Just like with everything, the new testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) lab at the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers Local 46 in Rochester, New York, started with an idea — develop a lab where contractors could send their employees to earn certifications. The demand was there. The need was there. All they had to do was build it.

And, just like with everything, building it was easier said than done, especially with a global pandemic in full force. Even during COVID-19, something had to be done — it was no longer a viable option to send members out of state for training or certification, said Allen Mort, Local 46 training director.

“It’s important for us to give our members the opportunity to get into all these specialties,” said Jonathan Perna, Local 46 marketing representative. “We’re always trying to tie everything together — with fire life safety, indoor air quality training — and with this new lab, it helps us increase that market share and give our contractors the certified people they need.”

The new TAB lab is a 10,000-square-foot facility incorporated into the existing training space and includes one pressure-independent air handler, nine VAV boxes (two of which are fan powered), three fan coil units (four pipe), two chilled beams, a 10-ton chiller and a stand-alone hydronic testing board.

Picture of stand-alone hydronic testing board.

“On top of this being a TAB certification lab, this is also a HVAC lab, a Ventilation Verification training lab,” Mort said.

The bulk of the process came together over the last 18 months and was achieved by a direct, union approach — all hands on deck. Apprentices, instructors and members donated time, labor and talent.

“It created a lot of hands-on projects for the students,” Perna said.

Local 46 worked with the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, to design and construct a TAB lab that meets the requirements of an International Certification Board/Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (ICB/TABB) certification lab and identify all the potential testing components, test points and testing equipment, as well as verify availability of the testing equipment and measure air and water flows of the equipment and components. The National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) then reviewed the as-built condition of the lab and reported measurements of the equipment and components to design a practical exam that closely resembled all other tests. After these steps, NEMIC worked with the training center to coordinate dates and times for the exam and trained local experts to serve as judges and proctors.

Local 46’s lab is the 23rd certified lab in the United States. It was paid for, in part, by a grant from the ITI in addition to local supporters and donors.

Once the lab began to take shape, leadership gave tours to local contractors and vendors who were eager to help make the lab dream a reality.

“Once you introduce them to what we’re doing, they’re stepping up to the plate, too,” Mort said. “There’s nothing like this. Even at the college level, they don’t have anything like this.”

The lab also will make union membership appealing to non-signatory contractors who are thinking of joining Local 46.

“You can show the opportunity that’s available to members and potential members,” Perna said. “With TAB, we can do the training here. They can certify here. It’s another specialty we can offer our members, and it’s a very, very big emerging market, especially with the indoor air quality. It all ties together.”

“A lot of locals can’t afford this type of thing,” Mort added. “Our local couldn’t afford it without the grant.”

The benefits of a certified TAB lab are evident to those at NEMIC. Without such labs, they wouldn’t be able to certify SMART members across the country in all manners of testing and balancing, including fire life safety, indoor air quality, sound and water.

Jeremy Zeedyk, NEMIC’s representative for the Northeast region, said labs like this one allow training centers to get their students certified locally, with the least amount of disruption and lost time.

“It also allows other regional locals a closer option to send similarly trained individuals to take the practical examination at the Local 46 facility without having to expend resources to create their own testing lab, reducing the burden on the technicians and contractors in the process,” Zeedyk noted.

To date, TABB is the only testing, adjusting and balancing certification agency that requires technicians to complete a hands-on practical as well as written exam, Zeedyk said.

“Certified TAB labs allow technicians to demonstrate that they have the skills, knowledge and system understanding to work on TAB projects alone or as part of a team,” Zeedyk added. “Having multiple facilities across the country that deliver the same type and quality of training, as well as being able to administer the practical examination in the same manner as other facilities, provides a consistent and thoroughly capable workforce anywhere in the country.”

The consistency in training and certification this lab can provide is something other agencies don’t possess, Zeedyk said.

“It allows end-users and TAB companies the assurance that the technicians they hire in the Western New York region will have the same quality training and skills as a technician in New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston or Colorado,” he added.

Although new, the lab is already a point of extreme Local 46 pride.

“The potential for growth in this market has no limit, especially post pandemic,” Perna said. “The members are very excited about this, and a lot of them are looking to get trained and certified.”

For Zeedyk, he enjoys working with eager locals willing to put in the work to make a TAB lab happen.

“The future of our industry is trending toward frequently ensuring that the built environment has the proper amount of ventilation and filtration and is physically verified by skilled, trained and certified workers,” Zeedyk said. “Completing certification labs like the one at Local 46 will help better position SMART and SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ Association) members to be on the leading edge of this movement.”

Mort and Perna offered up advice for any local with the ambition to take on the creation of a new TAB lab — take it one step at a time.

“There’s a lot involved with a lab like this, from design, installation, controls, service start-up side — all of those are potential entities involved with this,” Mort said. “It took some real orchestration to get to this point, to say the least, especially during a pandemic. That was a tough lift. But everyone hunkered down and came together to get it done.”

Sponsors and donors to this project include the members of Local 46, the ITI, Retrotec (testing equipment), Dwyer Instruments, Shortridge Instruments Inc. (testing equipment), Frank P. Langley Co. Inc., Nuclimate Air Quality Systems (induction beams), M/E Engineering (tech support), Massive Testing & Balancing (tech support) and Air Systems Balancing & Testing Inc. (tech support).

For more information on NEMIC, visit the website at www.nemiconline.org.