Supply Chain Effect and How the Design Community Can Help

Have electronically commutated (EC) fans become the AEC industry’s toilet paper? There have been runs on the stores for two years now. People fortunate to get their hands on large EC fans are stocking up.

This supply-chain issue has created a lot of headaches for the design community. We are examining whether we can accept piping from Romania, deciding whether we would accept an air-handling unit without the fan inside of it, or modifying our electrical one lines to accommodate whatever equipment we can get our hands on.

And EC fans are only one of many products affected by supply-chain shortages. For owners, the frustration must be mounting. The AEC industry over the last 10 years has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of scheduling and budgeting and incorporating just-in-time changes. These are common in the construction process since it’s so long. We frequently come across owners that make changes to the program and, consequentially, our designs, long after the project is awarded. But in today’s market the changes are blowing schedules and cost out of the water.

Some long-time industry professionals are saying that owners just have to get better at making long-term decisions so we can buy things even earlier than we used to. The problem with that approach is that it just creates more problems for our clients instead of solving them.

Since we don’t see supply-chain issues going away anytime soon, we looked into what a design can do to help solve the problem and came up with two suggestions:

The first is more of a short-term solution. As a design firm, we need to be as flexible as possible. Designers protect themselves from risk by using products with a certain rigidity and designs that are tried and true. But the rigidity of products and tried-and-true designs can inhibit speedy responses to supply-chain challenges.

The second is part of a larger strategy to help owners. We try to identify parts and components that can be preordered in standard sizes and then fine-tuned later. As part of this effort, Syska Innovations is looking outside typically specified products to help startups and/or new companies develop products that fit the flexible mold.

One example is a company called HVAC Manufacturers LLC, which developed a variable air-balancing device with a turndown ratio of 100 to 1. The smart air valve, or SAV, in one 15×20 size can fit the bill for all our VAV box needs for a commercial office product. As a baseball fan, it reminds me of when New Era invented the snapback one-size-fits-all baseball hat.

So now, once a client dreams of a project — let’s say a commercial one for 70,000 SF, we can take immediate action. Our designs typically average one box per 700 SF, so we order 100 boxes at project inception and the VAV boxes are no longer a supply-chain issue.

The next step for us is to take this approach to hospitals and laboratory projects, where standardization and pre-ordering can significantly enhance performance. We’ll tell you more about these experiments in a future blog. Stay tuned!

Written By Robert Ioanna