Cambridge Beer Festivals – all the beers…

If you want to know more about the condition of our sample beers at the Cambridge Beer Festival, we have all the data you could want. So what’s the story?

Firstly, you might want to know what the ambient temperatures are in the tent:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 16.13.21

And how that relates to all the beers:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 16.11.40

Good to see a signficant difference between ambient and the beers!

We’ll put the views for each beer into separate posts, for technical reasons your author doesn’t entirely understand, but relate to inadvertent triggering of The End of Times, apparently.

Beer Festivals: too hot to handle?

Here at Purrmetrix we’ve been getting very interested in beer recently. And not just for the obvious reasons.

Fact is, beer, especially real ale, is a living thing, and sensitive to temperature. Good pubs put effort into making sure their cellars maintain the 11-13°c that is the optimum for keeping cask ales at their best. Organisations like CAMRA and Cask Marque offer training and accreditation, with an annual survey of pubs testing for temperature, taste and aroma.

Is British beer too warm?

Despite this, the old legend that British beer is served warm refuses to die, and in fact might be grounded in some truth. One of the earliest Cask Marque surveys reported more than 2000 pubs serving beer warmer that 13°, with a number consistently producing pints in excess of 20° and in one case even 35°C. Yuck.

Beer this warm not only spoils more quickly but also tends to ‘fob’ or froth, meaning a lot more is wasted. The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that for a 10 tap bar warm cellars can reduce yield and waste up to £14,000 of revenue each year. We’re guessing no landlord wants this to happen and warm beer is more often the result of a hidden problem – hotspots in the cellar, or brewlines run past a fridge outlet. Which is why we’re getting very interested, because one thing we love at Purrmetrix is finding hidden problems, bringing them out into the light, and giving them a good kicking.

Delivering quality at Beer Festivals

Meanwhile, whatever the difficulties in guaranteeing a decent pint in a pub, a different challenge faces the organisers of beer festivals. Beer festivals are enjoying a rennaissance, clocking up audiences of thousands. Imagine the problems a landlord for a large town centre pub with 8 ales on tap faces. Now multiply that by 10, and add in much more limited ability to control the climate and a clientele that really, really cares about quality. Once the sun comes out and your marquee warms up, how are you going to deliver?

Next week we’re going to have a look at this question at the Cambridge Beer Festival, one of the oldest and largest beer festivals in the UK. 200 beers, 60 ciders and Perries. Foreign beers, English wine and even Mead. And also: 50 kittens, sitting on the more popular casks and monitoring their temperature. We’re hoping to break some new ground here – we are measuring the surface temperature of the casks, not their contents, with the aim of gathering enough data to determine the relationship between the two. Other things that interest us: can we alert you, the Beer Festival customer, to ‘low beer’ status on each cask and let you get that critical last pint before it runs out?

So if you’re planning on going to the Beer Festival and want to do a bit of public science, check our data here for a sample of stock and see if you can determine the point at which the beer is getting low. There’s a live feed across the whole site and you can follow us on Twitter for more updates.

What’s the Grand Challenge?

COINS Grand Challenge award for R&D on temperature and HVAC monitoringWe’re very happy to be winners of the COINS Grand Challenge this year for our R&D in HVAC monitoring. If you don’t work in the construction industry you may not know COINS – they are huge supplier of enterprise software to construction companies. And they fund the COINS Foundation which uses enterprise to address issues of social justice.

A fundamental principal of the COINS Foundation is that if you have intellect and ideas they are more powerful when shared. This spirit drives the awards – set up to encourage innovation and big ideas throughout the construction industry they aim to give a leg up to small companies and young people who have big transformative ideas.

Other winning ideas like community led solar desalination and building government schemes to reward the development and construction of green homes – these are the sort of thing that will add technical impetus to the UN’s climate change deal. HVAC is part of this – it’s responsible for more than 5% of energy consumed in western countries and often shockingly badly run.

