October 2009

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The Emergence of Proactive Building Management Automation
All automation systems deployed in the future will require data streams containing all available performance characteristics of a piece of equipment be made available to the customer in a highly useable format.

  David Wolins, CEO
Scientific Conservation, Inc. (SCI)

As we have noted in previous articles, moving building management from reacting to changes in building operations to proactively identifying potential sources of system failure and addressing these anomalies before they impact operations, is now reality. The use of diagnostics as a proactive analytical tool is now fully vetted, operational and reshaping the way facility managers perform operational duties.

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This new-found confidence and understanding of how systems operate can be seen in a number of unusual ways:

  1. The virtual elimination of cold calls. With proactive diagnostics, facilities management staff can act before the occupant identifies the problem.

  2. The ability to assign tasks to service providers on a prioritized basis. Since cold calls disappear, the service provider can intelligently assign tasks rather than respond reactively to unexpected failures.

  3. Technicians arrive with the appropriate tools for the job without disrupting occupants.

All of the above significantly reduce service, energy and operations costs while providing a method for tracking performance. To achieve these results the facility management staff must be able to:1

  1. Access the basic data on the performance of their equipment at regular intervals (frequency greater than 15 minutes is preferred). This typically includes energy, temperatures, pressure and corresponding runtime information.

  2. b) Allow for reliable access to this data outside the automation system by a third party. Typically the automation system is easily accessed through standard tools and if necessary a simple gateway.

  3. c) Have a mechanism in place to get the results to the service providers. Ensure a method of dispatching these results to the staff and allow for feedback from the service providers to improve upon the chosen method of service delivery.

  4. d) Most importantly, maintain the ability to respond to identifiable anomalies in a timely manner. Regardless of how good a solution might be, if the facilities staff is not addressing the identified issues the solution will have no benefit.

The process of returning systems to their optimal performance takes place in a number of steps. Once connected to the automation system the first thing that an Automated Continuous Commissioning system such as SCIwatch™ does is identify sensor and gross system anomalies. Sensor drift (as apposed to failure) is often undetected for years (if ever). Incorrect damper operations, short cycling in systems and numerous VAV box failures are typically first order issues identified. With these issues out of the way one can dig deeper for a clearer understanding of how the system’s basic components are performing, not just operating.

Reliable Controls The difference between operating and performing are exemplified here on an air handler. The components of the air handler (fans, compressor, controls, etc.) are performing their duty with some degree of efficiency, good or bad. But optimal system performance requires more than just “operating.” It requires all the components to function at specified service levels (or within some reasonable range) designed during the manufacturing process and functioning appropriately under the specific conditions of the site. Only when all system components are operating at peak operating efficiency can optimal system performance take place.

Of course, this begs the question: how do facility managers know when all components are performing at optimal operation? Many system components don’t provide instrumentation at this level of granularity. That said, there is hope for improved operational performance because many automation systems can now drill down into the data streams of the components.

These advances portend changes in the way most facilities will implement automation. All automation systems deployed in the future will require data streams containing all available performance characteristics of a piece of equipment be made available to the customer in a highly useable format.

Only by doing so will facilities operators finally be able to fully implement proactive management for all components in their buildings. The good news is that this day is not far off.

[1] A more complete list of requirements are listed at http://scientificconservation.com/docs/SCI_Tech_FAQ.pdf


About the Author

Mr. Wolins has dedicated his career to the advancement of the energy efficiency industry and has worked over a 25 year period with facilities, their processes and their HVAC, refrigeration, controls and metering systems.  He was responsible for the design and execution of many cutting edge energy improvement projects including PG&E’s ACT² and BPA’s small commercial demand response program.  Prior to founding SCI, he was a founder of EnFlex Corp. in 1993, which was acquired by Sun Edison in 2008.  Mr. Wolins holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

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