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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
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Chapter 7

Building and Fire Research Laboratory

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

PANEL MEMBERS

Rose A. Ryntz, Visteon Automotive Systems, Chair

Janet S. Baum, Health, Education & Research Associates, Inc., Vice Chair

Ronald L. Alpert, Factory Mutual Research Corporation

Robert A. Altenkirch, Mississippi State University

Robert J. Asaro, University of California, San Diego

Lee W. Burgett, The Trane Company

Ronny J. Coleman, State of California

James M. Delahay, Lane Bishop York Delahay Inc.

Filip C. Filippou, University of California, Berkeley

Gavin A. Finn, Prescient Technologies, Inc.

Anthony E. Fiorato, Portland Cement Association

Leon R. Glicksman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Susan D. Landry, Albemarle Corporation

Richard E. Schuler, Cornell University

Jim W. Sealy, Architect/Building Code Consultant, Dallas, Tex.

Miroslaw J. Skibniewski, Purdue University

Forrest O. Stark, Dow Corning Corporation

James A. White, Western Fire Center, Inc.

Elaine M. Yorkgitis, 3M Automotive Division Laboratory

Submitted for the panel by its Chair, Rose A. Ryntz, and its Vice Chair, Janet S. Baum, this assessment of the fiscal year 1999 activities of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory is based on site visits by individual panel members, a formal meeting of the panel on March 11–12, 1999, in Gaithersburg, Md., and documents provided by the laboratory.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

LABORATORY-LEVEL REVIEW

Laboratory Mission

According to laboratory documentation, the mission of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) is to partner with its customers to provide the measurement technologies, performance prediction methods, and technical advances needed to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. industry and public safety and assure the life-cycle quality and economy of constructed facilities.

This mission statement outlines appropriate goals for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The focus on measurement technologies and U.S. competitiveness is well aligned with the overall NIST mission. The actual scope of the laboratory mission and programs is very broad, and the link between BFRL's historical and valuable concentration on improving public safety and the standard metrological and commercial focus of NIST could be more clearly articulated.

In addition to the basic vision charted in the mission statement, the BFRL has outlined 10 programmatic objectives that define the array of projects currently under way in the laboratory. These 10 goals are split into 6 major products, each of which targets the release of a specific deliverable, and 4 other high-impact objectives, each of which is a general collection of programmatically related work.

The major products are these:

  1. Computer-Integrated Construction Environment (CICE),

  2. Cybernetic Building Systems (CBS),

  3. Fire-Safe Materials (FSM),

  4. Industrial Fire Simulation Systems (IFSS),

  5. Partnership for High-Performance Concrete Technology (PHPCT), and

  6. Performance Standards System for Housing (PSSH).

The high-impact objectives are the following:

  1. Service Life Prediction,

  2. Metrology for Sustainable Development,

  3. Earthquake, Fire, and Wind Engineering, and

  4. Advanced Fire Measurements and Firefighting Technologies.

The approach of organizing the laboratory's work within these 10 major objectives is approximately 2 years old. The goal of this programmatic reorganization is to assist the BFRL in selecting appropriate key areas on which to focus and ensuring that the impact of laboratory work will be felt by relevant industries. The new approach is supported by the development of a laboratory-wide strategic plan. The panel is very pleased by the progress that has been made on this reorganization. Since last year, the connections between the objectives, the various projects, and the divisions has been clarified, increasing the panel's ability to perform a thorough assessment.

The laboratory has also articulated a success strategy to support the laboratory's efforts to reach its objectives. The plan calls for each major product to connect with a “champion,” such

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

as a company, industry, or trade organization, that will assist in a real-life demonstration of the viability and benefits of NIST work and will actively vocalize the value of BFRL to funding agencies and the U.S. Congress. The next scheduled step is for the laboratory to develop a more detailed marketing plan describing the implementation of the strategy for individual products and delineating the tools BFRL staff will need to make vital connections with appropriate champions. Already it is clear that various major products are at very different levels of maturity in terms of their progress towards demonstrating laboratory technologies and achieving external support (fiscal and political) for BFRL activities. The panel anticipates a full discussion of the marketing plan and of progress on this success strategy during next year's assessment.

Although the panel is supportive of BFRL management's effort to restructure the laboratory to increase the efficiency and focus of the programs, there exist a few unresolved issues. The panel's greatest concern is that the new strategies and goals do not yet seem to have been clearly communicated to the staff throughout the laboratory and the bench scientists and engineers have not yet bought into the new approach. Laboratory management is aware of this problem. By increasing staff involvement in strategy and project selection, the sense of accountability and ownership should spread to all levels of the laboratory.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The technical merit of the work performed in the BFRL is very high. The current array of programs support the laboratory mission and contribute to the U.S. effort to meet the national construction technology goals for research and development.1 Overall, the laboratory has world-class researchers who exhibit great enthusiasm and dedication.

The BFRL is divided into five divisions: Structures, Building Materials, Building Environment, Fire Safety Engineering, and Fire Science. In addition, within the laboratory office there is an active research program conducted on Standards and Codes Services in the Office of Applied Economics (OAE). The BFRL structure is organized along lines of expertise, which are fairly stable, and allows the laboratory to be flexible in the development of dynamic major objectives. The interdisciplinary nature of the BFRL's major objectives implies that multiple areas of expertise are needed to meet the goals, and therefore more than one division is often involved in work in support of a given objective. In this section of the laboratory overview, key observations and comments about each major objective will be given. The assessments that follow the laboratory overview are organized along divisional lines and discuss in depth the various projects that are ongoing throughout the BFRL. Overall, the panel found that the laboratory is very adept at interdisciplinary collaborations and successfully exploits synergies established in these cooperative efforts.

The work on Computer-Integrated Construction Environment is on the cutting edge of international research in this field, and the panel views this project as having major potential payoffs toward the reduction of labor costs called for in the national construction goals. The projects in this area are supported entirely by internal NIST resources. BFRL staff have made great strides over the past year in building stronger connections with industry, and these relationships may translate into external support for future CICE activities. The primary

1  

Subcommittee on Construction and Building of the Committee on Civilian Industrial Technology, National Science and Technology Council, Construction and Building: Federal Research and Development in Support of the U.S. Construction Industry, National Science and Technology Council, Washington, D.C., 1995, pp. 7-9.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

concerns of the panel in this area are the tenuous connections between the CICE groups in the Structures and Building Environment Divisions and the lack of clarity about how these groups coordinate their goals and their resources.

The Cybernetic Building Systems is an excellent example of BFRL's goals for its major products. The work on CBS is well coordinated over several divisions and totally focused on producing a specific deliverable that is currently undergoing real-world proof of concept demonstrations. This mature project is supported by approximately 20 CRADAs and receives equipment donations from a wide range of companies. The only issue noted by the panel was that the effort on fire panels with predictive capabilities was somewhat high risk because it is not clear if there would be broad acceptance of this new technology within the firefighting community.

The modeling efforts for the Fire Safe Materials Program are very impressive. Several companies are collaborating with NIST to provide processing equipment for the work on new flame-retardant principles for polymers. The investigations on the properties of nanocomposites are exciting and could be disseminated more widely.

In the work on Industrial Fire Simulation Systems, laboratory staff have done an excellent job of integrating various physics-based results into a practical system that allows engineers to examine the effects of sprinkler output on combustion. NIST has a reputation for using fundamental science to develop generalized methodologies, and it is important that this approach be continued without expanding reliance on purely empirical results. The IFSS software is already being used by several groups outside NIST, and the panel hopes to see a more formal technology transfer system in place soon to encourage widespread adoption of this new and useful tool.

The BFRL focuses on modeling and prediction in the Partnership for High-Performance Concrete Technology. Development of these techniques and the dissemination via computer-integrated knowledge systems (CIKS) make the NIST program unique and highly valued. The future goals for this work are well defined and include integration of the Office of Applied Economics work on life-cycle costs (LCCs) for bridges into CIKS. Unfortunately, progress on this major product has been slowed by a shortage of personnel devoted to this area.

The efforts contributing to development of a Performance Standards System for Housing are in their infancy. The general long-term aim of this program is clear, but a plan is needed that articulates the specific deliverables that are required, the links between projects under way and these goals, and the coordination that will occur between the various divisions involved in this major product.

As noted above, the next four objectives are not major products and therefore are not as narrowly focused or clearly defined. They are all collections of related work, usually occurring within one division. The laboratory has indicated that future major products are expected to arise from ongoing projects within these objectives.

The work under Service Life Prediction includes investigations of organic building materials and collaboration with the coatings consortium. The array of projects is producing good and interesting results. The consortium has proven to be an effective means to coordinate industry support and transfer technology, but the panel is somewhat concerned that the agreements with the member companies limit NIST 's ability to share information about BFRL results with as wide an audience as possible.

The efforts grouped as Metrology for Sustainable Development include the laboratory's work on indoor air quality and refrigerants. The work on microelectromechanical systems

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

(MEMS) is fairly high risk but has significant potential payoffs. Overall, much of the work in this objective builds direct connections with BFRL's customers, but the panel was concerned that criteria for project conclusion were not clearly defined, and some projects seemed to extend beyond their useful lifetime.

The Earthquake, Fire, and Wind Engineering objective is mainly focused on earthquake-related activities. The wind effort consists of theory and modeling work and continues to be understaffed and underfunded. The panel did not observe cross-divisional collaborations within this objective.

