How to Gain Control Over Your Critical Equipment


Adressing equipment issues

What is “Critical” Equipment?

Imagine it’s 1:14 AM. Demand for your exhaust fan was interrupted and the schedule was reset to factory settings. Because you have routinely have personnel working overnight, it should be running 24/7. Instead, later that night, some members of the cleaning staff get sick due to a lack of ventilation in the basement.

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. This is a real example and illustrates well what we mean by “critical” equipment.

Failures in critical equipment systems pose serious financial and operational challenges to building owners and operators. Buildings are complex environments comprised of electrical and mechanical systems (fan belts, elevators, pumps, boilers, chillers, exhaust fans, etc.), all of which are susceptible to malfunctions. In most commercial real estate (CRE) portfolios, addressing equipment issues is a constant battle.

What Can Be Done?

Operational efficiency, how consistently the environmental conditions called for in a building are maintained, is the implicit goal of every operator. However, maintaining a high level of operational efficiency for mechanical and electrical systems has eluded most building owners and managers.

Operators fortunate enough to have staff dedicated to collecting and analyzing immense flows of building automation data may be able to keep their buildings tuned and operating efficiently. Most operators would agree that this is far from the norm.

Improper control system programming, seasonal changes, sensor failures, and malfunctioning equipment all contribute to inefficiencies and higher costs. Besides managing a small army of committed employees, how else can a building operator avoid the issues that constantly arise across their portfolio? The answer is to move building operators away from reactive tactics to proactive strategy.

New technologies are allowing building operators to proactively identify changes to operational performance in real time. By doing so, managers are empowered to sustain maximum operational efficiency, minimize maintenance costs, and truly understand of their building operates under all conditions.

How to Move from Reactive to Proactive O&M

Let’s revisit our example from earlier.

Because the building operator had a system in place, the Enertiv Operations Performance System in this case, he knew exactly where to go to identify the root cause of his ventilation issues. Immediately, because of its energy profile, it was clear that the exhaust fan was not running as it was originally scheduled to. Further analysis uncovered that it was related to an interruption in demand at 1:14 AM. Without a building operations management platform, it would have been much more difficult to find the source of this issue and take corrective action.

Historically operators have used a variety of solutions to try to mitigate the risk of system failures, malfunctions or outages. These include preventative maintenance schedules, building automation system data reviews, and periodic recommissioning and retro-commissioning.

These solutions leave a lot to be desired. First off, they all are retroactive in identifying problems. Second, they are generally expensive, time consuming and require a high degree of systems understanding. Finally, they don’t provide any prioritization of the importance of the problems they uncover.

In addition, studies have shown a natural drift away from the ideal after retrofits; even after you commission a property for optimum efficiency, it immediately starts to degrade day after day, week after week, month after month. Compounding this issue is the fact that even a small degradation in a system’s operational performance can precede a major and costly failure.

More and more however, operators in CRE portfolios are moving from time-based preventive maintenance to real-time diagnostics. With new tools, they can now have analytics continuously check against base performance to see if there is meaningful change, and get notified when there is.

What Does a Operations Performance System Consist of?

Until now, building operators have had no simple tool to enable them to catch degradations when they occur. Worse, when an issue came to light, there was no way to isolate and pinpoint specific systems so issues could be resolved well ahead of outright failures.

An operations performance system is a set of tools that allow the user to identify, predict, and prioritize equipment faults in a systemic manner. It is different than a traditional building management system (BMS) in some important ways:

1) There is a method for collecting equipment-level data throughout a building in real time
2) The system can leverage ancillary collection of data from other sensors
3) There is a continuous analysis engine
4) There is an automated reporting system segmented for different user roles
5) There is an automated process to notify operators of problems as they happen

Implementing a operations performance system can perform many function, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on how each component relates to detecting critical equipment failures.

The frequency and granularity of data collection is one of the most important factors in determining how effective a system will be. Without a method to collect equipment-level data every second of every day, it is impossible to discover the complex anomalies that arise throughout building systems. To add context, the existing infrastructure, such as weather, occupancy and temperature sensors should be included in the collection strategy. The tricky part is to get an advanced system installed for a low cost and without requiring additional infrastructure or a power shut down.

After collection is handled, the next step is to accurately determine when equipment failures and anomalies occur with an analysis engine. Ideally, this includes machine-learning algorithms that automatically learn and deliver more sophisticated analyses over time. Unlike building management systems, a system built for operations performance does not assume that the current schedule is ideal – it is constantly scanning for potential optimizations and any significant changes in equipment performance due to malfunctions.

Every good manager likes reporting that is specific and relevant. Unlike traditional diagnostics that look at snapshots of data, a dedicated operations platform visualizes performance continuously. This not only allows for a more holistic understanding of operational performance, it makes verification of maintenance and retrofits simple.

By examining changes in the performance in equipment systems as they happen, it becomes possible to provide alerts as faults are occurring. There are many benefits to this. With real-time alerts, managers can identify which issues require immediate attention, assign staff appropriately and verify the job is resolved.

In summary, an operations performance system brings building operators from the reactive to the proactive world, and ultimately, gain full control over their critical equipment systems.

The Enertiv Operations Performance System has been built specifically for CRE and includes all of the components necessary for enhanced building operations.