Control Terms 101

KileyroundKiley Sheehy
Account Manager

When it comes to the construction industry, there is a lot of jargon that gets used on a daily basis. Most project members will likely understand the more common ones, but the definition of “common” may vary from trade to trade. Each group has its own set of common lingo that other teams might not be familiar with, so with that in mind, I’d like to focus on ten control-specific terms you should add to your vocabulary.


Control systems have a wide range of regularly-used terms. Let’s start off with the basics, as defined by ASHRAE:

  • HVAC: The equipment, terminals, and distribution systems that provide, either collectively or individually, the processes of heating, ventilating, or air conditioning to a building or portion of a building.

  • Building Automation System (BAS): An energy management system, usually with additional capabilities, relating to the overall operation of the building in which it is installed; this includes equipment monitoring, protection of equipment against power failure, and building security.

When you boil it down, HVAC is the setup of machines that make a room or space warmer, cooler, or more conditioned in some regard. The BAS is the digital automation that takes operation of an HVAC design out of someone’s physical hands, and moves it onto a computer interface. This makes it a computer-based system:

With the advent of a BAS for HVAC, we can eliminate much of the opening/closing and turning off/on of equipment and devices behind hard-to-reach ceiling tiles, or up in lofty mezzanines. Often times you’ll hear BAS, BMS, DDC, and EMS used interchangeably across control installers and manufacturers. ASHRAE also defines them all near-identically:

  • Building Management System (BMS): An energy management system relating to the overall operation of the building in which it is installed. It often has additional capabilities, such as equipment monitoring, protection of equipment against power failure, and building security. It may also be a direct digital control (DDC) system, where the mode of control uses digital outputs to control processes or elements directly.

  • Direct Digital Control (DDC): A type of control where controlled and monitored analog or binary data (e.g., temperature, contact closures) are converted to digital format for manipulation and calculations by a digital computer or micro-processor, then converted back to analog or binary form to control physical devices.

  • Energy Management System (EMS): A system of computer applications used by building engineering staff to monitor, control, and optimize the building's operating performance (e.g., energy consumption, occupant comfort levels). EMS optimizes building operating performance through supervisory control programs that utilize core BMS functionality.

An EMS is a more refined definition of a BMS, focused exclusively on operating performance with things like IAQ (indoor air quality), occupant productivity and comfort, and energy output as key metrics.


But what do these things control?

A BMS is constructed to automate all of the HVAC equipment in a building - chillers, air handlers, fans, cooling towers, and much more. All things designed to move BTUs in and out of a building space via heating and cooling air and water to deliver a required temperature and humidity.

Anywhere you might hit a stat on the wall and call out a need for heating and cooling would be a HVAC zone:

  • HVAC Zone: A space or group of spaces, within a building with heating, cooling, and ventilating requirements, that are sufficiently similar so that desired conditions (e.g., temperature) can be maintained throughout using a single sensor (e.g., thermostat or temperature sensor).

Common items you might see wired up on a BMS would include:

  • Actuator: A device operated either electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically, that acts as a motor to change the position of movable devices, such as valves or dampers.

These devices actuate the position of dampers allowing airflow into an air handler, through ductwork, and down to a space. Valves are also actuated to open and close to allow fluid flow through piping in a building. It’s a nightmare manually opening and closing all dampers and valves across a building or campus of buildings, which is one of the great advantages to implementing a BMS.

  • Sensor: A device or instrument designed to detect and measure a variable.

Whenever a measurement is taken in a building (such as temperature, humidity, CO detection), a sensor is the measuring tool. It’s also the tool that reports back to the BAS.

  • Variable-frequency drive (VFD): An electronic device that varies its output frequency to vary the rotating speed of a motor, given a fixed input frequency. Used with fans or pumps to vary the flow in the system as a function of a maintained pressure.

A VFD serves to automatically optimize speeds for anything that spins in a circle. Fans, motors, and pumps are the three main users of a VFD, and they’re huge in power consumption. The more we can automate the work of these items, the more savings a building owner will see.


So there you have it! These are ten commonly-used control terms you can now comfortably use on the job. Hopefully these definitions will help you better understand some of the lingo being used on your next project. After all, you can’t collaborate with others if you don’t understand what they’re talking about!

