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company focus: hoogovens Grant Rooney of Alba Building Sciences explains how thermal imaging can help achieve the goal of zero defects in buildings

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What is the difference between the Loch Ness Monster and a modern British building that achieves a 'zero-defect' proven level of build quality, thermal performance and sustainability?

Answer: they are both talked about a lot, but neither has ever been scientifically proved to exist . . .

Our failure to achieve consistently high design and build quality standards costs everyone, both socially and economically.

If you are as concerned as we are about the present state of the uk construction industry, and its failure to deliver a quality product on time and within budget - there is hope for the future. But the changes that will be necessary to turn the present state of affairs around can only come from accepting that new ways of working must be found, in order to achieve the long-term commercial benefits that will come to those companies who have genuinely committed themselves to adopting a quality culture.

The bottom line is that the day will soon arrive when clients will demand that their cash is spent on achieving the highest possible building quality standards. In particular, as an inherent part of any project contract in the future, scientific evidence will be required that the specified level of building quality and performance has been achieved before clients will pay for it.

While you may view this as an impossible task, we are confident that we can show you how to achieve a meaningful improvement in what you do now, and to help further develop a process of continuous review and change.

When we link an understanding of the new techniques that you can apply to eliminate weaknesses and defects in your buildings, to the new quality culture within your organisation, you will find that significant benefits can be gained - not least because many of the facts that our new technology seeks to deliver were previously invisible to conventional tests and quality assurance procedures.

If you are involved in any building project, the 'quality ethos' begins with the development of a proactive working relationship between all parties within the multi-disciplinary project team. It is critical that, when taking the project through the various stages of conception, design, specification, construction and commissioning and practical completion, that every team member ensures that only quality is passed on down the line.

The starting point in this quality chain is a high-quality design and specification. As the building develops, various non-destructive tests, including the use of infra-red thermography and thermal performance measurement, can be carried out, and a system of proactive modification to design or installation procedures immediately implemented for the whole of the project. This will prevent details that are weak or defective from being repeated, and will mean that an overall improvement in build quality.

Assuming that you have embraced all of the changes necessary and achieved the perfect design - how do you convince the client of this? The traditional methods of quality assurance have been shown not to work, and a radical change is taking place where advanced technology and new techniques are being applied as best practice within the uk. Clients are mow demanding scientific proof that their desired levels of build quality, thermal performance and sustainability have actually been achieved, and by implementing a range of techniques such as infra-red thermography, component pressure testing, and the measurement of the actual performing U-value, we can redefine the whole performance of a completed building.

As we implement these radical changes in quality assurance evaluation techniques within the construction industry, it is essential that we also achieve a standard of consistency and repeatability as to how any data is obtained and interpreted. Unfortunately, there is still a certain degree of misunderstanding about how thermography is properly to be applied when carrying out building surveys; there have already been published examples of infra-red images that may not have been obtained in accordance with our scientific 'best practice'.

If the data shown on infra-red images is inaccurate, then there is every possibility that any interpretation of this data will also be flawed, and so misrepresentation of the true thermal performance of a building can result. For example, there is a significant difference between thermal images 1 and 2 shown on the opposite page, yet both are taken of the same building, within a few seconds of each other.

The reason for this difference is simply the temperature span setting of the infra-red system. These confirm that image 1 has been captured with a temperature differential of 2degreesC across the whole building, while image 2 defines the thermal characteristics when there is a difference of 5degreesC. As you can see, image 2 is masking the clarity of many of the true thermal anomalies that exist in this building, and so could never claim to clearly define or allow accurate diagnosis of the actual thermal performance achieved.

When infra-red is used to define the thermal performance of any building, there are certain other key elements, in addition to the temperature span settings, that can influence the accuracy and reliability of the thermograms obtained.

It is particularly important that only a long-wave infra-red system is employed, as the peak energy wavelength for the typical range of temperatures that are found across a building all occur within the long-wave region of the spectrum.

In addition, the environmental conditions under which an infra-red building survey are conducted are critical, and must take account of time for solar gain to be emitted from the building before undertaking the survey. Wind speed, rain, mist and fog, dry surface and a temperature differential of at least 10degreesC across the building enclosure are other relevant factors.

So, when these new techniques are applied to finished buildings, the construction team can use them to modify the design, product specification and methods of construction as it progresses toward achieving the goal of zero defects.

As part of Hoogovens' commitment to all that the change to a quality culture involves, the company has commissioned Alba to produce an independent assessment of a random selection of its systems/buildings. To date, the results are encouraging, consistent with what we would expect from current construction practice. They are to provide the benchmark against which future Hoogovens developments will be judged, as the company seeks to raise significantly the overall quality standard.

Alba will continue to monitor these developments, and will provide future updates, as progress is made towards the industry achieving the ultimate objective of zero defects.

Of course, the present type of contractual relationship between members of the construction team must be changed, in order to allow the existing antagonistic approach to be replaced by proactive partnerships. New quality team relationships will be required. There are many steps to be taken on the long journey to achieve zero defects in buildings, but the first is always the most important.

We urge you to embrace the exciting culture of change, and to learn about the way in which new technology can be applied to assist you in achieving the improvements that will ensure a long and successful future for your company.

Grant Rooney

Director, Alba Building Sciences

Alba Building Sciences can be contacted ontel/fax: 01382 206900; e-mail: 106107,1544@ compuserve.com

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