Controlling the cowboys

It would seem that like the poor, the rogue trader is always with us. Almost every business sector is bedeviled by its cowboys, and the building controls industry is sadly no exception. Fortunately, measures are being taken to squeeze out the ‘Del Boy’ element.

In some ways the job of the building controls engineer has changed little in the last twenty years or so. True, the migration to intelligent controls has meant a much greater use of computers and software tools. Moreover, the merging of BMS and IT that has occurred in recent years, has called for expertise to be gained in a previously unfamiliar area of technology. That said, the techniques used for controlling HVAC services have largely remained the same.

What has changed significantly has been the route by which building controls have been supplied to the market. Originally, almost all building management systems were engineered and supplied by manufacturers. Today, the latter account for well under 50%, the majority being installed by independent systems houses.

The rise of the systems house has brought several key benefits to the end-user, the most obvious of which is wider choice. Systems houses also tend to have a competitive edge over manufacturers and are generally better able to customise installations to meet specific customer demands. Also, those manufacturers who have strongly committed to indirect supply have been able to concentrate more of their efforts on product development.

In general, UK systems houses provide high standards of quality, reliability and know-how. Unfortunately, the expertise of some leaves much to be desired. They tend to be those who win contracts by savagely undercutting on price. As a consequence, they run their businesses so ‘lean’ there is no money for investment in vital areas such as training.

Until recently, life was made easier for such companies by the fact that system engineering tools were often unlicensed and unprotected. Now, however, many manufacturers have imposed much tighter control over access to such tools. Another very positive move has been the industry’s recent introduction of generic training and qualifications in building controls, something that is long overdue. Developed jointly by the BCG, CSSG and ECA, this comprehensive training programme will improve standards and should also serve to boost recruitment into the industry. Encouragingly there has been no shortage of those wishing to gain the new qualifications.

Improving standards is one of the objectives of the ‘Trend Expert’ scheme being piloted by Novar Training Services. Though Trend system operating and engineering courses have been available for many years, this is the first time an exam has been developed that will actually test an individual’s knowledge in these areas. The intention is that the test will be open to engineers working for Trend Technology Centres, accredited systems houses and their nominated sub-contractors. Those individuals that pass will receive a photo ID card as proof of certification. It is envisaged that the groups mentioned will quickly build up a complement of ‘Trend Experts’.

If initiatives such as this and the industry’s new generic qualifications take off, it will undoubtedly make it easier to identify those whose credentials are questionable. It would of course be naïve to assume that the cowboys of the controls business are about to become extinct. Yet there are grounds for believing that at least their days are numbered.

Malcolm Gribble
Director of UK Sales
Trend Control Systems Ltd