approximately $ 850,000. According to him, she no longer wanted to do this kind of work, which was not part of her receptionist duties.

 

So I go in, and that’s when Mr. Trépanier asked me to put the $ 20 bills together and the $ 50 bills together, and that’s where I saw him come in with a briefcase, a standard size briefcase that was, that had money inside. Without hesitation, I told Mr. Trépanier that it was not my job, and I left. He did not restrain me.

  • – Translation of the testimony of Alexandra Pion, transcript of 21 January 2013, p. 52.

 

The Anti Name Lending Law on Electoral Contributions put an end to anonymous donations after its adoption by the National Assembly in December 2010 (the law entered into force in May 2011).


THE OFFICIAL AND UNOFFICIAL BUDGETS

official unofficial budget

 

The December 2004 by-elections in the borough of Saint-Laurent give an insight into the use that Union Montréal could make of its unaccounted revenue. The elections were prompted by the forced departure of two corrupt city councilors who had been elected under the banner of the party, René Dussault and Irving Grundman, a case that dated back to 2002.

As an organizer, Dumont still wants to ensure that the expenses will not exceed the maximum allowed. He asks to meet the official agent, Marc Deschamps. According to his testimony, the meeting would have been held in early December, two weeks before the elections. Dumont said mayor Tremblay was present.

 

And when … when Marc Deschamps pulled out the paper to say, “That’s why we have an official budget and we have an unofficial budget”, that’s when the Mayor of Montreal, Gérald Tremblay stood up and said, “I do not have to know that. “

  • – Translation of the testimony of Martin Dumont, transcript of October 30, 2012, p. 79.

 

This document and Ouellet’s testimony give the impression of a double accounting where the real expenses are higher than the declared expenses. When he testified in October 2012, Dumont had mentioned memory numbers, without the help of any text. However, they were very close to those on the document submitted by the Union Montréal attorney. He had mentioned the presence of two columns, one for informal expenses and the other for official expenses, and this was confirmed.


THE FIRING OF BERNARD TRÉPANIER

firing trepanier 3%

 

Five or six months after being appointed Executive Director of Union Montréal, in the fall of 2004, Ouellet was visited by Mr. Gilles Hébert, a lawyer close to the party. Hébert told him of a rumor about Trépanier, who had just been appointed head of financing. According to him, “the Sûreté du Québec followed or investigated or checked certain things about Mr. Trépanier”.

Ouellet tells Hébert that they have a duty to talk to the mayor. They get an appointment with him. The chief of staff of Tremblay attends the meeting. Hébert repeats what he has heard. “A month later, we were informed that the checks were done and there was no problem,” said Ouellet.

 

It was not the first time Tremblay had been made aware of Trépanier’s suspicions. Cloutier had warned him more than once before 2004. He told him, “Gerald, you’re doing a bad job. ” ” Which? Asked Tremblay. “Bernard Trepanier is not a good man for you,” said Cloutier. I have known him for several years, 25 years, and he plays with money. You should get rid of this guy. But Tremblay did not follow his advice and did not get rid of him.

Tremblay returns to his office, then meets Trépanier for less than two minutes. Trepanier asks him why he is fired. “I will not give you a reason,” Tremblay answers. Trépanier tries to convince him to change his mind: “Yes, but I have to work,” he told him, “I have just bought a condominium. Tremblay remains adamant: “The decision has been made,” he replies. He refuses to give him the reason for his dismissal because he fears that this revelation will generate threats or acts of intimidation. He then communicates with Deschamps to inform him of his decision, always without giving the reason.


THE “FIRING” OF BERNARD TRÉPANIER

"firing" trepanier 3%

 

In any event, Tremblay did in fact declare to the Commission that he had dismissed Trépanier because of this allegation, but in fact Trépanier continued to hold the same position, to the knowledge of Tremblay. Zampino said Trépanier had told him that his post had been abolished only in the summer of 2006, “but that he would still continue in his role as funding director for the Party.” “I continued to fund for the party in 2006, 2007, 2008,” said Trépanier. The mayor was at the door, the mayor has always been with me. ”

Deschamps confirmed that it was a dismissal for the form. The purpose of the operation: to distance yourself in appearance from Trépanier while ensuring that he continues to do exactly the same job, but without being paid:

 

Q. So, […] if I understand you correctly, what we were trying to do was to save appearances? That is to sideline him in appearance only, officially only, but while keeping him because he was doing a good job for Union Montreal, unofficially?

A. I would read the events like this. I could not have said it better.

  • – Translation from the testimony of Marc Deschamps, transcript of March 25, 2013, p. 49-50.

THE END FOR UNION MONTREAL

the end union montreal

 

In 2011, the Marteau squad launched an investigation into the Faubourg Contrecoeur project contract, which will lead the following year to the arrest of Trépanier and Zampino, as well as seven other people. Accurso will be arrested the same month following an investigation by the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC) in Mascouche. He will still be arrested the following year with Sauriol and 35 other people following the investigation of the UPAC in Laval.

 

For his part, mayor Gérald Tremblay will resign in the fall of 2012 after the start of the Commission’s hearings, which focused specifically on the City of Montreal. The management of his administration was strongly questioned, while the mayor had to negotiate a new financial and fiscal partnership with the other municipalities and the Quebec government.

He will be replaced by Michael Applebaum, Mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. Applebaum will have to resign in June 2013, after being accused of breach of trust, fraud against the government and acts of corruption in municipal affairs.

 

As we can see, a political organization, as a company, is only as honest as its leader. Any corruption at the helm ends up being transmitted to the entire vessel. Finally, even if it takes time, the truth always ends up surfacing.

More about political financing at Union Montreal in a future blog post.


Conclusion

 

This throwback on the Charbonneau Commission focused today on engineering consulting firms, the water metering devices affair and financing at Union Montreal. You could see how these different participants were involved in the corruption scandal in the construction industry. Now that the commission is behind us, let’s look to the future without forgetting the lessons of the past. In the next blog post in this series, I will discuss the duties and responsibilities of the consulting engineer.

 

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • – George Santayana