This quarter, Paul Dalton of Mace reports that a boost in orders has meant an increase in the lead times for some building supplies. Also, Jonathan Kaye of Gardiner & Theobald takes a close look at building management systems

Rotary (level) and precast piling (level) lead times have been maintained at seven and six weeks respectively. However some contributors said there was a lull in take-up of major projects, which may mean a decrease in the next period.

After last quarter’s increase, concrete works (down) decreased one week to five weeks with suppliers reporting fewer enquiries.

The average lead time for structural steelwork (level) has been maintained at 13 weeks, although suppliers have reported increased pressure on the manufacture period as more work enters the marketplace.

Reconstituted stone cladding (up) lead times have increased one week in the period to 28 weeks with suppliers saying that increasing demand is putting pressure on production resources. Natural stone cladding (up) has increased for the second successive report and is now at 29 weeks overall, with suppliers reporting increased detailing time.

Curtain walling (level) lead times have again stayed at 18 weeks with previously reported issues over glass supply being resolved.

The lead time for atrium roofing (up) has increased one week to 29 weeks, with suppliers reporting a number of firm orders for the second half of 2006 and into 2007.

Lead times for the membrane roofing (level) and profiled roofing (level) sectors were maintained at nine and 14 weeks respectively.

Facade-cleaning equipment (up) has increased again in the period and is now up to 26 weeks because of an increased requirement for complex designs and general increase in activity in the sector.

The lead time for metal windows (level) has been maintained at 15 weeks with previously reported glass supply difficulties easing.

Brickwork and blockwork (level) lead times are again unchanged at four weeks.

Lead times for drylining (level) are unchanged at nine weeks for the second successive period. Suppliers report they are able to call on good overseas labour to maintain lead times.

Lead times for demountable partitions (level) have also been maintained at nine weeks overall with suppliers again reporting spare capacity in the second quarter of 2006.

As forecast in the previous report, general joinery (up) lead times increased one week to 12 weeks overall. Specialist joinery (level) lead times have stayed at 17 weeks, although procurement of materials is placing pressure on their ability to maintain these lead-ins.

Raised floors (level) are unchanged at six weeks - however, an increase is anticipated in the second half of 2006 and suppliers are reviewing resource availability to counter the boost in workload and maintain lead times.

Suspended ceilings (down) lead times fell one week to 15 weeks with suppliers reporting spare capacity in the short term, but strong order books towards the end of 2006 and into 2007, which will mean an increase next period.

Architectural metalwork (up) suppliers have increased lead times one week to 14 weeks because of a number of recent orders - but it is anticipated this is only a short-term increase.

Decorating (level) lead times are unchanged at five weeks, and lead times for internal stone finishes (level) have been kept at 16 weeks.

Non-standard lifts (level) have again stayed at 41 weeks with the previously reported increase in orders not affecting lead times.

Ductwork (level) lead times have remained at 10 weeks after the last period’s reduction.

Sprinkler installations (level) have stayed at nine weeks with contributors continuing to report problems in materials supply.

The average lead-in time for electrical supplies (level) has been maintained at 13 weeks overall with variances across specific elements such as luminaries generally at six to eight weeks, modular wiring at six to eight weeks, switchgear at eight to 10 weeks, generators at 11 to 14 weeks and transformers at 12 to 16 weeks.

The lead times for both IT infrastructure equipment (level) and data and voice cabling (level) have been maintained at seven weeks, with contributors again reporting positive results through targeted relationships with fewer of their own suppliers.

As predicted in last quarter’s report, several areas of the supply chain have registered an increase in lead times at the start of 2006. With strong order books being reported throughout the supply chain, many believe there will be a further increase as we move through the year.


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Spotlight on building management systems

Lead times

Lead times for building management systems have remained constant at nine weeks during the past two years. This uniformity reflects the continuous level of work within the market together with the sector’s ability to supply the demand. During this period, the commercial sector contributed less than previous years - however, the market has been balanced by an increase of work in the residential, hotels, retail and public sectors, and particularly datacentres.

This period of nine weeks’ lead time is likely to continue to the end of this year and into 2007, bolstered by an increase in the number of new projects, particularly within the retail and commercial office new-build and fit-out markets.

Small projects are being quoted at five to six weeks’ lead time to carry out advanced works such as approvals, design and site set-up. Major projects are being prebooked several weeks in advance to secure personnel. Contractors can supply projects in between these lead periods but it is generally through chance rather than planning.

Market conditions

The building management systems and controls market is a highly specialist sector that is fairly well dominated by a handful of large system integration firms and installers. Although the market is well established, continual investment by the industry into research and development, and the resulting advances in technology, make the industry one of the most dynamic in construction.

The industry is made up of a number of product and service providers, including integration software, controls manufacturers, cabling manufacturers and installers. Therefore when procuring a BMS, options include either using a manufacturer house, whereby the system and installation is solely unique to the manufacturer or a systems house whereby the system is selected to suit the requirements of the design solution.

For many years, the industry has been serviced by 10 or so approved integration houses and supported by a handful of major software and equipment providers. The introduction of open protocol has enabled a greater choice, although limited choice for designers and installers.

According to one of the major BMS contractors, the total value of products, installed systems, service and maintenance agreements provided by the BMS and controls industry within the UK market is estimated at £450m a year. Of this total, about 60% are members of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), of which 7% comprise specialist system members and 53% manufacturer members.

