Dominic Lai, M.AIRAH
Moving to Australia from Hong Kong in 1972, Dominic Lai, M.AIRAH, started his HVAC&R journey with a degree in engineering from the University of Melbourne.
He would go on to co-found the eponymous Umow Lai with George Umow in 1991. The multi-disciplinary consulting engineering practice maintains offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, employing more than 180 staff. Many of the company's high-performance, sustainable building services innovations have found feature placement on Ecolibrium covers over the years.
Expect this to continue given their recent acquisition.
In 2019, Umow Lai joined the Integral Group – an international engineering practice specialising in deep green engineering. It has delivered more than 100 net zero carbon projects worldwide.
Inspired by the Integral Group's depth of experience in delivering net zero carbon buildings, Lai encourages all Umow Lai engineers to strive for responsible environmental engineering.
What brought you to the HVAC&R industry?
I undertook my student engineering work experience with a consulting engineering practice. My first exposure to HVAC&R was when they assigned me to prepare load calculations and chilled water schematic for a 5-star international hotel. I was fascinated by the work and, upon graduation, sought out a practice that specialised in public hospital design (instead of opening a Chinese restaurant to rival Flower Drum in Melbourne by the time I turned 30).
I found myself spending over 40 years in the HVAC&R industry.
How long have you been a member of AIRAH?
I have been a proud member of AIRAH since 1979. I particularly enjoy reading the monthly issue of Ecolibrium, the only technical journal that I have not missed an issue of since I became a member. It is informative, totally relevant to my profession and keeps me updated on my colleagues.
What's your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
My fondest memory was in 1984, spending 24 hours with mechanical contractors and a facility manager in the CBD during a planned changeover of mainframe computers for an insurance giant. We worked together to ensure continuity of operation throughout the critical change-over phase. Everyone pitched in to help with bleeding the underfloor chilled water piping, mopping the underfloor space and carrying water buckets. It was a genuine team effort, with everyone working towards the common goal of a seamless changeover.
It was my favourite site experience and I must have bored a lot of young engineers telling and re-telling the story.
What's something everyone should know about you, your work, or the HVAC&R industry?
I am proud of Umow Lai’s contributions to the community through our commitments to engineering a more sustainable environment. We are among the pioneers as practitioners of sustainability design, and our engineers designed the PIXEL building – the only building with a perfect Green Star score, rated as the most sustainable building in the world.
I encourage all Umow Lai engineers to strive for responsible environmental engineering in their everyday design.
A main driver of our joining the Integral Group is its depth of experience in delivering net zero carbon buildings. We aim to leverage their experience to deliver similar outcomes in Australia.
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
In the next 10 years, I see the HVAC&R industry increasingly focusing on energy efficiency and reducing harm to the environment (e.g., net zero carbon initiatives).
With the “internet of things”, more and more data is readily accessible, so there will be more emphasis on individuals, such as delivering personal comfort control to each individual, instead of just room conditions.
To look at life 100 years from now: rather than just watching Matt Damon in The Martian, it will be challenging for HVAC engineers to research and develop real HVAC systems for intergalactic travellers.