Leveraging Mobile in African Construction

EdouardroundEdouard Bidault
European Business Development

The future of construction management in Africa is interesting. From April 2016 to March 2017, I was working in Cameroon as a project engineer for Razel Bec, a French general contractor specializing in public works. I was in charge of heavy civil work on a 5 KM, $90M canal project in Yaoundé, managing 8 teams (roughly 80 people in total) that included 8 foremen, 3 superintendents, and 6 subcontractors under my supervision. While the scale of the project wasn’t surprising, what I did find surprising was that everyone had a phone in their hands.


Since there is a lot of construction going on throughout Cameroon, workers would be moving from one site to another, often taken far from their homes and families. They would carry mobile phones with them in order to stay in touch with and send money to loved ones who could be hundreds of miles away. This made communication with my crews a lot easier as well; in the beginning it was difficult to get hold of specific people since the canal project stretched along a large distance. It would often taken 1-2 hours just to do a full walkthrough of the site. But being able to call workers up on their phones helped alleviate that burden, and since everyone relied on mobile technology for personal needs, internet and mobile coverage was strong all along the canal.

Phones became a new type of tool while on-site. Foremen could order more concrete or ask for additional equipment, all just by making a call. With this increased mobile activity, African construction teams can benefit by making use of the management resources available on the technology that they already possess. With an estimated 880 million mobile phones, Africa is the second largest market for mobile in the world (behind only Asia).

There are 54 countries in Africa, with a combined 1.1 billion inhabitants, and often mobile is the primary source that people have for internet connectivity. Fixed line internet grids are expensive to develop and are often in poor condition; in Uganda, there are 200,000 subscribers to mobile internet versus the 22,000 fixed line subscribers. 88% of all internet traffic in Nigeria goes through mobile - in the United States, only 30% of traffic is via mobile. And while smartphones may only currently account for 20% of total phones in the African market, they accounted for 46% of total phone sales in 2016. Investment in 3G and 4G networks is also on the rise, so the growth trend is clear to see.


What does this mean for construction? It means modern project management software is now an option for streamlining daily on-site activity. Countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa have large numbers of smartphone owners, and as more African countries continue to switch to smartphones then this mobile technology can be applied on job sites all around the continent. And why shouldn’t the smartphone trend continue? Prices have dropped tremendously since the early 2000s, with certain Chinese manufacturers even offering devices starting as low as $20. Affordability and prevalence are changing what smartphone owners look like. What once could have only been owned by the wealthy is now owned by everyone, and the heavy reliance on mobile internet in Africa means this technology is here to stay.

The future of construction management in Africa is indeed interesting, and broad. There are large parts of the continent that still need extensive and often remote roadwork to be performed; entire regions only accessible by muddy roads and hilly tracks. With increased access to mobile devices and networks, construction firms can leverage mobile technology to address the frequent need for heavy civil work and infrastructure improvements. Mobile project management tools will help workers stay connected easier and share data faster, saving time so that they can focus more energy into the task at hand.


Construction apps can also help save money. Printing fees in most African countries are often costly when compared to worker wages. For example, printing an A3 drawing can cost $0.30, which is roughly 10% of the average laborer’s daily wage in Sub-Saharan African countries. Accessing drawings on a smartphone app not only eliminates those costs, it makes plan viewing or redlining a simple and immediate prospect. When all of the relevant project data and materials are always in hand on a worker’s smartphone, it severely reduces the amount of wasted time in that worker’s day.

The median age in Africa is approximately 20 years old (as opposed to 38 years old in the United States). This means that most on-site workers have likely grown up with mobile phones and are familiar with the internet and new technologies. My crew in Cameroon used smartphones to reach their loved ones. Three in every four Kenyans use smartphones to make online payments. Photography, social media, interaction with friends, it’s all done via smartphones the same as it is here. Since the West is already finding so much success incorporating mobile construction solutions into daily on-site activity, African countries can do the same to achieve heightened efficiency and communication on a growing list of construction projects.

3 Ways Fieldwire Supports Last Planner System Implementation

StephaneroundStephane Denerolle
Product Evangelist

Within the construction industry, many professionals have turned their attention toward the Last Planner® System (LPS). Its popularity has been steadily increasing, as indicated by all of the whiteboards covered with sticky notes popping up in on-site trailers. Firms can manage schedules more efficiently than ever before with the aid of modern systems, so that when the time comes to break ground, no one has to worry about inaccuracies or holdups.