Generally the market conditions are very good,with a high level of enquiries, indicating a significant amount of new projects within the industry. Most of this is within the South-east, mainly London. However several contractors have commented that growth within major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool has increased because of the large number of urban regeneration projects. One contractor commented that Scotland’s BMS controls sector is currently very active because of the increase in PFI schemes about to start on site.

Most contractors within the BMS industry use technically skilled staff and installers to carry out their operations. This highly skilled workforce is greatly in demand and skills shortages have been highlighted as a major concern in the South-east. The BCIA appears to be responding to this by encouraging its members to train staff. One contractor reported that over the next three to five years, money is to be invested in training in conjunction with the BCIA. This training applies to all levels of the industry such as labour grades, engineers, designers and estimators. The majority of companies directly employ their staff, which they train accordingly in order to obtain the correct certification.

Tender prices

Tender prices for building management systems installations have remained fairly constant over the past 12 months.

The market has seen an increase in costs for software programming of the BMS control system. This is an impact of the growing technology, whereby the systems are becoming more software-based with fewer materials being installed.

Contractors have commented that their order books are very busy, mainly because of the increase in work in the commercial sector. This demand is set to continue during 2006, peaking in 2007 when most contractors expect to be very busy.

The specialist input of a BMS contractor is important to the project and therefore should be included at the design stages. This alleviates assumptions being made regarding the specialist’s requirements, which often turn out to be incorrect.

Accordingly, the specialist BMS controls contractor is increasingly becoming involved at the design stages of a project in order to provide critical information and advise on co-ordination and programming. The only problem that can arise from this is that the time allowed for design varies significantly from project to project. Therefore, if the specialist contractor cannot be appointed at an early stage, allowance should be made within the preconstruction programme for the specialist to develop its design and for this to be co-ordinated with the overall design.

(See table below: Factors to be considered when pricing for BMS control systems)

BMS controls contractors generally prefer being subcontracted directly to the main contractor rather than being subcontracted under the mechanical and electrical package. The general reason for this appears to be a conception and concern that once the subcontract has been awarded, the successful M&E contractor will re-tender the specialist packages to non-preferred contractors who provide a cheaper price.

Current and future developments

Building Automation and Control Network: BACnet

The BACnet standard specifies a protocol, or standard set of rules, for transmitting messages between devices in a building automation system. The standard also specifies the local area networks (LANs) over which these messages are exchanged. Two of these are widely used LAN technology standards (Ethernet and ARCNET); another is an LAN standard defined within the BACnet standard itself (master slave/token passing), which relies on the RS-485 signalling standard; and another is a formerly proprietary LAN structure, LONTALK. The BACnet standard also defines a protocol for temporary connections between devices called point-to-point. Each LAN type was chosen for its suitability to certain functions within a building automation system.

The goal of the standard is to have devices in a building (HVAC, lighting, security, irrigation and so on) to achieve “interoperability”. Interoperable devices can share operating data, regardless of manufacturer or function, and the building systems can achieve an efficient operational synergy. For the owner of the building, the bottom line is lowered cost, flexibility and the ability to choose from a broader range of goods at any point in a system’s development. Ultimately, the aim is to lower the costs of a system’s operation and maintenance.

LANs and LAN technologies

A LAN is a group of microprocessor-controlled devices dispersed over a relatively limited area connected by a communications link. The communications link enables any device to interact with other devices on the network. To exchange information with each other, the devices must share a common set of rules for communicating; these rules govern both the physical, electrical connection between the devices and the conceptual method of representing data. This set of communications rules is commonly known as a protocol.

Protocols can exist within other protocols, all of them concerned with different aspects of LAN communication. This is true of BACnet, which uses other LAN standards, such as Ethernet and ARCNET.

All of these standards embrace, in one way or another, certain aspects of the architecture known as the International Organisation for Standardisation Open Systems Interconnection (ISO/OSI) seven-layer model. Understanding the basic concept of this model will help the user understand how the BACnet protocol and the LAN standards relate.

Part L

New Part L requires buildings greater than 1000 m2 to have additional automatic meter reading and data collection facilities.

In addition to the above, many clients perceive the new Part L as a means to achieving a higher level of energy efficiency within the operation of a building.

Current designs are therefore including for a higher level of control and monitoring, such as passive infrared detectors to monitor lighting, cooling and heating systems and so on, and current transformers on outgoing mains circuits to monitor load.

The impact of having a higher level of control will minimise energy use, thereby extending the periodic life of equipment and creating less demand for replacement. This in turn will reduce maintenance costs and also pollution from manufacturing plants.

Going up

  • Reconstituted and natural stone cladding
  • Atrium roofing
  • Facade-cleaning equipment
  • General joinery
  • Architectural metalwork

Staying level

  • Rotary and precast piling
  • Structural steelwork
  • Curtain walling
  • Membrane and profiled roofing
  • Metal windows
  • Brickwork and blockwork
  • Drylining
  • Demountable partitions
  • Specialist joinery
  • Raised floors
  • Decorating
  • Internal stone finishes
  • Non-standard lifts
  • Ductwork
  • Sprinkler installations
  • Electrical supplies
  • IT infrastructure equipment
  • Data and voice cabling

Going down

  • Concrete works
  • Suspended ceilings