Home » Personal Workspace Control Is Not Yet a Home Run
People working in office buildings, especially in the increasingly common open-space, cubicle-filled architecture, gripe most often about being too hot or too cold and having too much noise around them. But two companies that have tried to change that by giving employees more control over their personal workspace environment through applied technology have met with mixed results.
Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, Wis., was first to tackle the issue back in 1988 with its Personal Environment Modules. PEMs allow employees to control air temperature and flow, lighting and noise masking from their desks. The company is just now bringing the price down to what some think is a more affordable level for wider adoption. First introduced at a cost of about $2,000 per unit, the systems now are about $700 per unit in higher volume purchases.
Despite heavy promotion and offers to install the units for free to get the ball rolling, Johnson Controls expects to sell only 3,000 units this year. "It's not taking the world by storm and we always thought it would," says company spokesman Steve Thomas. "We're still waiting for that breakthrough to happen."
While not addressing the temperature control problem, Armstrong Building Products, Lancaster, Pa., has joined the sound-control effort. Last year, it rolled out its innovative i-ceilings Sound Systems, as well as i-ceilings Wireless Systems for voice and data. A multidisciplinary team at Armstrong tasked with coming up with new ideas for the ceiling plane devised the idea of integrating several functions invisibly into one ceiling panel. Time from concept to product debut was just 18 months. The sound system so far is on target with sales projections, but the voice and data wireless product is lagging, say company officials.
The sound system embeds sound masking, paging and background music into one ceiling panel. Everything but paging was new for Armstrong. The masking feature produces a blanket of "white noise," giving cubicle-dwellers more privacy and quiet. Typically these functions are separate systems and are plenum-based.
A joint venture of Skanska, Corman Kokosing Construction Co. and McLean Contracting Co. is moving toward an early 2020 construction start for a $463-million replacement for a 79-year-old bridge across the Potomac River, south of Washington, D.C.