Fulfilling an ongoing role as electrical engineering consultant and advising Canada Post Corporation how to best meet the electrical needs of its historic Vancouver Mail Processing Plant

Built in 1956, the Vancouver Mail Processing Plant (VMPP) occupies a full city block at 349 West Georgia Street. It houses the processing operations for Lower Mainland letter mail, Canada Post Corporation's administrative offices and two letter carrier depots. Currently the site of the third largest mail-processing operation in Canada, the five-storey building was the largest welded steel structure in the world when constructed.

 

"Even though the property managers at the Vancouver Mail Processing Plant have changed over the years, Prism has remained a constant. As a result, Canada Post and the building's property managers enjoy the benefits of our extensive experience with the facility, which has built up a valuable knowledge base for future projects."

--Casey Gaetz, Prism Engineering

Challenge

As facilities manager for the massive plant, BLJC (Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls) sought to update and improve the landmark building's electrical systems to provide safe, reliable and efficient operating conditions. They required an independent consultant to provide ongoing advice with respect to electrical issues such as power distribution and quality. It was critical that any recommendations made took into account Canada Post's strict budgetary constraints. Prism was hired as a primary consultant to work with the Facilities Department on electrical audits and upgrades.

Solutions

In 1996, Prism undertook a detailed electrical audit including lighting, power distribution, emergency power generation and fire alarm systems. As a result of the audit, Prism made recommendations for equipment replacement and projected the upgrade costs. Based on the findings of the audit, numerous projects were undertaken. To suit Canada Post's budget, Prism's work was carried out in stages over a 10-year period and included the following:

  • preparing a full set of as-built electrical drawings for the plant, showing all lighting systems, receptacles, data and telephone layouts, and electrical distribution
  • developing a preventative maintenance program for all high-voltage equipment, main transformers and electrical equipment throughout the plant, including infrared scanning of all major electrical components
  • designing and implementing a carbon monoxide control system in the loading dock and parking levels to reduce the amount of ventilation required, thus decreasing associated energy costs
  • overseeing installation of two "harmonizer" transformers that allowed the building voltage to be reduced by 2% to 10% using "voltage optimization"
  • specifying the design for the replacement of the emergency generator and power transfer switch
  • designing an upgrade to the electrical room to meet seismic standards
  • consulting on the upgrading of electrical grounding throughout the plant
  • developing a program to identify and label all electrical equipment in the facility

For many of the above projects Prism also handled contract administration, including specification, tender, recommendation for award of contract, construction coordination, site reviews and follow-up on deficiencies at each stage.

Results

Due to the electrical upgrades and projects carried out over the 10-year period, the reliability and lifespan of the electrical components at the VMPP are greatly improved. By modernizing the electrical systems gradually and in advance of breakdown, more costly emergency repairs and downtime were avoided. As well, the reduction in voltage made possible by the voltage optimization process has resulted in an 8% reduction in electricity consumption, which is projected to save Canada Post $50,000 per year in energy costs.