Preparing for these competitions is often a sweaty, nervous process but it does make you evaluate why you’re doing it. Which is a real benefit. For the pre-startup team sitting in the pub and dreaming of building a great company, finding your big challenge should be easy. Once you’re stuck in the middle of customer feedback, fixing bugs, scratching heads over cashflow projections, it can be less easy to remember why you’re there. That’s the real prize of a well run competition: a chance to get a bit of perspective.

And for us, the Grand Challenge still stands. Looking forward to dealing with it in 2016.

Merry Christmas!

It pays to pay more attention to temperature

Last week I had a great conversation with Roger Whitlock at Hoare Lea consulting engineers which raised an important question.

What’s the most important problem with poorly performing HVAC? Nobody likes wasting energy, but with energy bills at less than 5% of most companies’ revenue, it’s not that big a deal, right?


Because it turns out that a poor environment, particularly poorly controlled temperature, has a direct impact on productivity. And thus on the bottom line.

Getting office temperature right

This is not new news. Studies since the 1970s have consistently demonstrated a link between performance and temperature.

Some highlights:

Study 1 – A 2004 study in a call centre showing that temperatures above 25.4°C had the largest impact on productivity, beyond ventilation, CO2 levels and even staffing and shift length1

Study 2 – A 2009 laboratory study used a range of neurobehavioural tests to try and dig into the effects of temperature on more complex cognitive skills. The study found that motivated participants can maintain productivity for short periods (30 minutes) over temperature ranges between 19° – 32° c, and that moderate warmth can affect mental performance in some tasks, while cold temperatures can affect physical performance in other tasks.2

Study 3 – A 2004 office study showed a steady increase in keying (typing) rates from 20° – 25° and a decrease in errors.3

One temperature to rule them all? 

A 2011 meta analysis of these papers and others shows a steady and pretty consistent relationship between workplace temperatures and loss of productivity, with a broadly neutral effect between 20 and 23°c and a loss of about 1% of productivity for every degree either side of 20 – 25%

Effect of temperature on productivity

Temperature’s impacts on productivity come in a range of effects – from routine tasks taking longer with more mistakes, all the way to increased rates of absenteeism.

So if you put all of these studies together do they give the final word on what is the best temperature for workplace productivity?

Nearly – it seems there is a pretty narrow band where optimisation is likely to happen. They certainly make a strong case for taking temperature very seriously in any workplace, along with other factors in comfort like lighting, airflow and humidity. An important point here is that the subjects in most of these studies were properly randomised – different genders, wearing a range of clothing – meaning the results should carry over into a normal working population.

There’s a couple of points that aren’t clear yet. First the effect of acclimatisation. Does the external weather tend to increase peoples’ tolerance for higher or lower temperatures? With results from Helsinki to Florida, there does seem to be a small effect.

Secondly does this effect apply to all tasks? Many of the studies looked at administrative tasks where it’s possible to define how long something should take and what a mistake looks like. It’s obviously difficult to design similar tests for more creative or analytical work in realistic environments. But one big anecdotal clue here – there are very few offices where individual workers have complete control over their environments. The few that there are are in places where these workers produce extremely high value output and a mistake can be very expensive indeed – trading desks for example.

Getting temperature right in the real world

How does this fit with running conditioning systems in a truly efficient manner?

In a system where heating and cooling are split, the recommendation is to run a ‘dead band’ between the heating and the cooling to avoid them fighting. The heating is turned off at 20° and the cooling comes on at 24° for example. It’s clear from the research that the tighter you can keep the dead band, the more time your colleagues will spend in the productivity sweet spot.

And a tight dead band relies on tight control to avoid clashes between heating and cooling. If sensors are drifting over time, or the thermal load is higher than the original design, then buildings can be locked into a cycle of rapid heating/cooling that gives the worst of all worlds.

Reframing the temperature conversation

Nobody sets out to make an uncomfortable workplace. However maintaining the systems that keep our work comfortable is often treated as a low priority, because 1) there seems little quantifiable payback and 2) it is sometimes difficult to measure improvements. The result is that apathy takes hold and it becomes difficult to justify investment, especially where budgets are tight.