Finally, a collection of projects in the Fire Safety Engineering and Fire Science Divisions constitute the laboratory's work on Advanced Fire Measurements and Firefighting Technologies. The panel continues to be pleased with the relative absence of boundaries between these two divisions and the smooth collaborations that occur among the staff. For this objective, the primary difficulty is the fragmented nature of the firefighting community. The number of different trade organizations and the variety of codes and standards developed by each of these bodies are limiting NIST's ability to develop and maintain a stable and consistent system that allows the advantages of new BFRL technologies to be effectively disseminated to the relevant communities and then to be assimilated into codes and standards for widespread use.

Impact of Programs

The BFRL has strong connections to the industrial communities that benefit from the work under way at the laboratory. Staff utilize roadmapping and benchmarking activities where possible and organize interactions with individual companies when the industry is less well organized. Particularly valuable NIST activities include participation in technical working groups and on standards committees, where BFRL personnel provide objective advice on technical issues and coordinate adoption of new standards and technologies. The most serious challenge facing the laboratory remains the issue of dissemination and implementation. The laboratory actively explores which tools are most likely to be utilized by NIST customers and makes efforts to publish documents and develop software to reach a wide audience. However, the communities served by the BFRL, such as the construction industry and U.S. firefighters, are fragmented and slow to adopt new techniques and methods. The panel cautions that this situation should be taken into account when planning new projects, as the laboratory's products must be implemented in order to meet the mission of enhancing competitiveness and improving public safety.

NIST has held a series of workshops to quantify and publicize areas in which the NIST laboratories are best in the world; for BFRL, symposia have highlighted the laboratory's abilities in fire safety and construction metrology. In February 1999, the U.S. Coast Guard utilized BFRL-developed fire simulation software to assess potential pollution effects from a tanker wreck off the Oregon shore and decided that burning off the oil remaining in the tanker holds would minimize the resulting pollution.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Laboratory Resources

Funding sources2 for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

16.3

16.5

Competence

0.4

0.4

STRS-nonbase

2.5

2.2

ATP

0.5

0.6

MEP

0.1

0.2

OA/NFG/CRADA

8.9

9.3

Other Reimbursable

0.2

0.2

Total

28.9

29.4

The percentage of external support for the laboratory overall has been fairly stable at approximately 30 percent since 1996. Much of this outside funding is appropriately supporting programs consistent with the laboratory mission, and BFRL staff are adept at using OA or industrial money to encourage buy-in and adoption of laboratory results. Some personnel even prefer external funding because other agencies have proven a more reliable and consistent source of support than BFRL's internal funding allocations. Although the panel recognizes the value of the laboratory's maintaining strong connections with external customers, outside funding has several potential drawbacks. One key problem is that other agencies and companies will seldom be willing to finance the development of new initiatives and the innovative basic research that NIST undertakes in order to be prepared to meet the measurements and standards needs of the future. Another issue is that often external support does not cover the entire cost of a project. The panel believes the laboratory would benefit from the development of a system to determine the cost of human and equipment resources needed for proposed work in order to determine whether it is practical to accept the amount of support offered by outside institutions for a given project. Other problems related to external funding are discussed below in the context of issues related to resource allocation and staff development.

The BFRL has recently adopted the strategic approach of organizing laboratory projects into 10 major objectives that do not fall strictly along divisional lines. The system for sharing resources across divisional boundaries in support of these interdisciplinary programs is not yet

2  

The NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories funding comes from a variety of sources. The laboratories receive appropriations from Congress, known as Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) funding. Competence funding also comes from NIST's congressional appropriations, but it is allotted by the NIST director's office in multiyear grants for projects that advance NIST's capabilities in new and emerging areas of measurement science. Advanced Technology Program (ATP) funding reflects support from NIST's ATP for work done at the NIST laboratories in collaboration with or in support of ATP projects. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) funding reflects support from NIST's MEP for work done at the NIST laboratories in collaboration with or support of MEP activities. NIST laboratories also receive funding through grants or contracts from other government agencies (OA), from nonfederal government (NFG) agencies, and from industry in the form of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). All other laboratory funding, including that for Calibration Services, is grouped under Other Reimbursable.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

fully in place. For some major products, such as the work on CBS, the level of coordination is exemplary, whereas in other cases, such as the research on the CICE, the distribution of funds is uneven and unclear.

As of January 1999, staffing for the Building and Fire Research Laboratory included 157 full-time permanent positions, of which 129 were for technical professionals. There were also 33 nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

The panel continues to be impressed by the technical quality of the staff and the dedication and enthusiasm BFRL personnel display about their work and working environment. The staff appreciate the freedom to pursue innovative areas of research, to propose new initiatives, and to seek out continuing educational opportunities. NIST's reputation for technical competence, the opportunity to work with talented visitors, and broad reservoir of scientific knowledge across the institution all make BFRL an attractive place to work.

The panel's concerns in the area of human resources mainly spring from the large number of projects per person. BFRL management continues its attempt to reduce the number of ongoing projects, and the panel supports efforts to examine issues related to criteria for project conclusion and whether the range of areas covered by BFRL may be too broad. When each person is contributing to five or six projects, it is difficult for that individual to manage his or her time and hard for group leaders and division chiefs to make global allocations of human resources. The burden on individual researchers is exacerbated by the diminishing number of technicians available to support experimental research and the lack of continuity when a technician retires or departs.

A particular concern expressed by both senior staff at NIST and the panel is the laboratory's need to increase the population of younger personnel in the BFRL. As has been noted in previous reports, all of NIST shares recruitment difficulties because NIST's salary ranges and facilities often cannot match what is available in industry. However, the BFRL also has some issues relating to retainment of new staff members and postdoctoral research associates. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the ability to attract outside funding, and younger personnel often feel pressured to provide outside resources before they feel they have built the necessary competence in the relevant fields. This pressure is part of a staffwide uncertainty about the stability of BFRL's internal funding. Such uncertainty about the future, the absence of a strong mentoring system, and the large number of projects per researcher often result in young personnel considering offers from other institutions.

The outlook for major laboratory facilities has brightened considerably over the past year. Renovations on some of the environmental chambers have been completed, and the division should be evaluating whether further repairs on the largest chamber would be cost-effective. Funding and plans are in place for the much-needed repairs and upgrades to the fire testing facility in Building 205. NIST's niche in the fire community is the development and verification of predictive models of fire situations. Because Building 205 plays a vital role in the validation of BFRL models, the panel encourages NIST management to start and finish this construction as quickly as possible to enable BFRL to fulfill its mission effectively and meet the needs of its customers in this field. In the case of the 53 MN testing machine, staff continue to investigate if the NIST experimental facilities could be integrated into the NSF's planned National Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. Next year the panel hopes to hear more detailed estimates about what repairs and upgrades would be needed and the expected costs. Overall, the

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

panel continues to be concerned that the BFRL is underinvested in capital equipment and in maintenance for existing machinery.

DIVISIONAL REVIEWS

Structures Division
Division Mission

According to division documentation, the mission of the Structures Division is to promote construction productivity and structural safety by providing measurements and standards to support the design, construction, and serviceability of constructed facilities.

The current array of projects in the Structures Division aligns well with this mission statement and supports the development of the laboratory 's major objectives. The emphasis on work related to standards is appropriate and valuable to industries involved in building design, construction, and service.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The Structures Division has just completed a reorganization of its projects and structure. There are now three groups: Structural Evaluation and Standards, Structural Systems and Design, and Construction Metrology and Automation. Throughout these groups, the panel observed projects of uniformly high quality and technical merit. Several examples in which excellent progress has occurred over the past year are highlighted in the following discussion of the individual groups.

In the Structural Evaluation and Standards Group, the programs address the development of measurement methods to be used for condition assessment of buildings and building materials. In the past year, the impact-echo method, a NIST-developed technique for flaw detection in concrete based on stress wave propagation, has been successfully adapted as an ASTM standard and implemented in several important areas of nondestructive evaluation. Finally, in the project on assessing soil liquefaction risk using shear wave velocity measurements, NIST staff have developed a design methodology and draft guidelines for effective use of this technique. This work has provided useful results, but the soil project is not totally aligned with the rest of the work in this division or with the laboratory's current array of major objectives, so the panel supports BFRL's decision to phase out work in this field.

The Structural Systems and Design Group focuses on the performance of structural systems under normal and extreme loads and on improving structural design and construction practices. This group's work on precast concrete moment frames has resulted in the development of a completed set of design standards, and the focus is now on the implementation of these guidelines in several pilot projects in seismic high-risk areas. This project is a good example of how work in this division tends to follow an organized progression from need identification to standards development to implementation in pilot applications. Another project in the group that is following a similar path is the work on seismic rehabilitation of welded steel frame buildings. The staff on this project have compiled a comprehensive collection of

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

experimental data and are now concentrating on the development of design standards. Also, this group's work on computer-based wind load standards has been tested in a pilot project, and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has acknowledged the value of this approach by altering the ASCE standard to allow the use of this sort of electronic standard. Finally, the NIST-developed testing standards for base isolation devices have been adopted by the ASCE, and the planned project on the development of testing standards for passive control devices is progressing well. Among the plans for future activities, the panel viewed the scheduled experimental work for the development of design standards for residential housing construction and the integration of analytical methods into the project as very promising and felt that this activity should be pursued with greater focus.

In the Construction Metrology and Automation Group, the projects in progress are state-of-the-art cutting-edge research that promises to have a major impact on meeting the national construction goals. This group is involved in fundamental research and development of position/orientation tracking systems, sensor interface protocols for construction data telemetry, and construction site simulation. Within the CICE major product, the work of this group is closely related to ongoing projects in the Building Environment Division, and the panel cautions that as the technologies under study in each of these groups mature, tighter connections between the projects will have to be developed.