If you are a newcomer to LPS and want to read up a bit more on the topic, the Lean Construction Institute has made some useful documentation available to you. But for a more hands-on dive into the principles of LPS, you might also try picking up Fieldwire. With a proven track record of streamlining project management, Fieldwire has become a staple of numerous construction jobs to support the implementation of the Last Planner® System. Here’s how:

1) Use Fieldwire’s calendar interface on web to plan the next month of work. Foremen and superintendents - the last planners on the job - can utilize Fieldwire during weekly work planning sessions to outline commitments in the coming weeks. Each company can use the app to organize tasks ahead of meetings, so that during meetings they can easily filter those tasks based on company, category, or date. Everyone can collaborate on planning and make any adjustments without hassle using Fieldwire’s drag and drop interface. Some will display Fieldwire on large touchscreen televisions, which allows last planners to easily move tasks around the calendar with their fingers. In addition, tasks can be both imported and edited in bulk within the software as needed.


2) Rely on the real-time notification system to keep your crew in the loop. Teams receive instant mobile and email updates about commitments that are made and assigned during planning sessions. This makes tracking progress easier than ever, particularly if you utilize the related tasks feature within Fieldwire. This feature ties tasks together to alert team members of dependencies, such as in the below example where an electrical rough-in cannot be taken care of before framing is completed. Full transparency on project tasks is a vital component of what makes Fieldwire so useful. Any roadblocks, sudden issues, or urgent duties can be managed effectively so that work isn’t needlessly delayed and accountability is boosted throughout the team.


3) Measure progress with accuracy in future meetings. During the next work planning session, use Fieldwire to assess how much headway was made in previous weeks. Graphs within projects on the web version of the software provide detailed analytics on work completed or still in progress. You are also able to export task data in PDF or CSV reports, and the spreadsheet reports are especially helpful with providing plan percent complete (PPC) metrics.


Fieldwire can be the key to successfully implementing the Last Planner® System on your projects, and with these simply but effective steps, you’ll have your team’s schedule and productivity working more efficiently than ever before.

Benefits of the CM/GC Model

DominicroundDominic Delfino
Construction Specialist

The construction industry has undergone considerable change in recent years. Not only is the field becoming more collaborative and organized, but so too are our contract models. The Construction Manager/General Contractor process is a fine example of this trend turned into praxis. What is CM/GC? It’s a unique contract method designed to accelerate project delivery, where a contractor imparts valuable feedback to the project owner during the design phase, before any fieldwork begins. This is useful for large projects since it can offer design alternatives to the owner and potentially reduce overall cost.


Why Use CM/GC?

CM/GC is the most collaborative contract model out there, and can help boost transparency and efficiency for the owner during a pivotal phase of the project. General contractors can be brought on early in a consultant capacity, providing guidance on the project schedule that can help keep the budget down in later phases. Once the owner and construction manager agree on a reasonable cost, known as the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP), the construction manager becomes the general contractor once the fieldwork begins.

Ordinarily, scheduling and phasing are handled by the construction manager during the design stage, but by instead involving a contractor through CM/GC, the owner can get a better understanding of cost and schedule thanks to the contractor’s input. The owner can then make more informed decisions about GMP and have more flexibility regarding what to include and exclude. Contractors also benefit by getting to negotiate fair prices directly with the owner and relying less on the estimators, and it’s easier to find design difficulties before construction begins so that delays are minimized. If certain items will take time to be delivered, the contractor can order them much earlier during this phase so that they arrive in a timely manner when they’re needed on-site. CM/GC encourages quicker project completion than Design-Build, Design-Bid-Design, and other traditional contract models.

Mobile Advantages

Large projects always feature a ton of small details and changing conditions that need to be tracked, so to prevent them from being overlooked or mismanaged, it’s wise to utilize mobile applications designed to alleviate these problems. Construction management apps can help keep you up-to-date on all issues by making field data easier to receive. They allow you to continue the same level of clear communication from the design phase of your CM/GC endeavor as you branch out into the building phase, ensuring that you know the status of every task in real-time and helping owners, contractors, and designers stay in touch effortlessly.

Unforeseen circumstances can affect costs and completion time if not addressed quickly, so making use of the modern tools available for your project is the best safeguard against accumulating wasted time and money. Quicker response time and decision-making are common results of integrating with mobile applications, allowing you to gather information from the field faster and improving build quality and cost control. Efficiency and accountability form the backbone of these new technologies, so incorporating them into your team’s day-to-day on a CM/GC will bring you closer to achieving your lean-minded project goals.

