Rising Florida Engineering Firm Wins Kudos for Quality
TLC Engineering for Architecture
TLC Engineering for Architecture is focused on quality, energy-efficiency and growth. The Orlando, Florida-based firm offers engineering and energy modeling among its services, with an emphasis on designing high-performance buildings, particularly for the healthcare sector.
“At the heart of it, we are a consulting engineering firm,” says Mark Gelfo, P.E., director of energy services. “The term our CEO coined, a number of years ago [that we use to describe our approach] is ‘extreme service’. Going above and beyond what the other guys do.”
TLC Engineering for Archtecture was founded in an Orlando garage in 1955 and named after John Tilden, a structural engineer; Travis Cooper, a mechanical engineer; and Ed Lobnitz, an electrical engineer. The firm currently works primarily in the healthcare, commercial office, sports and recreation, education, senior living, hospitality, and transportation sectors.
“We do a little bit of everything. Certainly healthcare is and has been our number one market … after healthcare is education, a combination of [kindergarten to grade twelve] and higher education. And then the office/commercial office sector, which is all encompassing,” says Gelfo.
The company’s services include designing electrical, lighting, plumbing and fire protection systems as well as structural design, designing electronic systems for security, voice-data and fire alarm purposes and a wide range of energy services. “We don’t do architecture. We are the engineering side of it. We don’t do civil engineering, but everything else in the building we do.”
TLC also does energy modeling (using 3-D computer models to predict energy usage under various scenarios) and building information modeling (using software to analyze lighting, heating, cooling, solar and wind conditions).
TLC just opened its eighth office in Florida and has branches in New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville. Last year’s revenue came to $50,282,868, a considerable jump from 2011 when revenue stood at $36,312,072. Projected revenue for 2016 is $54,000,000. At present, TLC employs 372 people across all its offices, way up from last year when there were 317 employees.
Bob Danner, director of healthcare operations, says the increase in revenue and personnel can be attributed to “being a trusted advisor and providing extreme service and good quality engineering” and healthy market conditions. “The trend in the healthcare market as well as other construction sectors, is growth because of the economy. We’re very much benefiting from a strong economy.”
TLC Engineering has a keen interest in environmental issues, centering on what Gelfo refers to as high-performance design. “We focus on energy performance and designing high performing buildings” that save energy, reduce water consumption and lower utility bills, he explains. To this end, TLC has done 315 “LEED certified projects of all different types,” continues Gelfo.
Creating a high-performance, energy-efficient building involves, “lots of little things. We first and foremost try to reduce energy demand in the building. It’s a whole team effort. We start with the envelope, the skin of the building, the windows, et cetera. We would like to impact the orientation of the building, although that’s almost always set by the time architects get us involved. Then we start looking at what are most efficient systems we can use … in hospitals, one of the things we try to do is reduce amount of reheat … people are surprised how much heat goes into a building, even in the South, due to humidity control and the fact we don’t want to freeze people out [with air-conditioning]. We try to reduce that reheat as a major energy savings piece in a hospital,” he says.
Lighting, electrical and energy systems, among other design features are also examined, with an eye to reducing energy use.
TLC’s commitment to high-performance buildings is reflected in an initiative it launched called ‘GreenWeek.’ Now in its fifth year, GreenWeek, typically held the third week in September, features “presentations focused on sustainability, high-performance design and energy performance,” says Gelfo. Daily speakers discuss different topics for the benefit of TLC employees and clients alike. Presentations are broadcast as webinars for those who cannot attend in person.
TLC recently went through a big shift in delivery methods to embrace lean design and integrated project delivery methods. Integrated project delivery can be roughly defined as taking a collaborative team approach to each step of a construction project to maximize value and minimize waste.
Innovative ideas in the construction field “take time to get momentum to grow … lean design and integrated project delivery has been talked about for many years” and are finally becoming more common in the industry, says Danner.
TLC got into lean and integrated project delivery partly to remain ahead of the curve. “From a technology standpoint, from a cultural standpoint, from a mission standpoint, we try our very best to stay on top,” of innovation in the field, says Danner.
Gelfo offers an example of integrated project delivery in action. He notes that in the past, energy modeling was often done at the end of a project. Using an integrated project delivery approach, TLC conducts energy modeling “early and often in the process … we have to do it early so that the energy model can help inform the design, not the other way around. Because, by the time we get to the end of the job, we could model the project and find out that it uses too much energy and doesn’t meet the owner’s goals, but then it’s too late.”
As for lean principles, Danner states, “We always try to take the best of what we learn on a project and apply it to the next project [to determine a] better, smarter way of doing something. … At the same time, we try to take lessons learned if something doesn’t go as well as we’d like it to. We ask, ‘What can we learn from it?’ and try not to make the same mistakes twice.”
Danner considers the Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando and Washington Adventist Hospital in Marylandto be particularly noteworthy projects.
The Nemours project was 620,000 square feet with a construction cost of $240 million. Major components included a hospital and clinic, emergency department and parking garage. TLC’s services included work in the mechanical/electrical, plumbing, fire protection, audio-visual, voice-data and security segments. The company also did LEED consulting and energy modeling. ENR Southeast picked the hospital as its 2013 Project of the Year and Best Healthcare Project.
The Children’s Hospital “was a marquee project that really stands for all the good things that TLC does,” notes Danner. The second project, Washington Adventist Hospital, “has high-performance design relating to energy services and good quality healthcare engineering inside the building,” he continues.
“A big part of our success at TLC has been our longstanding relationship with hospital systems,” notes Danner.
Of course, healthcare isn’t the only sector in which TLC works. Intriguingly, the company also counts theme parks as clients. “We’ve done theme parks since Disney World in Orlando opened. Being an Orlando-based firm, you can’t help do some work in Orlando theme parks. We’ve done work for Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld. We are doing now some work which we can’t talk a whole lot about right now, some new cool stuff going on at Disney,” says Gelfo.
Gelfo describes TLC’s corporate culture as open and transparent. The firm shares financial information with employees, “so you don’t have to think, ‘Oh, I wonder if we’re struggling?’ We believe [employees] will do a better job and feel more connected if we’re involving them with how we’re doing – how we’re performing,” he states.
As for new employees, TLC looks for people who are self-motivated, engaged in their work, confident, technically competent and good at communication, says Danner.
TLC has a quality control process, “that we adhere to and try to meet for each and every project,” he continues. Quality is also ensured by having a highly credentialed staff – not only certified professional engineers but engineers with LEED-certification, among other qualifications.
The emphasis on quality has paid dividends. In April, 2016, TLC was selected as ENR Southeast’s Design Firm of the Year, which saw TLC competing with architecture firms. “We’re very proud of that award,” states Gelfo.
As for the future, Gelfo cites the importance of striking a balance between markets in which TLC has excelled, such as healthcare, and new sectors in which the firm hasn’t had as much presence. The company might be interested in increasing the amount of design work it does for the mission critical or science & technology sectors, for example.
TLC remains, however, “very much focused on extreme service and quality engineering, rather than just expanding market share,” notes Danner.
That said, the company is eager to make a national push. “We hope to be more on the national scene than we already are. We have been expanding beyond the Southeast into other markets, to become more of a national firm. On the energy services side, my goal is to grow our energy and sustainability work to where it’s a bigger piece of the TLC pie,” says Gelfo.