In addition to the standards development and research projects under way in these three groups, the Structures Division is responsible for the federally mandated National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Although this work focuses specifically on earthquake-related issues, many projects in this division include more general natural hazard mitigation goals. Three specific types of these projects are those that primarily address the development of testing and measurement standards for earthquake mitigation methods and devices; that address improvement of existing standards in hazard classification and design for wind loads; and that primarily address the development of new standards for existing and new building construction based on measurements from previous or concurrent projects within or outside NIST. These are all important areas of work, and the panel believes that better coordination of the analytical efforts under way in the different projects could occur.

Impact of Programs

The Structures Division utilizes a variety of methods to disseminate results, including research reports and design guidelines. The panel is particularly pleased to note that most of the information describing the division's activities and outputs is now available on the World Wide Web. The division is well connected to relevant industries, and the work done at NIST is well regarded. Particularly outstanding examples of high-impact work include the development of design procedures for seismic performance of precast concrete connections and the effort on testing guidelines for base isolation devices.

The reorganization of the Structures Division has created a group structure that is aligned with the major products of the BFRL. The Structural Evaluation and Standards Group supports the Partnership for High-Performance Concrete Technology, the Structural Systems and Design Group is part of the Performance Standards Systems for Housing, and the Construction Metrology and Automation Group contributes to the work on the Computer-Integrated Construction Environment. In addition, the Structures Division coordinates all of the work under

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

way in the laboratory in support of the BFRL major objective on Earthquake, Fire, and Wind Engineering.

Division Resources

Funding sources for the Structures Division (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

2.3

2.5

STRS-nonbase

0.6

0.4

ATP

0.0

0.1

OA/NFG/CRADA

0.5

0.3

Total

3.4

3.3

As of January 1999, staffing for the Structures Division included 21 full-time permanent positions, of which 18 were for technical professionals. There were also two nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

The reorganization of the division was completed in the last year and aligns well with the major objectives of the laboratory. Morale and motivation among the staff appear to be very high. However, the human resources available in the division do not seem to be adequate to cover the wide range of activities under way; the panel observed several areas in which scarcity of staff time seems to be impeding progress. The panel's most significant concern related to resource availability is how the division is to support its efforts in some of the major products, such as PSSH and CICE, where the current work does not seem to be generating sufficient external funding. This issue is affecting programs throughout the division, which may be forced to cut back on other expenditures to support the work on the major products.

One of the major commitments of this division is participation and leadership for a variety of technical and standards committees. Although these activities are important, the amount of time and effort involved places a significant burden on this relatively small division, as the panel observed last year. Since then, the load has only increased, as many of the committee responsibilities of the recently retired laboratory director have now been delegated to the staff in this division. Another key role of the division is its supervision, evaluation, and coordination of wind engineering research at Texas Tech University. This activity provides great visibility for NIST, but the time and effort spent on this congressionally mandated endeavor is also a drain on resources in a division where the personnel are spread very thin.

The division would benefit from adding staff with expertise in nonlinear computation, nondestructive testing, and structural controls theory. Also, management does not seem to have a clear staffing plan for the technicians who support the experimental work in this division, nor are there succession plans in place for this group of staff. The resulting disruptions that occur when a technician leaves or is assigned to a different project interfere with the division's ability to conduct high-quality experimental work.

Laboratory equipment is in dire need of maintenance and upgrade. The panel approves of the past year's efforts to improve the Tridirectional Test Facility with computer control

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

upgrades and new electronics. The staff is also continuing to investigate if the NIST experimental facilities could be integrated into the NSF's planned National Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. In light of the upcoming NSF decisions about this network, the division should consider what upgrades to the 53 MN testing machine would be required and should obtain cost estimates for any necessary renovations.

Building Materials Division
Division Mission

According to division documentation, the mission of the Building Materials Division is to perform research to advance construction materials science and technology by (1) conducting analytical, laboratory, and field research, including the development of methods to measure and predict the service life of construction materials, and (2) developing technical bases for improving criteria and standards used to evaluate, select, use, and maintain construction materials and for improving tools to make decisions in selecting construction materials, including high-performance concrete and steels.

Work in the Building Materials Division is conducted in close collaboration with industry, government agencies, and academia. The projects are in conformance with the laboratory and NIST missions and are clearly positioned to contribute to several of the National Construction Goals.

The Building Materials Division has primary responsibility for two BFRL objectives: the Partnership for High-Performance Concrete Technology major product and the Service Life Prediction objective. The work on PHPCT is clearly focused on delivery of a defined product, HYPERCON, a computer-integrated knowledge system incorporating verified multiattribute models for prediction and optimization of the performance and LCC of high-performance concrete (HPC). The final goal is the deployment of HYPERCON in a commercial HPC construction project.

Work on SLP is currently aimed toward providing a knowledge base and methods for prediction of performance and service life of coatings and structural composites. The objectives for work in this area are somewhat less clearly defined than the goals for the PHPCT. This program seems to have been formed by grouping a collection of existing projects and industry consortium activities under one heading. Although this approach is not necessarily consistent with a traditional strategic plan development process, each individual project is responsive to the overall BFRL mission.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The Building Materials Division consists of three groups. The Inorganic Building Materials Group manages projects that support the PHPCT objective, and the Organic Building Materials Group contains the projects that constitute the SLP objective. The Construction Materials Reference Laboratory focuses on the quality of testing of construction materials and includes the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Materials Reference Laboratory.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

The two technical initiatives under way in the division, PHPCT and SLP, utilize capabilities unique to NIST, and, in the opinion of the panel, the supporting projects continue to produce world-class results. Staff are active participants in consensus standards building organizations as well as at national and international conferences, workshops, and symposia. The resulting interactions with BFRL's customers and with other researchers play a key role in the division's ability to maintain high-quality programs. The various projects described below are some examples of the key research being undertaken to accomplish desired goals.

In the Inorganic Building Materials Group, there are a variety of projects under way that contribute to the BFRL major product PHPCT. The centerpiece of the work is the HYPERCON Knowledge System for High-Performance Concrete, a prototype computer-integrated knowledge system that is designed to compile and disseminate reliable information about technologically advanced concretes. This effort relies on work ongoing in other projects and on previous results obtained both at NIST and by researchers throughout the world. NIST alone possesses the array of technical expertise and the connections to different scientific and industrial communities that are necessary to integrate information from a wide range of sources in a variety of fields (composition, performance properties, economics). The panel expects that this product will eventually provide a decision support system for the use of concrete and aid in the adoption of new technologies by the building industries.

A key component of the work on HYPERCON is the collaborative effort with the Office of Applied Economics on an LCC computer model for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of using HPC in bridges. The first version of this software, called Bridge LCC, has been distributed for beta testing by user and producer groups. Computer models like this package provide an economic tool for structure designers to quantify and compare alternative materials and approaches. The long-term goal of this work is to incorporate the economics-based model as a component of HYPERCON or the next-generation computer-integrated knowledge system for HPC.

Another important element of the PHPCT objective is the project on Processing of High-Performance Concrete: Mixing and Flow Properties. This work is an excellent example of how experimental and analytical approaches can be integrated to solve complex rheological problems. This use of prediction methods based on fundamental science in conjunction with empirical data distinguishes NIST's efforts from other less comprehensive work. The research focuses on determining effective ways to measure cement paste so as to allow the optimization of viscosity and yield stress characteristics of concrete mixtures. Higher-quality mixtures will in turn improve the mixing, placement, and finishing steps in concrete processing. Currently, the simulation model is guiding experimental data collection, and the results will hopefully provide a logical basis for performance prediction methods. Already, the NIST-developed simulation model of the flow of concentrated solid-in-liquid dispersions is providing new insights into concrete behavior.

The work on Micro- and Macrostructural Characterization of High-Performance Concrete focuses on quantitative characterization and mathematical descriptions for use in the evaluation of processing procedures and in performance models. Several articles on hydration and microstructure modeling have been submitted for publication, and a computer program on concrete transport properties is being validated. In addition to disseminating NIST research results, the technical community' s comments on these outputs will provide peer review and input to guide future activities in this field. A noteworthy characteristic of this project is how the

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

NIST staff have involved academic researchers in this work, as exemplified by the interaction with the NSF Center for Advanced Cement-Based Materials at Northwestern University.

There are a number of other ongoing projects in the Inorganic Building Materials Group. The research on curing under the project on Processing of High-Performance Concrete utilizes the modeling of hydration and vapor transport to provide a rational understanding of the curing process. The ultimate goal is to develop guidelines for curing and a test method for in-place assessment of curing effectiveness. The work on Fire Performance of High-Performance Concrete is important because questions remain about the quality of performance that can be expected of the very low permeability systems of high-strength concretes. This project takes advantage of the predictive modeling capabilities at NIST and the laboratory's existing experimental capabilities in structures and fire research. Current efforts focus on evaluating the mechanical, thermal, and transport properties of HPC. Finally, improved methods of sample preparation and optical and scanning electron microscopy evaluations of concrete were used to identify the probable cause of distress in highway pavements in the Midwest. Without the protocols developed by NIST, conventional methods had resulted in inconsistent interpretations of mechanisms of distress.

In the Organic Building Materials Group, a wide range of projects that constitute the BFRL's objective in SLP are under way. The overall goal of this program is to develop well-defined and controllable accelerated aging methodologies for polymeric materials that are based on and refer to actual outdoor exposure testing and to build a fundamental mechanistic understanding of the associated photodegradation processes. The SLP program originally focused on coatings but has recently broadened to encompass composites and will soon begin work on sealants. The work done on coatings thus far sets a high standard for the newer efforts.

