Open dialogue, active listening, a thirst for learning and an outpouring of goodwill were the hallmarks of the 20th Annual International Certification Board/Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (ICB/TABB) Conference, held May 8-11 at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim, California. The conference welcomed 151 attendees from the United States and Canada, representing labor and management from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), as well as National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) staff members, class instructors and speakers.
The conference consisted of two tracks — the business track offered respected guest presenters who provided ideas, trends, best practices, opportunities and support for contractors, while the educational track offered training courses, continuing education credits (CEUs) and certification exams. All told, six certifications were awarded in Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), nine in Commissioning Supervisor, three in Sound and Vibration, four in Fire and Smoke Damper, and four in TABB Supervisor, for a total of 26. ICB/TABB certification is particularly important because it serves as a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest levels of professional expertise.
In addition, a variety of hardware and software vendors including Ameritech Data Solutions, Belimo, Building Start, Dwyer Instruments, Evergreen Telemetry and Milwaukee Tool provided information and demonstrations to attendees, along with valuable raffle prizes throughout the three-day event.
During the outdoor kickoff dinner, James Larsen, owner of Mechanical Test & Balance of Crown Point, Indiana, was inducted as the 20th member of the TABB Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Larsen credited recently retired director of implementation John Hamilton, as well as previous Hall of Fame member Tim Perry, for showing him the ropes and helping pave the way for his success.
“I’m in awe,” he said.
After explaining how he was able to convince the University of Notre Dame to use his company’s services years ago — a relationship that exists to this day — Larsen gave the audience a pep talk of sorts. “You have to believe in yourself to make it work. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘no.’ ‘No’ means ‘go!’”
NEMI Director of Certification Duane Smith, who served as master of ceremonies for the opening night festivities, told the attendees, “Jim is a pioneer in HVAC Fire Life Safety. More guys like Jim are what we need in the TAB industry.”
May 9, the first full day of the conference, opened with a presentation by James Kendig, field director for The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest independent standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. The Joint Commission’s mission, according to Kendig, is to “protect patients incapable of self-preservation.” To that end, regular damper inspections by trained and skilled personnel are critical, which creates tremendous opportunities for ICB/TABB-certified technicians, supervisors and contractors.
To earn and maintain the Commission’s coveted Gold Seal of Approval, a health care organization must undergo an on-site accreditation survey by a Joint Commission team at least once every three years, which consists of an in-depth evaluation of the facility’s building safety and patient care performance standards. These visits are typically unannounced, which can make them difficult to prepare for.
This doesn’t mean Kendig and his team want to see health care facilities fail.
“Our goal is to give hospitals every tip and tool to ensure they are successful,” he said, adding a personal message for those in attendance. “Always remember, what you do matters.”
Next up was a presentation by Bob Kramer on AirNAB TAB enterprise-level software, a digital recording platform that allows TAB technicians to seamlessly capture and share air and water balancing data between all parties on a project. Because AirNAB is paperless and transparent, it saves time and significantly reduces errors, streamlining field data collection and publication of the final report.
Kramer also discussed the new Building Start app used to document and relay on-site information from techs in the field to the office, a turnkey solution that evaluates bottlenecks and eliminates redundant processes.
This was followed by a sobering assessment by Derek Hedrick of American Data Solutions on the rise of cybercrime, its cost to business ($6.9 billion per year) and how, with an average ransom of $500,000, most companies are not prepared technically or financially to survive an attack. The presentation, “Cyber Security: Protecting Yourself and Company from the Invasive Nature of the Cyber World,” covered key concepts such as malware, Trojan horses, botnet, phishing and zero-day vulnerability, as well as what business owners can do to protect themselves.
“Email is still the most common threat,” Hedrick said. “Counterfeit docs that claim to be from DocuSign, IRS, your financial institution. It’s convincing because it looks legit.”
Professional service businesses, including sheet metal contractors, are the hardest hit. And estimators are the most-targeted people in their firms because they get so many emails that look like bid opportunities.
Even so, Hedrick identified ransomware as “the worst thing I’ve seen in my entire career.” Besides the financial costs, an attack can also ruin a business’s hard-earned reputation and put it in legal jeopardy, as companies are legally obligated to notify all stakeholders, including customers, employees and vendors.
So, what can business owners do to protect themselves? Hedrick recommended backing up all data, training every employee on what to look out for and, above all, investing in cyber insurance. “It’s the best thing you can do,” he advised.
The day ended with a spirited “Focus on the Funds” Q&A session featuring administrators Mike Harris (International Training Institute, or ITI), Lisa Davis (NEMI), Aldo Zambetti (Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust, or SMOHIT) and executive administrator Daniel McCallum. Topics covered included industry trends; new initiatives; ways the Funds support their constituents; the vision, goals and mission statements for each Fund; the importance of communication with industry partners; the challenges of ensuring the industry has enough skilled and trained workers to meet the needs of current and upcoming mega-projects; how to best capitalize on emerging market opportunities; the importance of proactively dealing with mental health issues; how contractors can create safe spaces at work; and many more.
Day two kicked off with a presentation by Jim Kelleher, general manager at Seneca Balance of Maryland. Kelleher brought his 28-plus years of professional experience in testing and balancing, commissioning and indoor air quality to bear as he discussed construction and performance testing of stairwells.
“Our main purpose is not necessarily to save the building, but to save the lives in the building,” he said.
Another day two highlight featured a peek behind the NEMI curtain, during which administrator Lisa Davis and her elite team of industry professionals — Director of Certification Duane Smith, Director of Education Chris Ruch, Director of Building Construction Technology Cassandra Kline, Director of Implementation Vince Alvarado and Northeast Region Representative Jeremy Zeedyk — engaged with the audience on such diverse topics as investigating market opportunities; codes and standards; serving on technical committees; educating authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) on HVAC Fire Life Safety; working with advisory groups; and the importance of certification.
“At the end of the day, we work for you,” Davis told the attendees.
The conference wrapped up on day three with two current topics garnering widespread interest: “Women in Sheet Metal” and “Cannabis Conundrums – Challenges with Plants as Occupants.”
The first presentation focused on steps the industry is taking to promote diversity in the trade, including getting the word out to today’s generation of working women that sheet metal is a rewarding and fulfilling career. Panel participants included Davis; Linda Jennings, executive director of market sectors and construction technology for SMACNA; Lynn Herzog, co-owner of JL Mechanical Services; and Aaron Hilger, CEO of SMACNA. Together, they spoke about how to help foster the changes necessary to ensure everyone has equal opportunities for industry success.
The second, presented by James Megerson, president of Anvil Agrinomics, concentrated on the many opportunities brought about by the legalization of marijuana throughout the U.S. and the challenges associated with it. Engineers, contractors, commissioning agents and other facility team members confront unique issues — including temperature, humidity, pressurization, ventilation, etc. — when trying to ensure building systems are designed, constructed and commissioned to deliver safe working environments and consistent products.
All in all, attendees and facilitators alike sang the praises of the 20th annual conference.
“The ICB/TABB Conference is a great way to meet your peers from across the country,” said Tony Flores, owner of Precision Air Balance in New Braunfels, Texas. “You receive great training from some of the brightest TAB instructors. They offer a wide variety of supervisor exams, vendors and business track information to learn and grow from. I’ve been going to these conferences for several years now, and they have only helped me move forward with my company. I’d recommend any TAB owner/supervisor attend this conference.”
Director of certification Duane Smith summed it up best when he said, “This conference is like a yearly family reunion.”