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Commissioning: Put That Stroll On The Schedule

A few “what goes where” walks now will free up time for the big picture later.

O&M training has traditionally been considered an end-of-construction activity, often specified in the project closeout section of the specifications. Although I have always advocated for the commissioning process to include planning for and scheduling of O&M training, starting in the design phase and continuing through construction, even commissioning has relegated training to the end of construction. On large projects, however, thoroughly completing all of the required training before substantial completion and turnover of the systems to the owner for operation is a significant challenge.

I recently facilitated a meeting with the experienced O&M engineers who will be responsible for managing the mechanical and electrical systems in a new hospital being constructed on their health care campus. We were discussing the type and level of rigor of O&M equipment training they desired in order to incorporate their requirements into the bid specifications. These were people who did not need, and did not believe it would be the best use of their time, to be trained on the fundamentals of most of the equipment being installed in the new facility. They probably had enough experience between them to train the trainers.

The O&M engineers were mainly interested in two things: how all of the equipment is intended to operate together as systems, and where the equipment is located. Systems training is a complex, yet critical, aspect of commissioning, and I will write about it in next month’s column. This month, I want to address the other end of the spectrum; the relatively simple, yet just as critical, idea of instructing the O&M staff about where all of the system equipment and components are located.

Location, Location, Location

It is only logical that the O&M staff should know the whereabouts of anything that might need to be operated, maintained, calibrated, repaired, or replaced. Every dynamic component (i.e., an item with moving parts) and every control device fall into this category. Some static devices, such as strainers and filters, do as well. The fact is that most buildings are constructed without full and accurate documentation of where all of these are located. O&M personnel are frustrated by the effort involved in figuring it out for themselves on an as-needed basis when something goes wrong or needs to be maintained after the contractors have left the site.

Sure, most of the major components such as pumps, chillers, boilers, heat exchangers, air handlers, transformers, generators, etc., show up on design and/or as-built drawings. Many of them are also easily found in dedicated mechanical or electrical rooms. It is the smaller components, items that design and construction teams have historically been considered of secondary importance from a documentation standpoint, that can cause significant problems if not easily found by the O&M staff when needed. These include, but are not limited to terminal units; shutoff valves; air vents; and temperature, pressure, and relatively humidity sensors.

The idea of training the O&M staff in the locations of all of these smaller components at the end of construction is overwhelming and not very efficient, especially considering many of these components are concealed above ceilings and/or behind access panels. What the O&M staff expects for the new hospital is periodic walkthroughs of the construction site as these components are being installed. Although having the O&M engineers observe and comment on construction activities has always been encouraged through the commissioning process, the concept of it being an official part of the training plan was new to me … but it makes sense.

Training And Observation

Combining equipment location training with construction observation is an efficient use of O&M staff time. Instead of informal walkthroughs by O&M engineers whenever they have time, I propose scheduled and guided tours by the contractors. This is what makes it “training” and not just “observation.” A formal process for documenting and tracking O&M questions and comments raised during these tours needs to be in place to channel those concerns to the appropriate design and construction team members for responses.

With the O&M staff familiar with the location of all major and minor components well before substantial completion, the focus of the end-of-construction training can be how all of these components function together as systems. That will be the topic for my March 2008 column.

 

Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, February, 2008

by
Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
President
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318
rteesmag@QSEng.com