Charles Gulledge Mechanical Room2 5f72284de1e92

Planting Seeds of Digital Innovation

Sept. 28, 2020
ASHRAE’s new president, Charles E. Gulledge III, is taking the message of ‘The ASHRAE Digital Lighthouse” and ‘Industry 4.0’ to ASHRAE members and the mechanical systems construction industry at-large.

By the book, the Lean Integrated Project Delivery method, combines Lean management principles with a collaborative, aligned team and contract structure to improve the outcomes of construction projects.”

The LIPD method is not yet a reality for many mechanical systems firms, however recent trends and wake-up calls — including the unfortunate circumstances brought about by COVID-19 — are serving as disruptions, to a point where greater numbers of HVAC contracting businesses will find it essential that they begin operating in the Lean world. 

Standing tall with Lean Construction’s proponents in the mechanical systems arena, is Charles E. Gulledge III, P.E., HBDP, and ASHRAE Fellow, who now serves as the 2020-2021 president of American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Gulledge’s term commenced during the June 2020 ASHRAE Virtual Summit.

During his inaugural online address to ASHRAE members (find it online, at, President Gulledge described the integrated framework for “The ASHRAE Digital Lighthouse and Industry 4.0,” an ambitious outline of those project philosophies methods and digital transformations he believes must become standards for the HVACR mechanical systems industry and construction generally.

Why should we engage in digital transformation? To gain a competitive advantage amongst our peers, position ourselves as the go-to resource for clients, improve margins, provide greater value, and attract and retain a digitally skilled workforce." — Charles Gulledge III

Gulledge’s installment message, and his theme going forward into 2021, is the need to focus on “reimagining” the building industry, and the Society’s place within that industry, by further integrating HVACR segments into Lean Construction, and by adopting the leading digital technology of today and tomorrow. During his address, he posed this rationale:

“Why should we engage in digital transformation? To gain a competitive advantage amongst our peers, position ourselves as the go-to resource for clients, improve margins, provide greater value, and attract and retain a digitally skilled workforce. Digital transformation is not simply associated with adopting new technical solutions. Knowledge needs to be captured and linked in such a way that all relevant stakeholders benefit. Doing so requires understanding of how to collect, store, and analyze data, so that it is insightful and actionable.”

During his ASHRAE address, Gulledge used analogies gleaned from his childhood experience on his grandparents’ potato farm in Valdese, North Carolina, to describe how proven and essential farming processes (plowing, planting, maintaining and harvesting) can be applied to engineering and construction. And now, and before his term as President concludes, he wants to plant seeds of digital innovation that he hopes will take root across the built environment.

Gulledge’s address included a review of the six principles of lean collaboration:
• respect for people;
• optimize the whole;
• generate value;
• eliminate waste;
• focus on flow;
• continuous improvement
  — all of which are practiced from a business management perspective by the leading contracting firms. Now, and soon he said, more firms must focus on integrating these principles more universally into their planning and construction processes.

Today’s construction inefficiencies include include looking for information; engaging in conflict resolution; dealing with mistakes; and performing rework. 

He also described the array of digital tools that must become construction standards: digital twins, computational fluid dynamics, augmented reality, prefabrication and modular construction, and more. (See sidebar).

During an interview with Contracting Business Editor-in-Chief Terry McIver, and Rob McManamy, Editor-in-Chief of HPAC Engineering magazine, Gulledge expounded on his message, and the methods of Lean Construction that must be applied to HVACR.

Introduction to Collaborative Methods
 Gulledge’s activity in the Lean world began about 16 years ago, when he started as a Design/Build engineer, which brought him into contact with Fortune 100 level companies who were striving to change the course of how projects were delivered.

“They were tired of solutions that didn’t work, having all this waste, and not having any value discovered for them,” he recalled,” and added that his first exposure to true Lean IPD and a collaborative “Big Room” showed him how people could work together collaboratively from the very beginning of a project, to craft the best methods for delivering a built solution.

“That’s when I discovered what the Lean Construction Institute was preaching, and I fell in love with it. I immediately bought all of their books, so I could read about targeted value design, Lean, and Lean IPD.”

And, when framed against the present-day background picture of the COVID-19 pandemic —which Gulledge acknowledged has caused and continues to cause pain for many —digital collaboration has been a blessing, helping teams to stay on track with project collaborating. "It's no different than having a colleague on the other side of the door to collaborate with," he said, by using Teams, Zoom, Got To Webinars and other discussion platforms. And interestingly, Gulledge told us that when he began to write his introductory address one year ago, the pandemic was nowhere to be seen. Over time, the address evolved to become an very prophetic message.

“People are discovering, ‘Wow, look at what we can do when forced to work this way.’ I think it’s forcing people to realize how things can be done, and how work can be done in the cloud, and how a singular ‘lighthouse’ mentality can come into play. There’s one storyline now, and we’re all working on it from remote locations, and it’s beautiful to watch.”

