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FEATURE – Ongoing Commissioning: The Benefits of Continuous Improvement

In today’s economy, the term “cost reduction” is in every manager’s daily discussions. Companies need to significantly reduce waste to stay competitive and continue their growth in this challenging economic climate. This context brings multiple challenges and headaches for leaders when it’s time to make decisions and move forward.


January 8, 2013
By Philip Desrochers

The building management industry is no different to this reality: facility managers and building operators struggle to make informed decision. A big part of their dilemma resides in the building itself.

Essential but expensive, energy costs are one of today’s biggest challenges for facility management professionals. Building management professionals continuously need to develop strategies to cut on wasted energy to reduce their baseline operating costs and, sometimes, meet regulations in their jurisdiction. Having to deal with various types of data—ranging from energy through occupant requests, to maintenance and operations—these managers are trying to do more with limited resources.

This usually results in expensive investments in ‘greener’ equipment for the building that is expected to save energy in the short term. Improved lighting products, efficient chillers and HVAC are already on the market, and provide immediate impact. But while these large capital investments can bring savings to the building monthly energy bills, they require multiple resources and do not always bring long-term results as intended. This is because adding technology to the building system does not automatically result in efficient operation.

Ongoing commissioning
To achieve objectives and identify smart solutions, facility managers must impact building operations globally with better technologies alongside a new management culture built on best practices. Ongoing commissioning is an innovative approach to managing buildings, as it continuously improves upon energy conservation and shifts operations to today’s performance standards.

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Ongoing commissioning is a four-step implementation process followed by a step-by-step continuous improvement cycle. Implementing this system within the operation team is the most important step in creating intelligence in the building. Let’s not forget that a smart building is more than technologies: it’s a culture of excellence in its operation. To achieve that level of excellence, all processes—including the building automation system (BAS)—must be analyzed, improved and monitored.

Step 1: Benchmarking
The first step in implementing a full ongoing commissioning process is to benchmark the building’s actual performance, which can be done a number of ways. More affordable solutions are found in utility bill analysis, or detailed building inspection using standard questionnaires as found with ASHREA, BOMA, Energy Star and LEED. These tools will guide the team as they identify what to measure… and why.

Hardware and software solutions—like an energy management system (EMS)—are also available for monitoring energy.

Should the team require more data and support, measurement & verification analysis companies (M&Vs) can be contracted to install measuring devices, collect data and share expertise during the analysis. Although this alternative is more expensive, the team has access to training, and the subcontractor can substantially facilitate the project.

Step 2: Objectives
Once the baseline is settled, the building owner or management team must establish an initial set of objectives defining their vision and the project scope. Then, the team determines the key performance indicators (KPIs) for monitoring their progression in achieving their goals.

Step 3: Action
With the project scope and targets defined, the team is able to take action on the building management process and its mechanical systems to improve overall building performance (KPIs).

The most thorough solution is to undertake a complete recommissioning of the building, which impacts all of its systems at once; this resets the building’s capabilities and starts optimization with ongoing commissioning. This solution is more expensive, but will unlock the full savings potential. As an alternative, the team can also select opportunities from the benchmarking data and take local action on specific equipment to start generating savings.

To get more information from the building, fault detection and diagnosis software are powerful tools for analyzing the building 24/7, and provide all the required information on Where, What and How to improve mechanical system performance in relation to its environment. Accessing this level of information is a critical step toward ongoing commissioning.

Building managers are increasingly turning to energy monitoring applications that provide detailed information about daily energy consumption. Although these applications are a really good start, they do not provide all the information required to quickly identify problem causes in the mechanical system. This often forces the team to use quick fixes rather than getting to, and correcting, the root cause of the problem (e.g. lowering a temperature setpoint rather than looking for a leaky valve). Fault detection solutions, on the other hand, facilitate access to the information that managers need to assign work orders efficiently and correct system issues.

Now that facility managers have more visibility into building performance, investments can be made in new products and equipment to bring the building up to today’s standards. These asset changes help ensure the building operates as designed… yet improved.

Step 4: Continuous improvement cycle
To achieve the full benefits of ongoing commissioning, the team has to foster a continuous improvement culture. Reviewing previously established KPIs and taking action at every gap to identify the proper corrective action will unlock the team’s full potential at reaching operational excellence.

Computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) is useful for helping the team manage internal activities. Some CMMS also includes advanced business features, such as accounting, inventory, project management and budget, which simplifies overall management activities.

The continuous improvement of maintenance activities is a crucial step in reducing a building’s energy consumption. Implementing a robust preventive maintenance process with efficient scheduling will ensure proper monitoring and prevent breakdowns or malfunctions due to excessive equipment wear. Using CMMS and fault detection tools on a regular basis will feed processes with actions and improvements for implementation within building systems. Each problem raised is an opportunity from which to learn and gain experience—and useful data—and build a history.

Ongoing commissioning: a management solution
Ongoing commissioning is a mix of technology and management culture intended to improve building energy consumption during its entire life cycle. Today’s economy forces companies to do better every day with fewer resources. Commissioning, retro-commissioning and recommissioning are successful strategies for facility managers, but ongoing commissioning is the key to keeping investment benefits in the long term and maximizing overall results. It simply allows the building to adapt to its environment, which is essential to staying competitive in today’s evolving industry.

About the author
Philip Desrochers leads the overall operations of ADMS Technologies Inc., which specializes in building management optimization. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Montreal Polytechnique School of Engineering and can be reached at pdesrochers@adms-tech.com .