BOSTON - Jack Desmond already has his hand in several demanding professional pursuits as he takes over the reins of SMACNA.

Employees say Desmond knows about everything at his company.
BOSTON - Jack Desmond already has his hand in several demanding professional pursuits as he takes over the reins of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association at the conclusion of this month's convention.

Wearing hats as both contractor and manufacturer gives him insight as to how these complementary roles affect the customer.

Desmond is the owner of full service mechanical contractor Cox Engineering Co., located in Canton, Mass., a suburb of Boston. He captains several different companies, which should provide him with a broad range of experience in dealing with the multi-faceted interests of those pursuing work in the air conditioning and sheet metal industries.

Established in 1915 in Cambridge, Cox was purchased by Desmond's father John G. Desmond, who went to work for the company upon leaving the service in 1946. In its early years the company, among other things, built parts for World War I airplanes. John Desmond worked his way up the ladder and through the industry, buying the company out in 1971. Jack Desmond bought the company from his father 10 years later, in 1981.

Looking over plans for a project.


The company blends fabrication and production in a 60,000-sq.-ft. computerized facility that is one of the largest and most modern in New England. A list of the company's clients reads like a Who's Who of local businesses and builders: Bank of Boston, Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard University, Fidelity Investments, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New England Patriots' football stadium, Shawmut Design & Construction, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, etc.

One of the latest projects, a mammoth one, was still a steel skeleton when Snips visited in June: the new $700 million Boston Convention Center, which will open June 24, 2004. It will incorporate some $15 million (3 million pounds) worth of rectangular duct from Cox. Much of it is double wall. We noted on our tour of the shop that this finished ductwork is shrink-wrapped.

"It wasn't in the specs, but it's part of our quality service and can prevent things like water damage after the ductwork is delivered on-site," Desmond said. Appearances, he notes, are more important than ever - even for ductwork.

The sheet metal shop is a mix of the old and the new, with a 20-year-old Lindy machine performing alongside a Wysong brake and a new Piranha brake.

An offshoot of Cox Engineering is CESCO, an equipment service company that can supply 24-hour emergency service as well as normal repairs and scheduled maintenance.

Still another offshoot is AirQual, specifically designed to cure "sick" buildings. The company makes its own antimicrobial treatment line for drain pans, ductwork, turning vanes, dampers, louvers, plenums and air handlers, called AirShield. These products are designed to be applied in the fabrication shop rather than at the steel mill, directly onto sheet metal prior to fabrication.

Desmond shows drawings for another project.

In the know

Despite this flurry of activity, an employee said of Desmond: "He knows about every single thing that happens in the company."

If we haven't lost you yet, Desmond is heavily involved in two more enterprises. One is Cambridgeport, a quarter-century-old supplier of custom air handling units for hospital, office buildings, institutional and manufacturing facilities.

Cambridgeport's engineered systems meet some very strict performance criteria. These systems generally need to be installed in a location that is very limited in space. Secondly, there is a need to achieve low volumes at high static pressure. And complete systems often must be furnished within a very short turnaround. These complete packaged systems often incorporate energy recovery and moisture removal, which acting together can improve energy efficiency and building IAQ, as well as raising comfort levels. "Cambridgeport excels in building the unusual," according to Desmond. "We'll turn six air handlers into one." The units are custom built to fit around pipes and corners, and use vane axial fans with inlet silencers.

Desmond demonstrated his own shop's walk-in penthouse unit and internal noise levels were indeed low. "Sometimes we get calls saying they're afraid the equipment isn't running, it's so quiet," he said, laughing.

Wendes and QuickPen software is used in a CAD-driven environment, as well as many custom, internally-written programs. Use of 3-D modeling is borrowed from the aerospace industry, where it was first developed, to model how air flows through an air-handling unit to reduce noise. Computational fluid dynamics can reveal how air is best distributed to fan blades, for instance, avoiding turbulence by changing shapes at certain velocities or junctures. Often adding a takeoff can prevent an operating problem before the unit is ever manufactured or installed.

In the interests of better air flow, the company also builds adapter curbs for several of the major equipment manufacturers, as well as its own units.

"Some supplied units can choke off airflow to the new units," he said. Many adapters will do the job, but aren't optimal for the application.

"There are many ways to skin a cat, but there is also a best way," he added.

The company consists of about 50 office and management staff plus 300 union employees, including pipe fitters, Teamsters and Sheet Metal Workers' International Association Local 17.

Despite having a hand in so many business ventures, as well as the job of heading up SMACNA for the next year, Desmond still manages to find time for one of his greatest loves, sailing. He and wife Tommie sail and sometimes race a 48-foot Swan sailboat. Living this close to the ocean, it's a pursuit that seems to fit Desmond quite naturally.