Power Trip

IEEE Member Abigail Lipperman designs power systems

6 April 2010

For IEEE Member Abigail Lipperman, there’s something about strolling through a building she worked on that just makes her giddy.

“It’s a rewarding feeling knowing I helped design the power systems,” Lipperman says. “I see the results of my effort immediately. I literally get excited about the different types of light fixtures used.

“It’s a power thing,” she adds with a laugh, “no pun intended.”

Her enthusiasm for her work has helped make her an engineer to watch. Last year, she earned one of Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine’s 40 Under 40 awards, given to young engineers from around the world who support the building industry and who are high achievers in academia, business, and community. Lipperman, 30, was cited for creating innovative systems that solved difficult engineering problems in the building of a Texas hospital.

An electrical engineer in the Dallas office of engineering systems design company CCRD Partners, Lipperman was recently the lead EE on the Texoma Medical Center, a 34 270-square-meter hospital in nearby Denison that cost US $98 million to build.

Lipperman, who designed the center’s electrical distribution system, was on the 12-member team of architects, contractors, and engineers that developed a novel approach to the project.

In 2007, when work began, the team applied the Lean design process, an approach to manufacturing efficiency based on a Toyota method, known as the Toyota Production System. It focuses on end-user value and work-flow optimization that can result in cost and time savings. The approach, which is prevalent in manufacturing, has recently become popular in construction.

“The Texoma project was the first project our company approached as a Lean project in the nearly 30 years that we’ve been around,” she says. “We do feel it’s going to be the next big trend in the construction industry.”

The hospital owner, Universal Health Services of King of Prussia, Pa., asked the team to incorporate the Lean program, and it hired a consultant to guide Lipperman and her group through the process. The team read The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From the World’s Greatest Manufacturer [McGraw Hill, 2003] and met three times a week for five weeks to discuss the concepts and to brainstorm ideas that would streamline building a full-service hospital from the ground up.

The approach differed from the usual construction route—an architect drawing up blueprints, choosing a contractor—in that the team, which was composed of a mechanical engineer, an architect, and a project manager, among others, included the contractors from day one. Lipperman crafted a range of electrical system design options in tandem with the general, electrical, and fire alarm contractors, the owner’s representatives, medical equipment planners, and interior designers. On her own, she made a list of problem design issues from her past projects to make sure they wouldn’t recur.

Although the hospital’s design was similar to other projects, the team approach focused Lipperman’s attention on “what others needed from me and getting information to them in a timely manner so that they could do their work,” she says. “One of the main points of integrated project delivery and the Lean process is that the entire team works on the project—there really isn’t much 'I.' Everyone works together to give a better end result to the owner. The focus is on making things better, and not placing blame if something goes wrong.”

Initial input from each member of the project facilitated early troubleshooting and workflow streamlining that enabled the building to be finished three months ahead of schedule and $7 million under budget. The hospital later used the savings to purchase additional medical equipment, systems, and labs.

The irony of the group’s successful application of Toyota’s methods in the wake of the beleaguered automaker’s recent troubles isn’t lost on Lipperman. “But the method forced me to look at a building project in a new way,” she says. “It made everyone accountable for getting the necessary information to the appropriate parties so they could meet their deadlines.”

The team spent a year on the blueprints and engineering specs, and the building was finished four months ago. (Those interested in purchasing The Texoma Medical Center Lean Story, a self-published book compiled by project architect Bernita Beikmann of HKS Architects of Dallas with input from the team, can contact Beikmann.)

Winners of the 40 Under 40 awards are noted not just for their careers but also for community service and mentoring the next generation of engineers. From the end of 2007 through early 2009, Lipperman volunteered for the Dallas chapter of the ACE Mentor Program of America, which enlists professionals to increase high school students’ awareness of career opportunities in architecture, construction, and engineering. She spent her summers putting together a curriculum and activities to take interested high school students through the steps of designing a building, then she spent time during the school year mentoring them through their individual projects to an end-of-school-year presentation. Lipperman decided to leave the program last April, after her first child was born. “She already has her own set of building blocks,” she says, laughing.

Lipperman says she displayed an affinity for math, science, drawing buildings, and DIY home shows when she was growing up in New Orleans and York, Neb. “I always thought construction was really neat,” she says. A light bulb went off after she received a flier about architectural engineering from Kansas State University, in Manhattan. “At the time, there were only 13 programs in the country offering that as a major," she says.

The university’s 5½-year program earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architectural engineering. A month later, she landed a job as an electrical designer at CCRD Partners.

Now that Lipperman, currently the lead electrical engineer for a new hospital in Edmond, Okla., is getting some attention for her work, who changes the light bulbs at her house?

“My husband changes them,” Lipperman says, coyly. “But I tell him what types to use.”



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