The Takeaway

Choosing a CM/GC model for your new job will help shape it right from the get-go, directing your efforts toward a speedier and more budget-friendly process without sacrificing quality. It helps owners, contractors, and designers all get on the same page early on, so that they share a mutual understanding of desired objectives, as well as caters to each of their respective points of view. With so many people and responsibilities dotted around large job sites, taking smart steps from the very beginning via mobile apps and CM/GC pay off big as progress rolls along, and often dictates the pace of that progress.

Fieldwire and Building Design

ClaudiaroundClaudia King
Construction Specialist

Building design and construction is ever-evolving, with projects great and small constantly coordinating many moving parts all at once. More and more focus is placed upon high performance building design and energy efficiency, but achieving such a detailed level of coordination requires complex interaction between countless technical disciplines, project managers, and contractors, all with often conflicting requirements. A successful building project doesn’t just happen, it takes contributions from people across both the design and construction phases of the project. And what better way to get everyone collaborating smoothly than to get them all working together in a mobile construction management program like Fieldwire?


Task Tracking Across the Project Schedule

Collaboration is key to the successful management of design teams. Structural, architectural, geotechnical, and building services consultants (to name a few) all need to touch base with each other and design managers throughout their tenure on the job. Facades, ventilation, acoustics, and landscaping all play an increasingly important role in the overall building design as industry focus continues to shift toward green building and user comfort. This can lead to a number of additional design requirements.

Fieldwire allows for each one of these perspectives to remain transparent with all of the others, so no one is left in the dark regarding what other team members are up to. All queries, ranging from high level design coordination to specific design issues, can be designated by urgency, and the category and hashtag management systems built into the app make it very easy to organize tasks by discipline. This makes it simple for each consultant to view a list of tasks that belong to their team. Tasks can also be linked together so that assignees can identify when their work directly affects another’s, and users also have the ability to place tasks directly onto project drawings so that the location of each item is never in question. Start and End dates also clearly define the duration of each task, which the entire team can view on a calendar for simple scheduling needs.

Real-Time Accountability

The success of construction projects ultimately relies on the sum of its parts, and Fieldwire helps ensure that everyone is doing their part to get the team closer to completion. By assigning specific tasks to each respective user, you can create accountability within your Fieldwire project for every issue across the job site. When a task is first assigned to someone, they are notified both by email and mobile push notification about this event. Similarly, whenever that person updates the task with new data, the creator of the task is also notified. This keeps all pertinent parties in the loop regarding the task’s progress and lets you know in real-time when significant information is available. Fieldwire transfers data from device to device via the cloud, so as soon as new data is added and synced, it’s accessible to everyone in the project then and there.


The ability to create customized categories for project trades or disciplines also helps keep tasks clear and distinct from each other, so your crew will know right away where to look for the issues they’re responsible for. Categories allow for easy visibility and filtering, as do hashtags, another grouping tool within Fieldwire that enables your team to track and locate desired tasks quite easily. Just assign categories and hashtags to tasks so that you and your team can parse out the relevant ones while working, as well as filter for them during report generation.

Adapting with Project Phases

As projects transition from one stage to another, different contributors can come to the forefront or recede to less prominent roles, but the need to track their efforts doesn’t change. Fieldwire helps you keep an accurate, living record of your work throughout the various phases of the project. Specialty consultants or contractors might need to provide updated design input for security or safety standards, or clients might have an evolving range of requirements that need to be met regarding the building’s future use. To accommodate these design developments, any changes or on-the-fly additions can be documented within Fieldwire.

Markups can be added to plans to address any revisions, and measurements can also be included with precise annotations. Sketches, specifications, and other relevant documentation can be pinned to plans and organized in a library of uploaded files. If a task needs to be transferred to another person or discipline as the design progresses, they can be updated with a few clicks in the app so that the appropriate consultant or trade is alerted. Tasks also contain a timestamped history of every update, so you will have a chronological record of everything that has transpired since the task’s creation. Any checklists or comments will be there for easy viewing, and if you need to make an inspection or go on a walkthrough across the site, Fieldwire’s convenient mobile apps will make it a breeze to jot down notes or add site photos as often as needed. The ample suite of tools and features available in Fieldwire make it possible to adapt to any sudden circumstance or phase of construction without breaking your stride.


In order to cultivate efficiency and reliable building design, the flow of communication and information tracking needs to be steady and unimpeded. Fieldwire helps make this happen throughout your team by strengthening methods of collaboration, both in the office and in the field. This ensures coordinated documentation and guarantees that your team’s contributions will be maximized in order to achieve the best building design possible with every project going forward.

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