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Failure in the construction process to deliver working BAS to the client
"Let me lead you to the Promised Land!" they cry. What is this Promised Land? It is that a BAS will provide you with savings and benefits.
Rapid massive technical advances that are occurring in the building automation industry have not generally translated into improved satisfaction of clients in the end systems they receive.
Recently, a project manager for a major builder (general contractor) / property developer asked the author why their company can never get a BAS that works (they haven't had one of our systems installed yet).
Similarly, at a conference last year, Steven Hennessy of AHA Management provided well-documented evidence indicating that, on the average, buildings in Sydney, Australia, with BASs perform poorer than buildings without any BAS.
The technology is there, but the end results often are not.
Where does the process fall down?
It is a long path from a manufacturer deciding to build a generation of automation controls until a building operator clicks on a graphic to start his air-handling unit.
This article will be the first in a series of six articles about the deficiencies in the process of acquiring building automation systems. We have the technology available. How can we get the best solutions in our buildings?
Everybody in the process must take some responsibility for the failure of process to deliver…owners, automation contractors, mechanical contractors, manufacturers, and consultants all must shoulder their share of the blame. Let's look at some of the steps in the construction process where the delivery system may fall down:
First, let's recognize that not all manufacturers are trying to provide the best possible system they can. Often the primary goal is maximizing profits for shareholders. These do not necessarily translate to the same thing.
Second, manufacturers with inferior systems will mislead clients and consultants in order to get a chance to compete.
Third, specifications often are an amalgam of every bad experience that the consultant has had rather than an organised document to achieve a specific result. Further, there is often the attempt to write a one size fits all specification rather than having specs that are designed to meet the needs of a specific project.
Fourth, mechanical contractors and builders are concerned almost exclusively with price. As long as they can successfully get their project through defects liability (warranty), they do not care if the system they provide is a Rolls Royce or a pushcart. Contractors use every method in the book to drive prices down.
Fifth, clients tend to only be concerned with initial cost, not with long term performance, until much later. Even companies with long-term interests in properties, tend to have separate divisions responsible for operations and construction. The construction channel cares not a whit about long-term performance.
Six, automation contractors who have had their contract value slashed, cut every corner they can to try and regain some measure of profit. This includes using inferior equipment, stressed architectures, and minimal engineering and commissioning.
Seven, insufficient coordination of the project by the different contractors results in poor installation.
Eight, staff of the automation contractor need to understand programming, control theory, project management, electrical wiring, networking, computer system design, mechanical system design, and commissioning in order to provide a working system. Companies either try to put all the responsibility on one person, without the proper experience, or conversely, they have staff skilled at one item only, such as programming, handle each module of the system, but who do not understand the intent of the installation as a whole.
Nine, time constraints on project completion often result in the project being physically completed one day, and the sub-contractors being informed that it must be ready for turn-over the next day. This results in vastly inadequate commissioning and system optimization.
Ten, there is often insufficient review of the system by the consultant to ensure compliance with the specification. Over the past several years, reduced consulting budgets have led to a reduction in the thoroughness of the testing of system performance.
These are just randomly selected negative influences. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list.
Okay, so we have identified some of the steps that denigrate the process.
The purpose of this series is not to just whine about failings of our industry, but to offer some constructive recommendations that will ensure that we, as an industry, are given the opportunity to provide the best solutions available to our clients.
Let's break the process down into manageable steps and identify what actions each player can take to change the result. This will be the basis of a series of six articles.
The first article, next month, will be an examination of the current standard of technology. The most contentious issue in technology today is open protocol versus proprietary, and Lon versus BACnet in the selection of open protocol. This article will focus will explore what each open protocol actually achieves, and will recommend that all BASs should use BACnet at the system management level, and that BASs should consider Lon, BACnet, or EIB at the device level.
The second article will consider writing of specifications. This will cover some simple suggestions to make sure the specification is readable and the intent is clear. As well, this will also carry on from the previous article and make some suggestions for specifying open protocols.
The third article will explore methods of tendering that allow the client and consultant to keep control of the process. This will discuss the concept of Division 17 in North America and the advantages and disadvantages of separate proposal calls for automation systems versus incorporating automation as part of the tendering process. The article will also look at the advantage of breakout pricing by manufacturer and benefit for the client to control and analyze the process.
The fourth article will cover construction practices to ensure a working building at the completion. The article will discuss documentation, coordination, and scheduling. It will also look at the interaction of the different parties in the construction practice to ensure all are working towards a best practice solution.
The fifth article will examine commissioning, balancing and testing. Failures in this step of the process results in good systems failing to perform. Of all the problems in building automation this should be the simplest to address.
The final article will cover recommendations for clients to protect their investment over the life of a building. This will cover approaches to maintenance, upgrades, and expansions. It will consider the interaction of the automation contractor with other intelligent system contractors and the mechanical servicing of the building.
Hopefully, this series will provide some simple practical steps for all members of the construction process to provide working building automation systems.
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