"Everybody wants to know, 'how do I reopen my building and make it safe for the occupants that are in that building?'"

As an added incentive to action, Gulledge said the pandemic has prompted stakeholders in government, education, and other public sectors that are so dependent on efficient and safe buildings, to contact ASHRAE seeking solutions. Industry must run, not walk, off of square one, and put action behind the digital tools that are now available.

“Everybody wants to know, ‘How do I reopen my building and make it safe for the occupants that are in that building?’ Here's an interesting spin I heard from one unnamed source: "How do we communicate that we are taking a good standard of care to protect the people that are within our buildings?" And I felt that was very eloquently phrased.” 

The Issue of Waste
During his ASHRAE address, Gulledge said the construction industry is filled with inefficiencies that result in an annual loss of $177 billion, and —according to data provide by McKinsey in 2017, and corroborated by the Lean Construction Institute and the U.S. Department of Labor — true construction productivity — in new construction, renovation and other construction projects —has grown by a mere 1% in 20 years. Those inefficiencies include looking for information; engaging in conflict resolution; dealing with mistakes; and performing rework.

During our interview, Gulledge described it as a disconnect, “in how we are delivering solutions, whether they are new Greenfield projects, Brownfield projects, or renovation of existing building stock.” If the process were a painting it would be less Michelangelo and more Jackson Pollock.

Charles Gulledge believes a vast majority of construction firms have delayed taking a Lean construction path because they are “tethered to the analog age,” and are concerned about risk.

“The process has so much waste along the path and is just continually recreating knowledge, reworking stuff, fighting over who has what real estate, fixing stuff that doesn't work, and tearing out stuff that's in the way. Basically, the engineering and construction is very nonproductive. It’s because the team changes on every job,” he said.

Gulledge believes a vast majority of construction firms have delayed taking a Lean construction path because they are “tethered to the analog age,” and are concerned about risk.

“We protect our silos from the impacts of other people. Contractually, look at how we are engaged on projects all the way through: the owner hires an architect, the architect hires different consultants to help out, projects get put out to bid to multiple contractors, one is selected, and now you've got multiple contracts going there. Our process is siloed. And what gets lost in that path is the connection of knowledge. We continuously recreate knowledge, having all of these touch points of, ‘Okay, we've reached another plateau. Now we have to do this part of the process,’ and it's just not integrated.” 

Gulledge said he is encouraged by the prospect of increasing numbers of Lean Construction disciples, as organizations evolve in a newer world of safety concerns to say nothing of ongoing building efficiency goals. Exposure to Lean Construction, he continued, is “opening people’s eyes by force, not necessarily by maturation. It’s forcing some people and some organization to evolve quickly, so that they don’t get left out and shut out from being able to perform work, and deliver projects, whether you’re designing it, building it or selling it.”

ASHRAE too, now settled into a new headquarters building in Atlanta, is on a digital learning track, which is an essential development, if the Society wishes to be a leading learning resource in the application of advanced digital tools.

“ASHRAE needs to evolve to this digital world also. And I actually have an ad hoc of people working right now on what it is we do as far as that digital training. We will be providing training however, I don't know how we're going to do that yet or who is going to do it. This is in demand, and we need to do this.”

Ed. Note: Watch for Rob McManamy’s story on Chuck Gulledge in the November edition of HPAC Engineering.

Digital Technologies & Lean Construction
The following technologies are among those Charles E. Gulledge III believes are and will continue to be essential to the expanding of Lean Construction Integrated Project Delivery in the HVACR environment, or “Industry 4.0”

• Mobile Devices
 • IoT Platforms
 • Location Detection Technologies
 • Advanced Human-Machine Interfaces
 • Authentication and Fraud Detection
 • 3D Printing
 • Smart Sensors
 • Big Data Analytics and Advanced Algorithms
 • Multilevel Customer Interaction and Customer Profiling
 • Augmented Reality & Wearables
 • Cloud Computing.

The Tools • Virtual Design & Construction • Drones • Light detection & ranging • Generative design • Digital twins • Common data environments

Data and analytics will become a core capability. Digitization will include:

• Digitization and integration of vertical and horizontal value chains

• Digitization of product and service offerings

• Digital business models and customer access.

Virtual Outreach to Members Although his travel plans were literally grounded as a result of COVID-19, he has had a very productive first quarter as ASHRAE president, thanks to the digital technology that has kept in him in touch with ASHRAE comrades around the world.

“I have already (virtually) visited over 40 ASHRAE chapters in two months. My capacity to reach the ASHRAE membership has increased like it never would have been possible in the old world of flying around the world and seeing people. To me, that is an interesting development. There is a disappointment factor of not being able to go and do things, but then I realize what is possible, and what we are accomplishing this year. we are connecting the ASHRAE membership globally because of what we've had to do. So that's another one of those wonderful outcomes of the pivot that's taking place,” he said.
About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.