Many of the projects in coatings are influenced and supported by the Coating Service Life Prediction Consortium, a group organized by NIST to define the issues in this field and to coordinate the activities under way in BFRL, industry, and other federal agencies. One of NIST's main achievements in this area was the development of an integrating light-exposure sphere that eliminates issues related to testing with nonhomogeneous radiation while allowing contributing factors such as humidity or stress to be compounded with light in isolated chambers. Current plans call for the construction of a 2 m sphere, which would be about twice the diameter of the largest prototype built thus far. Substantial progress has also been made on the development of a data collection software package that can process very large amounts of data on infrared band intensity as a function of dosage and other factors. An experimental program with polymer blends is exploring how pathways for moisture penetration are formed in coatings. Future activities include planned proprietary work on predicting depletion rates of ultraviolet stabilizers in coatings and experimental determination of the validity of the reciprocity law for polymer coatings.

The project on Measurement Science for Optical Reflectance and Scattering is progressing well, particularly in the identification of relevant analytical methods. For example, it has been determined that when quantifying surface roughness, interferometry is more useful than the more sophisticated atomic force microscopy (AFM) because AFM scans such a small area. A collaboration with the staff in NIST' s Mathematical and Computational Science Division has produced substantial results in modeling of the microstructure of weathered coatings. The identification of the usefulness of the bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) has been one of the important contributions made over the past year. Major future goals for this work include experiments and data analysis on model materials, reflectance modeling per BRDF,

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

continuing investigations of relationships between BRDF and various image-based appearance measurement techniques, and establishment of greater ties with industry and academia.

The Organic Building Materials Group is beginning work on the characterization of polymer composite properties. A workshop was held in July of 1998 to explore the organization of a consortium to coordinate the development and establishment of structural design standards for fiber-reinforced composites. Through application of service life prediction methodologies already developed in BFRL, this division can make a unique contribution in this field. The increasing use of polymer-based composites in original construction and in the repair of existing structures has created a need for information about the service life of these materials. As a result, the laboratory has designed a research program to investigate the effects of ultraviolet radiation, moisture, temperature variations, and mechanical loading on the chemical and mechanical properties of polymer composites. Load Resistance Factor Design, a technique already in wide use for wood structures, steel bridges, and other infrastructure elements, will be explored as an approach to quantify and disseminate the results of this project. The panel notes that the passage of time, both alone and in combination with the factors mentioned above, also can be expected to influence the variation in material properties of the composites, and therefore the effects of aging should be taken into account when experiments are planned. The expertise available in the Fire Science and Structures Divisions may be valuable, and the panel expects that staff from these divisions will be involved in this research effort. As this work matures, an important phase in the validation and dissemination of NIST results will be proof-of-concept demonstrations under real-life conditions.

The final group in the Building Materials Division is the Construction Materials Reference Laboratory. The goal of this group is to provide quality assessment procedures to commercial laboratories that perform testing of construction materials. This activity is an essential service that promotes quality evaluation of materials and enables supervised transfer of NIST technologies to the building industries.

Throughout the Building Materials Division, the panel found there to be a number of effective collaborations occurring with staff from other divisions within BFRL and from other NIST laboratories, such as the Information Technology Laboratory. Often, these cooperative projects were driven by individual scientists at the bench level; although this approach is working, the explicit and official connections with other divisions, such as Fire Science and Fire Safety Engineering, could be strengthened.

Impact of Programs

The Building Materials Division continues to be very active in organizing and participating in industrial consortia and standards committees. Such activities help the division define customer needs and communicate results. Computer-integrated knowledge systems have also proven to be effective tools for dissemination, as demonstrated in the program on high-performance concrete for transportation structures.

Presentations at workshops and symposia have also been used to publicize NIST-developed techniques and products. For example, in November of 1999, the division plans to describe the capabilities of its data collection software package for analyzing infrared band intensity data at an international symposium on Service Life Prediction Methodology and Metrologies. The laboratory is hoping to identify an external partner who could create and

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

market a commercial version of this software. The conference will provide the laboratory with a showcase for much of its work on service life prediction, although the panel was somewhat concerned to see that only 2 of the 26 scheduled talks appear to be directly related to building materials.

Division Resources

Funding sources for the Building Materials Division (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

1.7

1.8

Competence

0.2

0.2

STRS-nonbase

0.1

0.1

ATP

0.2

0.2

OA/NFG/CRADA

1.7

2.2

Total

3.9

4.5

A significant number of projects have external funding, which can be appropriate when key participation by industrial sponsors and other federal laboratories provides a broad perspective and increases the usefulness of the work. However, external support should only be used when the projects undertaken are consistent with and advance the goals and objectives of the BFRL. Given that much of the work under way in this division is unique to NIST, appropriate allocation of STRS contributions is essential to ensure that key personnel are able to reserve a significant portion of their time for research, rather than expend their efforts on finding external funds to subsidize major initiatives.

The panel was somewhat concerned that the number of projects was too large to be handled by the available professional staff. This situation may have occurred because resources committed to externally funded work were not appropriately accounted for by current project management procedures. The focus appears to be on generating revenue from outside sources by any means necessary; more detailed evaluation of what staff and equipment resources will be required should be made before the laboratory commits to taking on tasks for companies or other governmental agencies.

As of January 1999, staffing for the Building Materials Division included 21 full-time permanent positions, of which 18 were for technical professionals. There were also five nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

The unfortunate death of the group leader for Inorganic Building Materials has exacerbated the staffing shortage for the work on computer-integrated knowledge systems. Among other key technical duties, this person was responsible for integration of HPC projects into the CIKS model. His loss, combined with last year's retirement of a key staff member on the CIKS project, can be expected to disrupt progress in this area. Although the retired staff

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

member has been available to some extent on a consulting basis, this is a short-term solution, and filling the vacant positions as quickly as possible is vital to the health of the program.

Another concern of the panel is that the level of technician support for professional staff in both the Organic and Inorganic Building Materials Groups is insufficient. Therefore, professional staff are spending time on routine tasks, such as sample preparation, which could be more efficiently and cost-effectively handled by well-trained technicians.

Building Environment Division
Division Mission

According to division documentation, the mission of the Building Environment Division is as follows:

  • To reduce the cost of designing and operating buildings and increase the international competitiveness of the U.S. building industry by providing modeling, measurement, and test methods needed to use advanced computation and automation effectively in construction, to improve the quality of the indoor environment, and to improve the performance of building equipment;

  • To conduct laboratory, field, and analytical research on building mechanical and control systems;

  • To develop data, measurement methods, and modeling techniques for the performance of the building envelope, its insulation systems, building air leakage, and the release, movement, and absorption of indoor air pollutants; and

  • To develop software performance criteria, interface standards, and test methods needed for the nation's building industry to make effective use of modern computer-aided design hardware and software and database management systems.

Work in the Building Environment Division supports three of the BFRL objectives: Cybernetic Building Systems, Computer-Integrated Construction Environment, and Metrology for Sustainable Development (MSD). The aims of the projects observed by the panel are consistent with the goals of these objectives and in conformance with the division, laboratory, and NIST missions. In the past year, management has tightened the focus of the division's work by completing several projects and reprogramming those resources into new and expanding efforts. Areas in which work has ended include building-moisture-related research, photovoltaic solar water heating, analysis of mechanical ventilation in residential buildings, and heat transfer studies of refrigerants with additives. The division has disseminated the NIST results in these areas to relevant industrial users through articles, conference presentations, and publicly available computer programs such as moisture flow analysis software, MOIST, and indoor air-quality analysis software, CONTAM. The panel supports this refocusing of division resources.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The Building Environment Division comprises five groups: Mechanical Systems and Controls, Computer-Integrated Construction, Thermal Machinery, Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation, and Heat Transfer. The following section of the report describes highlights and issues observed by the panel for each group.

The Mechanical Systems and Controls Group manages a series of projects in support of the BFRL major product CBS. The panel found that the CBS work is mature and well synthesized. An important component of this program is work on the expansion, certification, and demonstration of the Building Automation and Control network (BACnet). This system is an open architecture that coordinates multiple building systems control devices, regardless of manufacturer. This capability removes proprietary barriers and eliminates the hardware and software redundancies of existing controls systems. BACnet will provide building designers and owners more flexible options in building controls. Currently, NIST staff are involved in an ambitious real-workplace demonstration of BACnet applications in the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. Phase II of this implementation is complete, and Phase III has begun. Overall, BACnet already has 2,500 installations in the United States and almost 4,000 worldwide.

Fault detection and diagnosis products for HVAC systems are already installed in some commercial mechanical systems but are not visible or accessible to HVAC systems users and owners. At NIST, the work on fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) focuses on developing these systems for broader mechanical applications, including building energy management and control systems. This project has been under way since 1991, and NIST staff are active in the International Energy Agency Annex 34 committee on practical applications of FDD techniques. Current divisional work involves implementing and demonstrating FDD methods in real buildings, as well as developing assessment methods and criteria. Research has begun on the NIST reciprocating chiller installation with the collection of data on normal and fault mode operation. Staff are also developing an FDD method to tune and validate a Purdue chiller model. Other recent activities include evaluation of FDD methods for air-handling units, development of the FDD test shell, and investigation into an FDD method for variable air volume boxes using data from the Iowa Energy Center. Future work planned in this area over the next 3 years includes development of hierarchical architecture for FDD, verification of proper performance of prototype FDD products, and continuing demonstration of CBS and FDD systems at the Phillip Burton Federal Building. The division's schedule appears to outline a well-thought-out sequence of activities and goals.

