Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The "Spark" Behind our EE's interest in their field

You may wonder what ignited the geek so to speak or, put another equally corny way, what event livened the wire in the brains of our electrical design team. 

In the case of the youngest member of our team, Robert, who has worked for SAI since his high school days as an intern returning upon graduation from college, the seed was planted even earlier in his education--first grade to be exact when he landed in trouble for putting a staple in an outlet in order to see what would happen. Let's just say sparks flew literally and figuratively. 

For Badri, who hails from Nepal though he became a U.S. citizen several years ago, it was the "shock" he received when using the primitive heaters of his childhood to boil water that drew him to learn more about electricity. He originally came to the States to study electrical engineering with plans to return to Nepal to work on the hydroelectric plants being built throughout Nepal and India by Enron in the 1990's. Well, we all know what happened to Enron and with it Badri's plans. But their loss is our gain as Badri has been in the field for over a decade.

The dinosaur of our electrical team, Maury, appropriately enough, first put his interest into practice at Christmas time when he decided to use a discarded plug his grandfather gave him to juice up his train set. He stripped the insulation from the wires and bypassed the train transformer to connect directly to the track. The result: the trains flew off the track, house lights blew and thumbnails were blackened. Fortunately for his family, their home at the time had fuses instead of circuit breakers or it might have burned down. Needless to say, he not only learned about the power of electricity that day but some powerful new curse words as his mother called her dad to question the wisdom of giving a youngster of seven such a "toy". Little did she know then that those words would serve him well as an adult when he takes covers off panelboards.   

Stay tuned to learn why some of the mechanical and plumbing members of our team got into their disciplines.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Power Quality and Power Reliability: UPS vs. Standby Power Systems

There is a lot of discussion lately about UPS and standby systems (and, no, we are not talking about methods of package delivery or airline flight status). Given the shaky state of the power grid, climate change induced weather events and a greater demand for electricity both in the U.S. and globally, power quality and power reliability have become major issues for commercial as well as residential customers. 
Uninterruptible Power Supply systems, commonly referred to as UPS systems, can filter incoming power to protect against electrical "noise" such as spikes or transients (i.e., a type of pulse caused by factors such as lightning, switching surges, or kick-in of large motors), thereby improving power quality in our increasingly data-driven world. The need for UPS systems is particularly acute for data centers, office server rooms and telecom equipment spaces, or any computer-intensive environment. Typically, UPS systems also have batteries to ride through power outages, but not the kind of batteries found under your car hood or inside your cellphone, as the former are more sensitive to extreme temperatures and much more costly.
On the other hand, standby power or "back-up" systems, of which the most common type is a generator, are not battery-driven but run on engines fueled by gasoline, natural gas, propane or diesel. The duration of generator operation is limited by the amount of available fuel. Standby power systems are so-called because they operate upon loss of utility power making them valuable to businesses and homeowners alike.
The primary difference between generator and UPS function is that the system or load being powered by a UPS never knows that power is or was lost. With a generator, there is a delay between loss of power and start-up so that critical equipment such as computers will power down and must be restarted, which is why a UPS is often necessary. However, for household items and most commercial systems, for that matter, a stand-by system can come to the rescue.
And, now, you understand the essence of UPS systems and standby power systems.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why do Lights Dim and What does it Mean?

We would all like to think that dimming lights signals the start of an exciting movie or show. However, there are frequently times in our daily lives that our lights dim at home or work while electronic devices thankfully continue unabated. Given recent weather events in the East--the June derecho and the October hurricane, not to mention the occasional passing wind gust (not gas) or thunderstorm, many of us have experienced a lack of electricity, stopping us in our tracks so to speak.

Power or electricity is delivered to our homes and workplaces for the most part on a multi-phase basis. Oftentimes, power loss is preceded by a dimming of lights--followed by a complete blackout, or for the fortunate, immediate restoration to full power. If one line goes down due to tree limbs or other debris, human or animal damage or gusts of wind, single-phasing comes into play resulting in dimming until full power comes back or all power goes out, meaning an event has caused complete interruption. In other words, dimming of lights could be called "single-phasing", the loss of one phase feeding lights but perhaps not a phase affecting electronics or vice versa. In this day and age it is safe to say that most people would rather lose phasing to the former rather than the latter.      

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

School Days Ways

The start of a new school year brings to mind SAI Engineering's long-standing relationship with Minnieland Academy which currently has 10,000 children enrolled in its various programs and employs 2,000 people.  We are proud of our affiliation with Minnieland resulting in over a dozen new facilities, including the new Minneland at Belmont in Loudoun County.  SAI Engineering would like to take this opportunity to express well-deserved congratulations to the folks at Minnieland on their 40th anniversary and thanks for their many contributions to the community.  Our CFO, Maria Paslick, serves with Minnieland's COO, Chris Schuster, on the board of SPARK, the Education Foundation of Prince William County Schools.

SAI Engineering is also proud of its collaboration with Colonial Webb on the addition of a new cooling tower and two new chillers at Lake Ridge Middle School.  The school's air conditioning broke down in the spring and the project was completed this past summer in time for back-to-school activities.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SAI Proud to Assist Made in USA Effort with Design/Build

A perfect example of a successful design-build approach is SAI's partnership with Lantz Construction out of Broadway, Virginia, on the expansion/upgrade to the Rubbermaid Commercial Products manufacturing facility in Winchester. The company is adding high-tech, energy-efficient injection molding machines at the site where Rubbermaid Commercial Products has had its headquarters since 1968 and continues as one of the city's largest employers. The project is featured in July's Virginia Business magazine on page 19.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who Says Engineers Don't Know How to Make Fun?

Yes, we have all heard the jokes about the boring, meticulous engineers. Recently, however, another example of one of SAI's interesting projects was featured in the news (above the fold no less and with a color photo) in the Washington Post (June 7, 2012, page A-1). It showed the new fiery attraction at Six Flags in all its glory, Apocalypse, which debuted this summer. It is the theme park's first new coaster in a decade and SAI's design of mechanical systems in partnership with contractor GMS (General Mechanical Systems) out of Annapolis helped make it possible.

SAI has previously partnered with GMS on a number of major projects including data centers at the US Naval Academy, several for US Pharmacopeia, the Maryland Dept. of Transportation and others. It is especially gratifying for Maury to work with a fellow Blue Jay, a lacrosse player at that. Congrats to GMS's President, Greg Lilly, on the 20th anniversary of his championship team.

Monday, February 20, 2012

SAI Partners with BIP, Inc. on New African American Museum

The new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is scheduled to open in late 2015 with groundbreaking to take place this week. SAI President, Maury Paslick, advised Allen Kennedy of BIP, Inc., a Woodbridge-based construction company, on best practices for providing temporary power during the construction effort to be led by Clark Construction. After the contract was signed, SAI has continued to collaborate with BIP, Inc. to provide review drawings for each step of the process.

The 374,000 SF NMAAHC, which will be located between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, has been designed as a seven-level structure, with 60% of its square footage located underground and 40% aboveground. Other unique features include the "Corona", an inverse truncated pyramid, a central water feature and a sloped lawn and hedge forming the South Plaza.

SAI's efforts on this project add to a portfolio of museum-related experience, including a condition assessment of various other Smithsonian facilities also located on the Mall and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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