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It is a natural tendency for large organizations to create silos for different departments. Silos provide the structure that promotes specific expertise and a linear flow of information. But silos also cause problems, namely a restriction on the information, collaboration, and focus outside the department.
In the world of building operations, most real estate companies have created distinct silos for maintenance and energy management. On the surface, this makes perfect sense. When one thinks of maintenance, the inputs are largely mechanical and scheduled. When thinking of energy management on the other hand, the inputs are resource-focused and more variable.
It doesn’t help that the way in which maintenance and energy are measured are completely different. To reduce operating costs related to maintenance, the focus will likely be on human productivity: fewer man hours to maintain the same space, faster resolution of tenant complaints, better ratio of planned to unplanned activities, etc. On the other hand, if an owner or operator wants to become more energy efficient, they will focus on equipment: retrofits, peak demand reductions, scheduling optimizations, and the like.
Despite the different inputs to the cost equations for maintenance and energy use, the two make up the largest shares of operating expenses in commercial real estate in the US. In fact, combined, the maintenance and energy costs make up nearly 50% of total operating expenses.
However different on the surface, these two areas of building operations are more closely linked than it may appear. As such, the way in which real estate companies compartmentalize maintenance and energy into separate departments may be hindering goals and continuous improvement initiatives.
There are countless technology and service providers that can help improve maintenance activities or energy management. But focusing on each separately is at best sub-optimal, and potentially counterproductive.
Most technologies up until this point have focused on digitizing the current way of doing things. Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) have enabled building operators to transfer their preventative maintenance program from pen and paper to an online database, creating a wealth of information about work orders and routine inspections that can be accessed remotely any time.
Likewise, Energy Management Systems, have enabled energy management teams to digitize utility bills, and even view their buildings’ energy consumption in real time. Compared to utility bills, real-time consumption data for a building can be quite illuminating.
In both cases, users gain access to a plethora of information that was previously obfuscated or unavailable. More accessible data means better forecasting, reduced admin time, and overall greater transparency.
But these technologies do not provide any benefits across departments. Each has different sources of data, are hosted on different platforms, and intended for different end users.
Nevertheless, maintenance and energy management software has grown rapidly because they enable information to flow more freely through an existing channel (the specific department). This makes it easy to implement both technically and in terms of how the organization is structured. The downside is that adding new technology is not democratizing information across departments, and may even be exacerbating the blind spots of each.
For example, the energy management department may have identified a new retrofit that will produce operating cost savings for the property. But if the equipment does not run properly, or if the new controls are not used properly, the modeled energy savings will not materialize.
Conversely, the number one priority for on-site operators is tenant comfort. For this reason, many sustainability departments find it difficult to get buy-in on initiatives focused purely on energy. Most optional efforts are ignored and any mandatory changes to process or systems can be viewed with hostility.
Put simply, the wider the difference in systems and priorities between departments, the less likely that there will be cooperation and meaningful improvements to operations.
The first step to creating deeper collaboration between maintenance operations and the energy/sustainability department is to recognize that both have one crucial element in common: equipment performance.
Commercial real estate is slowly adopting the predictive and conditions-based maintenance methodologies common in manufacturing. Instead of time-based schedules for adjustments, replacements, and inspections, these more advanced strategies use real-time feedback from the equipment itself to determine when maintenance should be performed.
Under a conditions-based maintenance program, operators are directed to a specific piece of equipment when performance drops below a defined threshold. This reduces the amount of time spent maintaining equipment that does not require it, and ensures that issues get properly diagnosed and prioritized.
Most operations executive and maintenance directors are aware of this concept, and may have even evaluated technologies to implement this in their portfolio.
But there’s an important point that may have been missed. When we speak of “equipment performance” and “conditions,” we’re talking about energy consumption!
This means that, despite different end goals, the maintenance and sustainability departments of tomorrow will share the same data set.
(It should be noted that this data set requires advanced energy tracking meters placed at the circuit level to record consumption from hundreds of pieces of equipment per building every second of every day)
This level of granularity into the energy consumption can tell us as much about the maintenance needs as the energy efficiency of the piece of equipment. By applying advanced analytics, energy consumption profiles can be used to predict equipment failure and even identify complex operational issues that are rarely uncovered by routine inspections.
Here are some specific examples of how maintenance and energy management overlap in meaningful areas of building operations:
Some energy management systems utilize data from individual equipment systems to gain more specific insights into energy consumption. However, because the goal is to discover energy savings, there is no incentive to monitor smaller loads, such as exhaust fans.
But exhaust fans have an important role to play in ventilation and keeping tenants healthy and comfortable. The energy consumption of exhaust fans should therefore be tracked continuously. Not to find ways to make them more energy efficient, but to immediately identify when they break.
And they break all the time.
But not always in the same way. Sometimes a motor fails, sometimes a belt slips, sometimes the belt completely snaps. Amazingly, the exact problem can be seen directly in the energy consumption data. The fan will pull different amounts of energy depending on what has happened, which can be mapped to specific problems, and help maintenance teams resolve the issue even more quickly.
As mentioned, there are issues that energy consumption data can identify that even experienced maintenance crews may miss.
One example is the problem of short cycling. Short cycling has been known to degrade system performance over time. In critical equipment such as chillers, this can have a profound effect on both maintenance risk and overall energy efficiency of the property.
In this case, the priorities of both sustainability and maintenance departments are perfectly in line. They are looking at the same data set, and coming to the same conclusion: short cycling needs to be corrected in order to achieve our individual goals, and the overall goals of the building.
In addition to discovering issues in equipment systems, consistent energy consumption data for individual pieces of equipment produces a regular schedule of usage.
This schedule can be utilized by both departments for their individual goals, as well as collaboratively for overall better operations.
An accurate schedule of when equipment is running enables sustainability departments to determine if any systems are on when there are no occupants. This would indicate wasted energy and a no-cost way to produce sizable savings. In addition, running systems for fewer hours means less wear-and-tear, reduced liklihood of failure and lower maintenance needs.
Beyond daily schedules, an historic record of equipment usage can be algorithmically translated into runtime hours, a golden metric for maintenance teams. Maintenance schedules are usually developed based on an estimated amount of usage for each piece of equipment. Having exact runtime hours in real-time can create dramatic efficiency in maintenance departments.
As these examples show, maintenance and energy management are much more closely intertwined than the current structure allows for. Technology has opened the door to closer collaboration, but it will still require willingness and openness from each department.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more ubiquitous in commercial real estate, this collaboration may eventually become forced out of necessity. The sooner real estate companies begin to break down the walls in terms of both collaboration and technology, the better they will be able to embrace the future.
At Enertiv, we call our system an Operations Performance System because it combines both maintenance and energy management technologies. Schedule a demo today to see how!