Game-changing technologies in FM

by Melanie Basta
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Technology is changing the face of facility management and maintenance practices, and it’s bringing changes to the industry. There are certain innovations that FMs should keep abreast of, writes ARIAN BAHRAMSARI.

Digital transformation is evolving at an exponential rate, and it is taking facility management into the future. As well as having managerial and technical skills, FMs are required to be technology-literate individuals. Understanding the main concepts of leading edge technologies will assist facility managers to implement the practices and manage their facilities in more efficient ways. In this article, some of these emerging innovations and their applications in decision-making processes are discussed.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is one of the latest technologies that allow users to see invisible components, tag physical objects and even picture a digital object in the real world. Facility managers can utilise AR technology in their space management plans. A new device or piece of equipment can be pictured in the real environment, even before being purchased and installed.

Imagine that you step into a plant room containing mechanical and electrical equipment, some of which is unknown to you. To maintain and check each component, you need to see the data sheet, read the logbook and, if one of these documents is missing, you may need to contact the technician to attend the site and brief you about the equipment.

Now, imagine that this plant room is equipped with AR technology and you are given AR glasses when you enter the room. You would be seeing a digital representation next to each object, providing you with instructions, warnings and the way to tackle potential problems. You may even see pipes behind the walls, ducts through the ceiling or traces of cables running under the floor. AR could facilitate the process of checking all the room’s elements from temperature, humidity, vibration levels and lighting levels, to the instruction and service records of each piece of equipment.

Another useful application of AR in facility management would be in training workers for their new roles. New employees can be shown how to evacuate the area and deal with specific scenarios without being physically there. They can also learn how to maintain the equipment and determine any faults without ever opening the gear.

Virtual reality

Whereas AR combines live imagery and computer-generated simulation, virtual reality (VR) deals wholly in the artificial world. VR is another ground-breaking technology that allows its user to see themselves in a virtual and unreal environment. In recent years, construction companies have been using this technology to present their display villages to prospective buyers well before commencing construction on the project. This technology enables users to experience browsing in a 360-degree tour, walk around and get a taste of how the project will look when it’s complete.

VR has recently broadened horizons in facility management, too. One of its most common applications in FM is about facility familiarisation and inducting new contractors and visitors into the facility. New contractors can see a three-dimensional view of a large-scale facility in an interactive and informative way in less than a few minutes.

VR can also be used for troubleshooting errors in equipment. Remote technicians can view the facility from the eye of a building manager and walk them through the steps required to rectify the issue.

Blockchain

This way of sharing information has two main advantages:

  • transparency of the information and its public availability, which builds trust, and
  • its security, privacy or confidentiality

In other words, blockchain is a store of verifiable information among multiple permissioned parties, which prevents the information from being breached and tampered with.

Blockchain technology operates on a decentralised platform. This means that no one owns the chain and it is shared among multiple parties. Let’s see how blockchain can be useful in facility management. Consider a building that has been commissioned a few years back and a facility management company that had the facility’s contract and data. If this company loses the contract and moves on, the new FM company may struggle to retrieve the building’s data, previous contracts and much other essential information. This means, therefore, that clients are constantly paying for this data every time a contract changes hands.

In this example, the previous facility management company owned the data and the work they had completed. Now, if building owners apply blockchain technology to their management system, no one can remove, alter or modify the information without their approval. The information in blockchain can be anything from transaction recordings or the asset management life cycle to contracts and agreements.

In the IoT world, the sensors capture data, communicate with each other and, according to the cloud methodology or algorithm, can take action if required.

 

As another example of blockchain in facility management, let’s say an owners’ cooperation receives an invoice for the some purchased materials and work being performed in a particular suite. Facility managers can implement different blocks for an invoice to be paid. A first block could be related to a technician’s report. Once this is confirmed, it goes to the second block and the supplier verifies the material purchased. The next block is validation of the work accomplishment by the suite owner and, finally, the last block can be the FM’s confirmation that the technician had signed in or did the site induction. The invoice can be processed at the end of the chain after passing all of the blocks. This process enhances the accountability and traceability in the supply chain and allows all parties to know where everything is in the production process.

In the future, blockchain will likely reduce costs and time spent by eliminating the need for third-party audits. The information will be repeatedly validated and updated from various resources and eliminates the need to audit them.

Another feature that blockchain technology stands to offer facility management is smart contracts. Smart contracts exist on the decentralised network in such a manner that enables transactions to be executed automatically, without the need of a human trigger. Traditional contracts can be converted to smart contracts and verified on blockchain. This would mean that, at the point of completion, payment for a task or service would release immediately.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a platform in which all devices are internet-enabled and connected to each other. In this case, usage of resources will be more efficient and each device can interact, send and receive information.

In our existing environment, sensors and devices are normally isolated and can only receive or send information. But in the IoT world, the sensors capture data, communicate with each other and, according to the cloud methodology or algorithm, can take action if required. For example, if a sensor picks up an unusual read on one of the gauges, it can alert a technician and thus allow the problem to be remedied.

IoT devices can facilitate each aspect of building’s operation. This technology connects all devices and forms a system based on three actions: sense, analyse and act. Let’s consider a situation when a breakdown occurs in an IoT-equipped building. Sensors can initially detect the fault; they can then dispatch a technician if the fault is a priority. The technician confirms a time and date, the system provides access to the technician to get into the building at the right time and, finally, the sensors confirm if the issue has been resolved. They then provide the building’s owner or finance team with a report to process the service cost.

IoT devices can be linked to HVAC, electrical and essential services in any building. They can monitor the performance, check the warranties and automatically call for routine service checks. IoT-enabled devices can literally run the facility without supervision and only via interacting with each other. All these devices have digital strategy and the power to make decisions based on their cloud-based analytics. In future IoT buildings, once you step inside you will find that everything is linked – from your smartwatch or blood pressure sensor to the building’s lighting, fire and emergency services. IoT technology will result in buildings that are more energy efficient and safer, and save FMs a lot of time. ●

Arian Bahramsari is a facility manager at Facility Management Victoria Pty Ltd, based in Docklands, Melbourne.

This was originally published in the December/January 2019 issue of FM magazine.

Image: © Wavebreak Media Ltd at 123rf

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