The Importance of Staying Connected in the Design World

By Richard Graham, Fire Protection Design Manager

Welcome to 2020 and staying connected. What does staying connected mean to you? In 2020, we have experienced new levels in daily communication through Zoom Meetings, Microsoft Teams, and Webex to name a few. Receiving countless and ever-changing news from local and national media, State Governors, CDC, and the President throughout this COVID-19 Pandemic. 


In the 32 years, I have been in the fire sprinkler business I continue to learn by staying connected. I learn with each new project just as the codes change we must learn to adapt. Each day seems to bring on a new prospect, challenge, or opportunity. The construction industry has changed dramatically in the last 30 years and we have had to change in the fire protection business accordingly. 

From a personal view, over thirty years ago, designers like myself handcrafted tracings. We used vellum paper which could be placed over a series of construction drawings and the outlines of the drawing could be seen through the paper. We traced the structural components of the building, the reflected ceiling plans, HVAC, and any pertinent data that we needed for coordination. Truly we were already layering just like AutoCAD. For me, it provided a better understanding of how buildings were built along with the other trades work and how to design around the structural components, ductwork, cable trays, and electrical all in the same space needed to design the sprinkler system piping. By sheer osmosis, this made me a better designer knowing how other trades installed their work adjacent to my sprinkler system. I could see what was going to happen above the ceiling three-dimensionally in my head.

The art of manually drawn tracings is pretty much gone today along with Blueprints produced on ammonia blueprint machines.  Replaced now by AutoCAD, 3D Modeling, BIM 360, Navisworks, and REVIT.  With selected options, design can be enhanced by providing interface detection, realistic photo like renderings and Bluebeam PDF publishing with high tech drafting and printing plotters.  Today we are very fortunate to receive a complete set of construction paper drawings to reference.  We are required to sift through files and files of PDF drawings seen only on a couple of 22” monitors. We find ourselves plotting many drawings to reference as part of our coordination of the project design.

With basic AutoCAD drafting, I caution to think the learning process is better because the continual exposure is gone.  With a few clicks the HVAC layer disappears, the structure is gone and only the sprinkler system remains.  It looks good, it is more efficient, fast, and accurate. But does it fit?

If forced to continually improve due to technology so should the learning evolve, by incorporating and understanding the important three-dimensional layers and 3D modeling of HVAC, electrical, and structure into our fire sprinkler designs and identifying the crash points on modeled coordinated projects.  The obstacles are still there, but we see them virtually making better input decisions and more efficient installs.  We are forced to continually improve because of the ever-changing construction industry and the latest 3D and 4D technology.  We still face new challenges for each project, but virtually we see the future better and more efficiently by staying connected.

To learn more about how Ahern is staying connected and how we can help with your next fire protection project, contact us today!