The Mechanical Systems and Controls Group is developing a virtual cybernetic building testbed (VCBT), which will consist of a range of simulation models that are interfaced with actual devices and prototype BACnet systems to enable testing of both hardware and software. The objective of VCBT is to develop standards to assure safe, secure, and reliable operation of CBS. The work on VCBT will involve collaborations with control manufacturers, code officials, and service providers in order to test, evaluate, and certify new and complex controls interactions under normal and adverse operating conditions that would be too risky or imprudent to conduct in actual buildings. The premise behind this effort is the belief that the controls industry is going to shift from a vertical to horizontal structure and, as a result, there will be challenges to the performance, reliability, and security of manufacturers' new control systems for both HVAC and fire protection.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

In addition to the above projects, which occur mainly in the Building Environment Division, the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group is actively collaborating with other BFRL staff on work that supports CBS. In the Fire Safety Engineering Division, the laboratory is providing technology to enable manufacturers to develop advanced fire detector and alarm panels that can utilize predictive models of fire activity; such capability will revolutionize the present state of the art, where “dumb” fire panels merely report the current status in a building. The new model annunciator panels will not only isolate the location of the fire but predict the short- and long-term effects of fire and smoke spread in the building using technology based on the reversal of the consolidated fire and smoke transport model. The panel's only concern is whether NIST will be able to convince the fragmented firefighting community to trust and use this new technology.

In conjunction with the Fire Science Division, staff are developing smart multifunction sensors to provide the data that activate the HVAC equipment and building fire alarms. Such sensors are integral to the ultimate performance of BACnet, FDD, and advanced fire detector and alarm panels and hence are a necessary component to ensure the success of the CBS program. The work on these sensors targets a broad range of measurements; just in the area of fire protection, the functions that can be monitored include the distribution of temperature locations; air pressure and velocity; carbon monoxide emissions; natural gas leak detection; other products of combustion or indoor air pollutants; occupancy; and breach of security. Finally, the Building Environment Division staff is working with the Office of Applied Economics on economic impact analyses for the overall effort on CBS.

The Computer-Integrated Construction Group conducts some of the laboratory 's work in support of the BFRL major product CICE. Current projects include Electronic Commerce of Technical Data for Process Plants, Product Data Standards for the Process Plant Industries, and Computer-Integrated Construction Environment Testbed. The remainder of the BFRL work in this field occurs in the Structures Division and in the Office of Applied Economics. Overall, the panel finds that the CICE work is well aligned with the National Construction Goals.

The CICE program envisions a world in which construction information is delivered seamlessly throughout the work processes that occur over the lifetime of a constructed facility. The goal of the NIST work is to develop the open systems environment in which this seamless flow of data and information is possible. Anticipated contributions toward this goal include open system standards enabling integration of life-cycle facility work processes, advanced metrology systems that improve the state of the art in construction, and delivery of sample automated processes that “plug-and-play” in the open systems environment. The Computer-Integrated Construction Group is expected to develop test methods to assess implementations of these solutions and to enter into meaningful partnerships with industry for pilot technology projects.

The panel was impressed by the advances made in the NIST work on CICE over the past year and by the appropriateness of the current array of projects. Much of the progress observed by the panel was concentrated in the area of construction product data standards, primarily for the process plant industry. The targeted audience is now being expanded to include the building sector of the industry that constitutes a majority of the annual construction volume in the United States. Recent accomplishments by CICE personnel include work on the refinement, testing, and implementation of the standard for the exchange of product model data (STEP) application protocols (APs) for the process industry. This work is officially for Standard 10303 of ISO Technical Committee 184, Subcommittee 4, and includes AP221 (Functional Data and their Schematic Representation for Process Plant), AP227 (Plant Spatial Configuration), and AP231

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

(Process Design and Process Specifications of Major Equipment). Of notable importance is the work on extensions to AP227 for prefabrication, inspection, HVAC, cable trays, and shipbuilding (in conjunction with AP217). Soon pipe manufacturers or vendors will need to become involved in these standards activities.

A final element of NIST's work in this area is the development of a CICE testbed. A good start has been made, but much still needs to be accomplished to meet the broad goals of this project: compilation of comprehensive test data, analysis of test results, and development of protocol implementation strategies. Staff are currently mastering programming skills in virtual reality modeling language (VRML), which will be an important tool for modeling building systems performance.

The work on the BFRL objective Metrology for Sustainable Development is conducted in three groups: Thermal Machinery, Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation, and Heat Transfer. A discussion of projects being conducted by each of the groups follows.

One of the key projects in the Thermal Machinery Group is the performance evaluation of refrigerants with low global warming potential. Unfortunately, most of the replacement refrigerants that have emerged from the efforts to limit ozone depletion have relatively high values of global warming potential. This flaw has prompted consideration of the use of a number of naturally occurring compounds, such as hydrocarbons, ammonia, and carbon dioxide, which have the potential to serve as refrigerants. Many of these compounds have been discounted in the past as a result of performance limitations or safety concerns (such as flammability in some cases). The objective of the current efforts is to determine if these limitations and concerns can be mitigated by the use of new technology or new application techniques. At the same time, other new refrigerants will also be evaluated, and both direct and indirect potential impacts on global warming will be considered. The results will make an essential contribution to the national policy on global warming and to the future of the industries, organizations, and individuals that produce and use equipment that depends on refrigerants.

The MEMS project continues to investigate the potential for transducer applications in HVAC equipment. These miniature mechanical devices are fabricated by processes developed for computer chip production. Practical applications are emerging, such as using MEMS as accelerometers to trigger automotive air bags, but no uses in HVAC equipment have occurred to date. Current NIST work aims to develop a vibration meter for use in a hermetic compressor. Potential advantages include low cost, high reliability, and the opportunity to employ serial communications. This project is not low risk, but the risk is consistent with the potential rewards and the field of research is well suited to the expertise and mission of the BFRL. The panel recommends that the staff also consider other applications related to the control and optimization of HVAC equipment operation.

Other projects within the Thermal Machinery Group include the development of models aided by artificial intelligence and capable of optimizing the refrigerant circuitry of a heat exchanger and the use of fluorescence spectroscopy to measure local concentrations of lubricant in refrigerant during the boiling process. These projects can lead to lower energy consumption in HVAC products through better fundamental understanding of the heat-exchange processes.

A major effort of the Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation Group is on the development of building and ventilation system design procedures based on containment loads and concentration limits. Traditional procedures have been prescriptive and based on proportionality with floor area or number of occupants. Although this prescriptive procedure is simple and easy to use, it fails to recognize several relevant variables. Contaminant-based design procedures would enable

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

a more effective system that would provide a healthier and more comfortable building environment. This project is a multiyear effort; to date the focus has been on inputs from design professionals, analysis of containment load, monitoring of building contaminants, and database and software development. There are significant technical hurdles to overcome before completion of the project, but perhaps the most difficult step will be convincing design professionals and code authorities to accept and utilize the new approach. The panel believes that BFRL has the capability and the credibility necessary to encourage the community to adopt the new methods, but it would still be helpful if NIST could obtain experimental data from more test buildings to verify the model and increase confidence and acceptance by designers.

The Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation Group has also started a new project funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This work aims to model airflow in manufactured housing and is an appropriate utilization of the capabilities available within this group.

A focus of the Heat Transfer Group has been the development of measurement techniques and validated predictive performance models for building integrated photovoltaic products. Use of solar energy reduces power plant emissions, so as the costs of photovoltaic modules become more and more competitive, interest grows in utilizing this technology to reduce power generation requirements and global warming. The development and validation of performance models will facilitate economic justification for solar energy. NIST staff plan to quantify key performance parameters by using a number of experimental facilities, including a testbed of integrated photovoltaic panels on the south side of Building 226. These characterization studies will provide the basis for validation and improvement of the models. The laboratory has had extensive project interactions with other investigators in order to clearly define its role and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts. This project is an excellent example of BFRL's responsiveness to industry concerns and needs.

The Heat Transfer Group continues its traditional role of measuring thermal properties of building materials. Of particular note is the current effort to complete the development of an interactive Web-based database containing an array of thermal conductivity data gathered since the late 1920s. The electronic format will make this system convenient to use and accessible worldwide. The historical sweep of the information will make this database particularly valuable to companies that focus on repair and renovation and deal with old buildings regularly.

The Heat Transfer Group is also taking the lead in planning, organizing, and conducting an international interlaboratory comparison of the guarded hot plate test apparatus used for measuring thermal conductivity. The goal is to investigate the variability of the measurements with the hope that consistency can be achieved and that eventually a universal SRM can be developed. The effort on moisture has been terminated because of the retirement of the leading NIST researcher in this area. This work has made important contributions to fields such as indoor air quality and material degradation; the computer program MOIST was a key output. Further enhancements could be made to this software, such as adding information about behavior during phase change of moisture, and the panel wonders if this effort should be continued, perhaps by outside contractors.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Impact of Programs

Staff in the Building Environment Division interact with industry through a variety of mechanisms. In the HVAC area, 19 NIST engineers participate in over 50 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) technical and standards committees, while 4 personnel in the division are active in the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Institute's program on research for the 21st century. Overall, the division has approximately 30 CRADAs with industrial partners.

In a proactive effort to quantify the impact of NIST's work on CBS, staff from the Office of Applied Economics have begun to estimate the costs and benefits associated with this program. BFRL is expected to spend roughly $11.5 million on CBS between now and 2002. The potential cost savings in U.S. office buildings alone are predicted to exceed $1.1 billion, where the technical advances from NIST are conservatively estimated to contribute over $90 million. The economic impact analysis took a variety of factors into account by modeling the technology diffusion into industry and commercial applications using estimates of the time of first use, the rate of adoption, and the level of market saturation.3

Potential impacts of CBS beyond cost savings in office buildings are much harder to estimate. If predictions about the vertical to horizontal shift in the controls industry are accurate, BACnet may generate an entire new array of manufacturers and service providers that will in turn stimulate the entire building industry. The VCBT may also have a significant impact on performance contract service providers.