Perhaps it is time to reframe the conversations facilities managers have with the board. By producing evidence of better productivity (or raising awareness of the dangers of lost productivity) you can start to build a serious ROI for investing in better control.

For more ideas about how to measure productivity and temperature in your building without needing a scientific research grant, head over to our LinkedIn discussion on the Corporate Real Estate group.

Too hot/too cold – what can you do next?

Create your own user feedback survey

The best type of energy management?

A personal diversion for a minute.

I’ve been full time in PurrMetrix for six months and I’ve learnt a tonne of stuff. And the biggest of these is energy management. My own.

The popular conception of an entrepreneur is a constant manic whirl of energy (with occasional forays into black depression and/or megalomania). Truth is, I think that image hurts business because it makes normal humans like me think a startup is not for mortals.

Until I started to rub shoulders with founders at Business of Software and it became obvious to me that starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And I run marathons. I know what it takes – it takes regular, committed, disciplined preparation.

This crops up as a common theme in so many entrepreneurial blogs. From Amy Hoy’s excellent excellent work on bootstrapping at UnicornFree to Steli Efti’s invaluable advice on selling for startups, managing your energy so you can continue to show up every day and lift the bar a little bit higher – that’s what makes the difference.

Lessons learnt in six months of managing my energy:

1) be able to answer the ‘what’s the point’ question. It’s hardly ever: ‘so I can make a pile of money’ because that is more reliably achieved by a career in the Law. Or dentistry.

2) be content with ‘good enough’ knowing that with practise good enough will turn into excellent. See also: this blog

3) learn to dissociate emotional state from actions. Don’t deny your feelings, just don’t let them stop you doing the things you need to do

4) there is no shame in doing things the lazy way if that gets you what you need

If you believe Seth Godin, I’ve got 5.5 more years to go before I know if PurrMetrix will be a success. One thing I do know – no-one ever survives a six year sprint.

Picture of the month: HVAC in hot weather

So summer is icumen in here in Cambridge. Here it is certainly following the traditional pattern of an English summer: three days of heatwave followed by a thunderstorm.

All of which has produced some hard times for the cooling systems in the facilities we are monitoring. Take this:

Air conditioning failure summer

July 1st was the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures over 32° following on from a couple of days with both warm weather and many hours of sunshine. So not surprising that at 12.15 the HVAC in this office gave up under the strain and couldn’t be bought back online until 15.30.

Picking this apart raises some fun details and questions. It’s worth comparing that week to the week before. Here are the plots for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with the temperature and sunshine plots for those days along side:

Air conditioning failure 29th JuneAir conditioning failure 30th JuneAir conditioning failure 1st July

And here are the plots for the same days (monday, tuesday, wednesday) on the preceding week.

Office air conditioning summer 3

Office air conditioning summer 2

Office air conditioning summer

In this case temperatures overnight in the preceding week were much cooler – you can see the cooling system is working for much less time in the morning to remove the heat. There’s no characteristic sharp drop in temp at 5.30 am.

By the time we get to the week of the 1st July though, external overnight temperatures have risen and the office is holding a lot of heat overnight. In the morning removing that heat is taking more and more time. Furthermore, evening sunshine on both the two preceding days has warmed a portion of the office (on the right hand side of plan) that has always had difficulty in removing heat, so the system was under an immense amount of strain.

Under the circumstances if the system was going to suffer a failure, this is the situation which is likely to trigger it.

After the temperature topped out at 28.2, the cooling was eventually bought back on line, but the damage was done: there was far too much heat in the building to be removed by the HVAC before it was turned off at 7.30 and another warm night overnight meant the repaired system had to work for a much longer period in the morning to remove it, churning away for twice as long as usual.

Lessons learned? If you have HVAC systems that are older and have already identified some hot spots, be ready to take drastic action if you have a period of warm nights and solar gain. You might be operating closer to the edge than you might think.

If you have similar troublespots in your facility and you’d like a better picture of how the summer is affecting them, contact us for a quote on a pilot deployment.