Ongoing commissioning: Two different strategies, their challenges and their benefits

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Two different strategies for ongoing commissioning, and each strategies challenges and advantages are shared by PHILIP DESROCHERS from ADMS Technologies.

Building commissioning and re-commissioning are becoming standard strategies for many building managers and owners. They started to grow in popularity over the last five years to answer the large demand of energy efficiency projects.
Although this kind of solution brings substantial improvements to building systems, savings may not be maintained over time if management processes are not reinforced as well. This is why ongoing commissioning, or continuous commissioning, is growing in importance in the market.
Ongoing commissioning can be applied in two very different formats. It can either be fully implemented within the building management processes to allow the user to be independent, or it can be delivered as a service by a subcontractor. This article explains both solutions benefits and challenges.

Implementing ongoing commissioning often involves changing the management culture of the local building operations team. This ensures that facilities managers and maintenance employees adopt a continuous improvement approach in every daily activity to seriously improve energy savings and better manage operating costs. New implemented technology is used on site to monitor buildings and guide decision-making process.

Three main challenges reside in being fully independent with ongoing commissioning. The first one is technology implementation within the team’s actual toolbox. Companies selling the approach provide all the required technical support, installation services and coaching to successfully start the process. However, local management needs to establish the proper training program to make sure all the employees understand the tools they are going to use. It requires a good analysis of the team knowledge and a plan on how to close the gaps.
The second challenge is to promote the continuous improvement culture and accelerate its adoption. Training staff on a new technology is something simple enough to quickly generate benefits, but changing a management culture needs more time and discipline. When using ongoing commissioning, the team needs to change its thinking and open its management vision to new opportunities. It’s with coaching and success sharing that each person will understand the value added by ongoing commissioning.
The last challenge is the end result of the two previous ones. In fact, training people and implementing procedures in a team overloaded with tasks is the true challenge. It is already so hard to complete all the required work in maintenance and emergencies that it is often too hard to implement new methodologies and technology. This is why being independent in ongoing commissioning requires good training, a strong team in place and clear targets.

Implemented ongoing commissioning can generate enormous benefits. A team that uses ongoing commissioning as its own internal management strategy will be in front of the competition. With this continuous improvement culture, every team member acts as an analyst of the building systems and generates value added information for decision making. This overall involvement simplifies improvement opportunities identification and accelerates corrective actions implementation because every member follows the same strategy and works to meet the same objective.
Another benefit of implementing ongoing commissioning on site is to standardise analysis at every management level. Using this approach reduces wasted time searching, analysing and understanding the root cause of a problem. It also builds team knowledge about the building systems, which enables to increase team productivity and reinforces building operations. Moreover, all team members speak the same language, which simplifies communication – one of the biggest challenges in any administration.

With today’s technology, multiple services are available off site and a big part of ongoing commissioning can be done this way. Some companies in the industry are offering ongoing commissioning as a service, meaning that an external engineering team is looking at building systems with offsite connections.
Often called remote commissioning, this method generally involves a subcontractor (or a monitoring centre in large portfolios) that analyses building operations 24/7 and generates reports for building managers. Most of the time, these reports include data about control systems and energy consumption with related corrective actions to improve overall building performances.

Remote commissioning involves challenges similar to any other service supplied to a building management team. Security in data exchange is a good example. Many enterprises don’t want to share business related information to limit risks of improper usage. Obviously, remote commissioning deals with external connections to the building, but with the right system in place, all the information sharing is fully secured.
Using remote services also means more coordination and more communication with an external supplier. This increases the difficulty in communicating the problem details or a solution to a local team, but a big variety of tools like webcast, real time image exchange or cloud database are available to simplify information sharing within various communication channels.
Another challenge of remote commissioning is the use of outsourced analysis in day-to-day operations. It is not always easy to quickly understand an analysis and start the action suggested by someone not necessarily aware of on-site emergencies and priorities. To minimise difficulties prescheduled periods should be put in place to revise priorities frequently based on reports items each time the data arrives.

Even if remote commissioning may seem riskier, it has many advantages to consider. Not having to implement and take ownership of new technologies means significant savings in time and training. In a service format, the overall cost of implementing ongoing commissioning can be spread over the longer term reducing initial investments. This allows several projects to be started at the same time, which is a useful when managing a portfolio of buildings.
If a building management team adopts the proper procedures for using the supplied data from each report, the overall energy savings and productivity increases can be impressive. Working with a professional of remote commissioning on a frequent basis helps a team learn faster and access a standard level of analysis from the very beginning of the project. Basically, remote commissioning brings a new team player with a strong expertise to the table.

In conclusion, both solutions are good. It all depends on the business strategy the building management team wants to undertake. On one hand, implementing ongoing commissioning is a longer-term solution that ensures a new level of performance within the team. It starts a continuous improvement culture to create a new management philosophy based on waste elimination and opportunities identification that will keep going over time. It generally answers owners’ objectives to reduce costs and increase the overall building value in a mid- to long-term investment.
On the other hand, remote commissioning allows an easy access to ongoing commissioning benefits with fewer challenges on training. It enables the team to exchange with experts and get good prioritised recommendations on what to do to increase building performance. Remote commissioning is usually better suited to short- to mid-term projects in which quick savings are targeted. Once the goal has been identified, it can then be decided how ongoing commissioning will be used as a management methodology.

Philip Desrochers is a building operations specialist at ADMS Technologies.

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