Divisional staff have recently begun a remarkable effort to link with industrial, governmental, and academic partners for the conduct of the CICE work. Partners include process plant industry owners, contractors, suppliers and architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) software developers in the PlantSTEP, Inc., consortium, Process Data Exchange Institute, Construction Industry Institute, Sloan Foundation Program on Fully Integrated and Automated Project Processes, International Alliance for Interoperability, American Institute of Steel Construction, Carnegie-Mellon University, Stanford University, and others. New contacts are being made with advanced sensor and metrology organizations from industry and with government laboratories in the United States (e.g., Sandia National Laboratories) and abroad (e.g., the Technical Research Centre of Finland [VTT] and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisations [CSIRO] in Australia). In the future, the panel would like to see more publications and presentations by the CICE staff to ensure that information about NIST results is communicated to the widest possible audience.

In addition to their external outreach efforts, CICE staff plan to work internally with the NIST physical plant personnel to utilize the Building 205 and the Advanced Measurement Laboratory construction projects on the NIST campus as testbeds for CICE software and hardware products under development. The panel applauds this use of local real construction to experiment with and advance the CICE tools.

A major problem delaying the implementation of STEP application protocols is that current U.S. participation in these efforts is limited to a few pioneering process and engineering, procurement, and construction firms. At this time, the U.S. process industry and the other segments of the AEC industry have no information technology roadmap for integrated enterprise operations. In contrast, in Europe there is broad participation by a number of

3  

The OAE analysis excluded the costs and benefits of the work on FDD, but this program is clearly valuable and can be expected to produce significant savings during the operation of building systems.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

government-university-industry programs with long-term funding and comprehensive research and development objectives. CICE protocol testing on the NIST testbed and industry pilot projects initiated or planned by NIST staff will be instrumental in securing data for economic evaluations and cost-benefit analysis of the implementation of these protocols. Such quantitative demonstrations of the value of computer-integrated construction are necessary to convince the U.S. construction industry to consider wide use of these protocols. Ongoing efforts in this area are conducted by the staff in the BFRL Office of Applied Economics.

In the MSD Program, there has been a continuing emphasis on communicating the results of projects to the user community. Publication of papers, conference presentations, establishment of a Web page for thermal conductivity data, participation on standards committees, and individual CRADA projects are vehicles by which users can be educated about the work of the laboratory and benefit from NIST's efforts.

As the panel observed in previous reports, following the Montreal Protocol, the laboratory's work on alternatives to chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants had extensive impact on governments and industry around the world. The issue of global climate change is now forcing these industries to once again search for new refrigerants, and again the Building Environment Division's work has the potential to have an impact on an international scale. The Thermal Machinery Group has several projects directed at evaluating refrigerants with low global warming potential and understanding fundamentals of the heat exchange process.

Development and promotion of industry standards is a traditional role of BFRL. Currently some of the work of the Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation Group is in direct support of ASHRAE Standard 62. Staff are developing software for the most recent (1989) version, and NIST's work on contaminant-based procedures will support the revision of the current standards and guidelines. This process will be controversial; the Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation Group leader will be filling a difficult but important role when he assumes the chair of the relevant ASHRAE standards committee.

The Heat Transfer Group has long had significant impact in the United States through measurement of thermal properties of building materials. The promotion of a common international protocol for thermal conductivity tests will expand this group's influence on the world stage.

Division Resources

Funding sources for the Building Environment Division (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

4.4

4.1

STRS-nonbase

1.0

1.1

ATP

0.0

0.1

OA/NFG/CRADA

1.9

2.2

Total

7.3

7.5

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

As of January 1999, staffing for the Building Environment Division included 36 full-time permanent positions, of which 32 were for technical professionals. There were also seven nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

The number of staff working on the CBS initiative is expanding. In addition to the effort in the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group, research in this area is supplemented by work in the Fire Safety Engineering Division and in the Manufacturing Systems Integration Division of the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory. The program is an impressive interdisciplinary effort. The one issue noted by the panel is that only a single staff member appears to be assigned to the BACnet work; this person should have some assistance. In the work on MSD, the authorized staff level appears to be just sufficient to conduct the programs under way. Unfortunately, this leaves no room for backup in most skills areas.

In both CICE and MSD, the panel is particularly concerned about BFRL 's ability to recruit new personnel to maintain staff levels or to expand programs. NIST has difficulty competing with the private sector as a result of a substantial discrepancy between the salaries offered. In CICE, there is a chronic shortage of available candidates with adequate computing skills and industry experience to fill the vacant positions within the program.

The facilities available for CBS staff and their equipment and instrumentation are relatively comfortable. Equipment is often contributed for this program by a number of controls and HVAC manufacturers. The CICE researchers have at their disposal excellent computing resources and infrastructure. Three buildings on the NIST campus (226, 304, and 202) are linked with a fiber-optic asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network for simultaneous transmission of audio, video, and digital data streams. The facilities issues affecting the MSD work have, for the most part, been successfully addressed in recent years. However, Environmental Chamber 15 and the associated chiller and piping are in need of replacement. This system is 34 years old and employs a heat transfer fluid that today is considered a hazardous chemical. The division must carefully evaluate the potential uses of this large environmental chamber before beginning the repairs.

The final concern of the panel is the relationship between the Computer-Integrated Construction Group in the Building Environment Division and the Construction Metrology and Automation Group in the Structures Division. Although these two groups both support the BFRL major product, CICE, there does not appear to be a formal and consistent mechanism allowing the creation of interdivisional and interlaboratory teams for the conduct of specific projects. Such a mechanism could create new synergies and might partly alleviate personnel shortages in this field. The lack of coordination between the two groups may cause NIST to miss out on good opportunities. Another facet of this issue is that the Structures Division does not appear to be receiving significant STRS support for its contributions to the CICE initiative. Since this program is fairly young, there is no external funding as yet, and BFRL needs to develop a global plan to allocate resources for CICE and other major products that are in line with the National Construction Goals.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Fire Safety Engineering Division
Division Mission

According to division documentation, the mission of the Fire Safety Engineering Division is to develop methods to predict the behavior of fire and smoke and to assess ways of mitigating their impact on people, property, and the environment.

This mission is very well aligned with the mission of BFRL because the measurements and predictive methods developed in this division will result in increased competitiveness and improvements in safety by reducing costs associated with fire hazards.

The recent reorganization of the Fire Safety Engineering Division enhances the staff's ability to fulfill the mission by making advances in engineering science and then integrating these advances into tools readily accessible to the practicing engineer. The tasks under way in the division fall primarily into three categories—predictive, measurement, and system integration functions—and now each of the division's three groups corresponds directly to one of these research approaches. With this logical arrangement, the division will be focused on effectively and efficiently accomplishing the goals delineated in the BFRL objectives.

Project selection and continuation criteria used by the division have not been stated explicitly, but the implicit criterion for initiating or continuing most projects in the division is the degree to which there is support and interest from industry (individual companies, trade/testing organizations, or other institutions). Although other divisions of BFRL seem to rely on broadly based industry groups to determine specific technical needs or roadmaps, the Fire Safety Engineering Division uses collaborations with individual industrial partners or interactions with trade groups representing specialized protection/prevention hardware to select research topics and determine when projects are complete. These research partners are appreciative of the value delivered by the division, but the panel believes that it would be more desirable for the division's research agenda to be driven by a wider segment of the potential beneficiaries of NIST's work.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The Fire Safety Engineering Division has recently been reorganized into three groups: Fire Dynamics, Large Fire Research, and Fire Safety Systems. The Fire Dynamics Group focuses on computational work and predictive models. The Large Fire Research Group specializes in measurement technologies and manages the NIST Large Fire Research Facility. The Fire Safety Systems Group looks at the interactions that need to occur for fire systems integration and maintains the Fire Research Information Services database and Web site. The technical work under way in all of these groups is performed in a very competent manner, using existing experimental, mathematical, or graphical techniques to develop new engineering applications.

The greatest strength of the BFRL is the ability to produce technical results backed by strong fundamental science. In the Fire Safety Engineering Division, it is particularly important that the efforts directed toward meeting the BFRL objectives, especially the Industrial Fire Simulation System, involve the development and application of fundamental fire science to provide generalized solutions to a broad range of problems rather than short-term, ad hoc solutions to very specific problems. In many fire hazard areas, BFRL is the only institution in

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

the United States that is able to develop these coherent, science-based methodologies. Although there is always a temptation to use purely empirical methods when developing simulations of complex fire phenomena, the division must continue to focus on achieving a balance between fire-science-generated results and more practical engineering estimates.

A main focus of the Fire Safety Engineering Division is the work in support of the BFRL major product, the Industrial Fire Simulation System. Projects concentrate on the interaction among fire-induced gas motion, sprinkler sprays, and ceiling vents/smoke curtains, and the program is clearly outstanding and state of the art. The IFSS requires the integration of many individual and complex outputs (such as a thermal radiation submodel), and the panel applauds the division 's ability to coordinate multiple areas of ongoing research. Development of burning rate and extinguishment submodels for the IFSS is especially difficult because of the varied composition of the commodities and materials being studied. Division staff have exhibited commendable enthusiasm, energy, and thoroughness in attacking this practical problem that affects both U.S. industries and their overseas subsidiaries, where the use of smoke vents is more widespread. The IFSS projects have been very successful, and the resulting software is being put to use by several organizations outside of NIST. The panel believes that more formal support of this software model by the division is probably needed.

In addition to the work on the IFSS, the division comanages the BFRL major objective on Advanced Fire Measurements and Firefighting Technologies with the Fire Science Division. The panel was pleased by the level of coordination that is happening for this work and the ease with which cross-divisional collaboration occurs.

