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Facility management, IoT, and better maintenance oversight

There are exciting—and cost-effective—strategies for creating an IoT sensor infrastructure to improve maintenance visibility.


July 22, 2021
July 22, 2021
By Emily Newton

July 22, 2021 – The Internet of Things (IoT) can unlock new insights for facilities management professionals, helping them track energy usage, monitor traffic levels and more. There are exciting—and cost-effective—strategies for creating an IoT sensor infrastructure to improve maintenance visibility.

The IoT augments a building automation system (BAS) by measuring data that may trigger automatic adjustments in a facility’s systems. Here are some specific ways it can enhance maintenance strategies for a management team.

Prevent water damage

Corrosion, age, tree root damage and excessive water pressure due to clogs are some of the common culprits behind leaky pipes, and even minor leaks can quickly cause tremendous damage. However, an IoT sensor can immediately let facility managers know of unusual moisture, prompting them to check for leaks.

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Markham Sandulak, a senior risk control consultant at CNA Insurance, explained why many commercial and residential customers in Canada and elsewhere use IoT as a water damage preventive measure.

“While basic water-sensing technology has been around for decades, recent advancements in interconnectivity and the use of artificial intelligence (to detect patterns of abnormal flow) have increased the power and effectiveness of these systems,” he noted.

Sandulak continued by explaining how there are two categories of IoT sensors to help with water damage mitigation.

“Active systems incorporate devices that detect water and/or abnormal water flow rates and will automatically shut valves to stop the flow of water,” he said. “In addition to being able to automatically sense and stop water in the event of abnormal flows, these systems can be remotely monitored and controlled from a smartphone application.

Passive system devices, meantime, sense water leaks and sound an alarm, Sandulak said. “They are considered passive because they don’t stop the flow of water.”

When thinking about which kind works best for your needs, consider how quickly a maintenance team could arrive at the site to investigate. Since every minute matters during a water leak, an active system could minimize the chances of severe damage. That effect could translate to lower insurance premiums over time, particularly when insurers understand how better oversight reduces risks.

Receive more-specific data about failures

Applying the industrial IoT to maintenance allows a fine-tuned approach to equipment or machine failure. Many companies specialize in sensors that install on air-conditioning units or boilers, for example, to provide details about the equipment’s overall condition.

An organization called C3 AI allows customers to put sensors on particular components, such as fans, pumps and motors. Instead of merely informing a facility’s manager that an A/C unit has started running hot or developed an abnormal vibration, the C3 AI suite can identify which specific part has an issue.

It also uses machine learning algorithms to reduce the number of false alarms. Moreover, the interpreted data informs users on the factors contributing the most to elevated risks, if left unaddressed.

According to the product’s website, the artificial intelligence suite brings a 20% to 50% reduction in unplanned downtime and a 1% to 5% increase in asset availability. Another advantage is that the AI technology can provide months of warning before a system fails or a part malfunctions.

Early alerts help facility managers plan maintenance well in advance, including lining up any additional resources they may need to ensure maintenance or repairs go smoothly.

Statistics indicate that the median number of missed workdays in 2019 due to lifting and lowering-related overexertion was 13. However, when facilities managers have months or weeks of warning about equipment that needs attention, they can take the time to source dollies, jacks and other equipment to prepare the area for an installation or repair.

Enable remote monitoring

A thoughtful approach to IoT infrastructure should also include installing sensors and cameras in places around a building that receive the most traffic and enable maintenance professionals to view the property at any time—even when offsite.

Remote monitoring became particularly useful during the pandemic, providing details from utility meters and preventing the need for in-person checks. There is also notable business value since overseeing a facility from afar can support proactive, quick action.

Imagine a case where a facilities management leader has to travel to another city for an urgent meeting, but is able to keep an eye on a property via a smartphone app and AI-powered security cameras. They might notice that an overnight winter storm made the surrounding pathway slippery, and can direct their team to treat the surface before tenants arrive. They have prevented potential slips and falls, and support the overarching goal of keeping people safe.

The real-time oversight provided by IoT equipment can also allow for prompt action during an attempted or in-progress crime. Perhaps a manager is dealing with an ongoing issue of vandals putting graffiti on the side of the building at night. Many IoT cameras powered by AI alert authorized parties to approaching vehicles or unusual sounds and motion.

Malicious parties love dark, seemingly isolated surroundings when carrying out vandalism. However, an IoT security camera could catch their arrival, then alert managers to survey the scene via remote monitoring. This ability makes deterrent efforts more efficient and effective, which should discourage future attempts at causing trouble.

Avoid undesirable, costly outcomes

Even generally well-run facilities can experience events that cause severe disruptions. For example, a suspected gas leak sent nearly 80 hockey game attendees to the hospital in 2019. An investigation into the matter pinpointed a malfunctioning ice resurfacer as the likely culprit.

In such cases, an IoT-enabled carbon monoxide detector may have caught the problem sooner, reducing or eliminating danger to occupants. That’s particularly true with AI-based solutions that learn the parameters associated with normal operation, then issue alerts when conditions deviate too much from what is expected.

In a more recent instance, a heat exchanger failure at a Toronto apartment building meant the climate control system did not switch to cooling mode in the summer as intended. Residents learned it could take up to six weeks to fix the issue, primarily because managers had to source the part internationally. Unit occupants reported feeling ill due to the excessive heat. Some could not sleep or participate in video calls because they got so sweaty.

Issues like these put the facilities management team in a bad light for not planning for parts failures and leaving tenants in uncomfortable situations with no hope of quick relief. However, an IoT system could have warned personnel of issues months before they happen. Thus, it facilitates ordering parts well before installation must happen, even if that means sourcing them internationally.

Set goals to see the maximum return on investment

These examples show why the IoT can raise awareness of maintenance needs. Facility managers should set specific goals they want to achieve, then investigate how the IoT could help meet those milestones. Doing that creates a highly focused strategy to improve outcomes.


Emily Newton is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in the energy sector.