Impact of Programs

In most instances, the work in the Fire Safety Engineering Division is making a significant contribution to achieving the BFRL objectives and is directly improving the quality of the tools available to U.S. fire protection engineers.

The division is currently initiating a new strategic direction: developing products that advance firefighting technology. This new area of research potentially could bring great benefits both to the Fire Safety Engineering Division and to its customers, but the work is fairly high risk, and the panel and division management should carefully evaluate the strategy to assure that the resulting products continue to be in line with the mission of the division. One possible benefit of this effort is the enhancement of the effectiveness of firefighting in the complex and varied situations that arise in commercial/industrial occupancies, where the property and goods can be highly valuable or very hazardous. In this area, the division is introducing several types of new technologies to assist firefighters in these difficult circumstances. One approach is the production of training materials, such as videos based on IFSS computations. The division is also working on developing real-time prediction capabilities that could analyze the situation and offer extinguishment strategies that take optimal advantage of installed protection systems. These technological advances could strengthen the partnership among on-site loss prevention professionals, plant emergency organizations, and the local fire service.

Another way in which the new initiative in advanced firefighting technologies could enhance public safety would be by opening more active communications between NIST and the firefighting community, perhaps through a revitalized Fire Administration, and by strengthening the links between fire safety engineering and the fire prevention function of the fire service. The

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

panel, however, is concerned about how practical this ambition is. The fire service in the United States is a truly diverse constituency, with several hundred departments covering the most densely populated areas, and hundreds of other departments with varying levels of organization providing service for the rest of the country. It is therefore very difficult to construct dissemination plans that ensure that projects aimed at improving the effectiveness and safety of firefighting gain widespread acceptance. Unlike other projects performed in the Fire Safety Engineering Division, these advanced technologies for firefighters must satisfy the large variety of constituencies that would be involved in the implementation process. The division appears to be taking all reasonable steps towards gaining acceptance for the final products (such as the new Smart Panel displays) by involving multiple stakeholders, but it is still not clear if the NIST work will ultimately results in products widely used by the fire service.

Division Resources

Funding sources for the Fire Safety Engineering Division (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

2.3

2.4

STRS-nonbase

0.4

0.3

OA/NFG/CRADA

1.7

1.8

Other Reimbursable

0.1

0.1

Total

4.5

4.6

As of January 1999, staffing for the Fire Safety Engineering Division included 28 full-time permanent positions, of which 22 were for technical professionals. There were also seven nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

At the present time, the resources allotted to the Fire Safety Engineering Division appear to be adequate. The panel is somewhat puzzled by the modest planned expansion in OA funding, as this increase seems inconsistent with the laboratory's stated goal of reducing the percentage of external support for this division from the current level of 37 percent towards the overall NIST average of approximately 25 percent. A potential benefit of the new initiative on advanced technologies for firefighters is that work in this area may increase the amount of STRS funding allocated to this division, thereby reducing its dependence on outside support.

In this division, a limited number of personnel are tackling a wide variety of projects, and it is important to make efficient use of the available human resources. In the IFSS work, division staff developed software called SmokeView to visualize the results of the fire prediction calculations. It is not clear to the panel that this activity was actually the best use of the valuable computational expertise of the division personnel; perhaps future development of routine software could be carried out in other parts of NIST or by an outside contractor.

As the panel has noted in many previous reports, renovation of Building 205 is desperately needed, and the panel was very pleased to learn that this construction has been

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

approved. However, there has been a significant delay in proceeding with this project as a result of a redesign required by aesthetic considerations. Despite this unfortunate delay, the division management expressed optimism that the work will begin within a reasonable time. The panel strongly urges NIST management to proceed expeditiously so that this essential, real-scale fire experiment facility can be returned to use.

Fire Science Division
Division Mission

According to division documentation, the mission of the Fire Science Division is to perform research on and develop scientific and engineering understanding of fire phenomena and metrology for fire research.

This mission is consistent with the mission of the BFRL, as the work done in the Fire Science Division supports the development of safer and more cost-effective building and furnishing materials by and for U.S. industry.

Projects contribute to the laboratory-wide goals that relate to the science and engineering needs of fire safety. The division is involved in a series of integrated programs in support of three of BFRL's objectives. The major product, Fire-Safe Materials, is managed by staff in this division. The goal of this work is to provide performance prediction methods and measurements to industry to assist in the development and deployment of next generation fire-safe polymers for commercial applications. The BFRL objective, Advanced Fire Measurements and Firefighting Technologies, is a coordinated effort with the Fire Safety Engineering Division. This array of projects focuses on scientific and engineering research and the development of predictive tools for advanced fire safety technologies and enhanced tactical decision aids. Finally, the division's work on multifunction sensors contributes to the laboratory's program on Cybernetic Building Systems, which is managed by the Building Environment Division. The Fire Science Division's efforts on FSM and on CBS are both short-term, application-and implementation-oriented programs, and the laboratory hopes to see significant impact from these projects within the next 3 years. The Advanced Fire Measurements and Firefighting Technologies initiative is a broadly defined effort with longer-term goals that extend over 8 to 10 years.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

The fire research effort at NIST is internationally renowned for its numerous outstanding scientific contributions over the years. The combination of expertise both in basic science and in engineering provides results of significant value to industry. The work is clearly integrated across project, group, and divisional boundaries, and efforts are focused on fire safety for materials, products, facilities, infrastructure, and people.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

The panel is particularly impressed by the high-quality work under way in fire-safe materials and fire-suppression chemistry. Flame-retardant principles being developed in the Materials Fire Research Group could considerably change the additives currently used to lower the flammability of many polymer-based materials. NIST experiments have demonstrated that a reduction in peak heat release rates in a flaming situation by 40 to 80 percent is possible while simultaneously improving physical properties via the addition of clays. This result is impressive, but further reductions from the observed values of 300 to 400 kW/m 2 to less than 100 kW/m2 are needed to eliminate the current need for active fire suppression for polymers. In the Fire Sensing and Extinguishment Group, development of detailed kinetic mechanisms to describe and explain the gas-phase chemistry of flame inhibition is providing valuable information for research on next-generation suppression agents. These calculations have shown that there are limits to the effectiveness of suppression agents that act by recombining superequilibrium levels of radicals catalytically, and this information will guide the selection of future agents. In the Advanced Fire Measurements Group, the characterization of thermocouple measurements in fire environments is informational rather than innovative. Since limited resources are available for BFRL's work, the panel suggests that management consider reprogramming the funds currently devoted to this project toward an effort with a greater potential to have a dramatic impact on the fire safety and science communities.

Impact of Programs

The ongoing shift in emphasis from production of research results to facilitation of improvements to fire safety will continue to have a positive impact on the laboratory's ability to deliver value in a timely fashion. The refocusing also appears to be stimulating the industrial interactions observed by the panel in the Fire Science Division. For example, division staff have successfully collaborated with various corporations on the research related to use of nanocomposites in fire-safe materials. In addition to this sort of strong interaction with individual companies, the panel believes that the division could do more to build awareness of NIST capabilities and results in the industrial community at large. One approach would be to increase staff attendance at industry conferences and workshops, not just at scientific symposia. A factor that is limiting communication about this division's work is the number of proprietary grants and contracts under way that place boundaries on the dissemination of results achieved at NIST.

Overall, work in the Fire Science Division has had an impressive impact on a variety of customers. The panel observes that there is one new area that the division might consider exploring. NIST could fulfill a current industrial need by coordinating proficiency testing for small-scale flammability measurement. Examples include Underwriters Laboratories 94 (UL-94) vertical and horizontal burn tests, limiting oxygen index, cone calorimetry (heat release and smoke density), and smoke density (National Bureau of Standards Smoke Chamber). Currently, programs to provide standards that ensure that the flammability properties are measured accurately and precisely do not seem to exist.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Division Resources

Funding sources for the Fire Science Division (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

1.9

2.1

Competence

0.2

0.2

STRS-nonbase

0.2

0.2

ATP

0.1

0.1

OA/NFG/CRADA

2.0

1.8

Total

4.4

4.4

As of January 1999, staffing for the Fire Science Division included 28 full-time permanent positions, of which 25 were for technical professionals. There were also eight nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

The personnel are quite capable, and the expertise available is appropriate to conduct the research agenda of this division.

The Fire Science Division receives 45 percent of its support from external sources; this fraction is the highest of any of the divisions in BFRL. Care should be taken to ensure that OA-funded projects have an appropriate context within the strategic plan and are selected to meet specific laboratory objectives rather than to fill in perceived budgetary needs. In addition, it is important to verify that the funding provided for a given externally supported project is sufficient to cover the cost of conducting the work. Too many partially funded, externally mandated activities will strain the division's supply of STRS money and create an environment in which more outside funding must be sought just to keep up with existing projects.

Allocation of modest resources against the multiple priorities of the many public and industrial constituencies interested in fire safety requires ongoing diligence to ensure that all efforts are consistent with division and laboratory plans. Decisions to embark on new projects should be accompanied by the completion or conclusion of existing activities. This reevaluation of priorities should take into account the changing needs of the fire science and safety community as well as the evolving goals of the BFRL.

Office of Applied Economics and Standards and Codes Services

The OAE and the BFRL's work on Standards and Codes Services are administered within the laboratory office. However, most of the projects in these two areas are undertaken in collaboration with staff in other divisions of BFRL and throughout the NIST operating units.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×
Mission

According to laboratory documentation, the mission of the OAE is to provide economic products and services through research and consulting to industry and government agencies in support of productivity enhancement, economic growth, and international competitiveness, with a focus on improving the life-cycle quality and economy of constructed facilities. The Standards and Codes Services work has two main goals: to support the development of a comprehensive national and international performance standards system to guide the procurement, evaluation, and acceptance of innovative housing products and systems and to assist the U.S. construction industry in major developing markets to avoid technical barriers to trade and to promote the application of U.S. technology in international construction markets through the development and adoption of appropriate building and construction practices, codes, specifications, and standards.

The work of OAE staff allows BFRL and NIST to more clearly define the relevant customer base and to articulate and quantify the value of the laboratory's products and results. This work indirectly supports the BFRL and NIST missions by enabling scientists throughout the institution to perform and disseminate their work efficiently. In Standards and Codes Services work, staff are heavily involved in the formulation and development of tools that allow organizations to define criteria to be used in writing performance-based standards and that assist building designers in successfully meeting these performance objectives. Since the world is moving rapidly toward the adoption of performance-based codes, NIST's work in this area plays a key role in enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. companies in international markets.

Technical Merit and Appropriateness of Work

OAE and Standards and Codes Services staff are active in a wide variety of projects, from tools for economic product evaluations to technical methods for measuring building performance, which can be expected to have an impact on the building industries in many different ways. Impressive work continues on the development of models to predict and measure the performance of indoor air quality controls and equipment. The work began with computer-aided laboratory analyses and has now progressed to comparisons between the model's predictions and the measured performance of actual products. These comparisons are demonstrating the accuracy of the computer predictions. In the next phase of this work, NIST staff hope to conduct comparison tests in a real-life residential structure.

The Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) project permits designers to weigh the life-cycle economic and environmental consequences of using alternative materials and construction techniques. Built into this computerized evaluation tool is an assessment of the long-term direct and indirect consequences of using alternative materials, but the relative importance of economic versus environmental considerations is assigned by the user, who is free to explore the sensitivity of outcomes to these weights. Although improvements to this package still continue, an electronic version of BEES that is applicable to commercial-type buildings has been released for distribution to designers, developers, and builders. BEES is particularly valuable to these communities in light of the global concern for improving the sustainability of construction. BEES builds on earlier OAE projects (such as UNIFORMAT II, a classification of building elements), and it is being expanded to allow it to be used by builders of

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

residential dwellings. In this guise, it promises to become a valuable component of the emerging BFRL major product, Performance Standard Systems for Housing, by adding safety and environmental considerations to the overall valuation process of selecting alternative design methods and materials for new residential construction.

Overall, the work on PSSH aims to develop tools and methodologies for predicting and evaluating the structural performance of residential buildings that have utilized traditional and nontraditional construction materials and methods. Even though work on PSSH is just beginning, early versions of NIST-developed models have the potential to become effective instructional tools with a significant impact on the housing industry. An example is the transformation of computer modeling results into easy-to-understand forms that illustrate how proper fastening (nailing) of sheathing panels improves construction.

In addition to performing traditional research on how to weigh technological opportunities and evaluate outcomes in light of objectives, OAE staff also provide assistance to various NIST divisions on establishing project priorities, comparing the cost-effectiveness of alternative technological solutions, aligning what is measured with what is valued by society, and helping to structure and conduct performance-based analyses. A new effort this year is a collaboration with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) on the use of data envelopment analyses to assess the performance of the Manufacturing Extension Centers and to define and evaluate which characteristics enhance center effectiveness.

In the future, the NIST expertise available in applied economics and codes and standards could be effectively directed in several new directions. One would be the inversion of current models that evaluate the performance of new materials in order to enable the use of defined performance criteria to guide the search for new composites. Another possible new program would take advantage of recent advances in real-options analysis to study methodologies to predict actual user responses and adoption rates of new products developed in BFRL.

Impact of Programs

Overall, the work of OAE and Standards and Codes Services staff contributes to 7 of the 10 BFRL major objectives. Particularly notable programs include the development of user-friendly approaches to the evaluation of alternative systems and components for the Computer-Integrated Construction Environment; the identification of potential users of Cybernetic Building Systems technologies and the development of economic tools to determine cost-effective levels of investment by such users; the integrated life-cycle-cost assessments of alternative materials and composites for the Partnership for High-Performance Concrete Technology and the BEES work; and the codes and standards efforts in support of the Performance Standards Systems for Housing. In each of these cases, a substantial portion of the effort is oriented toward the development and testing of user-friendly computer-based tools, often utilizing the Web. For example, the output software analyzing the economics of new materials is accessible by users over the Internet. This package has previously been developed to evaluate costs of bridge maintenance, and now it is being applied to study the benefits of high-performance concretes.

Other projects that hold long-range promise for enhancing BFRL objectives include analyses and simulations of the Structural Performance of Housing Systems, Implementation Tools for Indoor Air Quality Standards, and Infiltration and Ventilation in Large Buildings. Each of these projects involves collaborations with researchers from the technical divisions of

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

BFRL that enable the potential value to the end-users to be continually factored into the research design to more clearly align the measurement and assessment tools with their ultimate implementation. OAE also provides the official training to the U.S. Department of Energy on the implementation of life-cycle-cost assessments, so NIST staff continually are working on improving and disseminating tools for economic valuation.

In the area of codes and standards, NIST's primary impact is through its reputation as a respected and neutral third party. There are a number of major national codes and standards organizations, and if NIST staff can coordinate discussions among these institutions, some differences could be resolved and there might be coordinated national codes and standards efforts on adoption and use of performance-based criteria.

Resources

Funding sources for the Office of Applied Economics and the work on Standards and Codes Services (in millions of dollars) are as follows:

 

Fiscal Year 1998

Fiscal Year 1999 (estimated)

NIST-STRS, excluding Competence

0.8

0.8

STRS-nonbase

0.1

0.1

ATP

0.1

0.1

MEP

0.1

0.2

OA/NFG/CRADA

0.7

1.0

Total

1.8

2.2

A significant percentage of the support for the OAE and the Standards and Codes Services work comes from external funding. However, given the broad mandate of NIST's efforts in these areas and the considerable attention focused on outreach activities, this portfolio of support seems to be appropriate.

As of January 1999, staffing for the Office of Applied Economics and the work on Standards and Codes Services included nine full-time permanent positions, of which eight were for technical professionals. There were also five nonpermanent and supplemental personnel, such as postdoctoral research associates and part-time workers.

Staff morale is extremely high and staffing appears to be adequate for the projects observed. Funding for equipment repairs and additional testing machines is needed. For example, at the time of the panel 's visit, the tridirectional testing facility was inoperative because of mechanical failures, and so testing to support economic analyses of new materials was being delayed.

The OAE has hired three new professionals this year. The future addition of an individual with substantial expertise in operations research/decision sciences is the next priority for management. The panel recognizes that the specialized work of the OAE in support of the NIST mission requires economists and applied operations research analysts with a very specific set of skills, training, experience, and perspectives. Since the assimilation of the new OAE staff members into the OAE and NIST culture and activities is an important process, the panel

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

recommends that any further additions to the staff be at a controlled pace over the next 2 years. There is no doubt that the demand both inside and outside NIST for collaborations with the highly qualified OAE staff is more than high enough to keep any number of new hires employed.

Currently, only one person is assigned full-time to the work on Standards and Codes Services. However, laboratory management does not seem hesitant about encouraging cross-divisional staffing of projects run out of Standards and Codes Services, and appropriate projects are being accomplished in a timely manner. Nonetheless, expanding the number of dedicated standards and codes staff would increase NIST's opportunities to interface with other governmental and private organizations involved in national and international codes and standards, as BFRL has the potential to develop a new client base in this arena.

Overall, staff in the OAE contribute to budget and priority-setting throughout BFRL by using the analytical hierarchy process (AHP) to perform zero-based budget analyses of all of laboratory activities. This tool was also used to identify and establish budget allocations for the realignment of BFRL major products. With OAE assistance, the AHP methodology is now being adopted throughout NIST. Another way in which the OAE expertise could potentially help BFRL and NIST maximize the use of resources is by developing assessment methodologies for determining the appropriate amount of STRS and OA funding for various projects, divisions, and laboratories. Coherent but flexible allocation guidelines that vary with differing missions and the seniority of the staff might enhance BFRL's effectiveness and assist in sustaining its long-term capabilities.

MAJOR OBSERVATIONS

The panel presents the following major observations.

  • The Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) continues to make progress on restructuring its activities to conform to the recently defined 10 major objectives. The technical quality of the ongoing projects is high, and the work of the laboratory definitely supports the National Construction Goals.

  • Laboratory management should clarify who is responsible for defining the strategies and tactics needed to meet the BFRL's 10 major objectives and how resources will be allocated to support various elements of the strategic plan. In addition, the details and importance of the new strategies need to be more clearly communicated to the laboratory staff. Increased involvement in planning and prioritization should raise the level of accountability and enthusiasm for the new approach. A more formal structure for interdivisional collaborations may strengthen some of the major products.

  • The BFRL is well connected to a number of industry organizations and individual companies. Personnel are active on standards committees and in the formation of consortia. This laboratory has a very broad range of customers, and some industries have tended to resist the introduction of new technologies. The panel urges BFRL staff to be proactive in planning dissemination routes and in building connections with many elements of fragmented communities, such as construction and firefighting.

  • Laboratory staff are highly reputed in the scientific communities affected by NIST's work and display significant enthusiasm for the projects under way in BFRL. The panel was somewhat concerned to learn of the uncertainty felt by younger staff members about the

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
×

laboratory's funding situation and dependence on external support. To ensure a smooth transition to the next generation of researchers, laboratory management needs to develop a succession and mentoring plan.

  • Important steps have been taken on the repair, renovation, and upgrade of major laboratory facilities such as Building 205 and the environmental chambers. The panel observes that BFRL is still underinvested in equipment purchase and maintenance.

Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 Building and Fire Research Laboratory." National Research Council. 1999. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9685.
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