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Commissioning: Missing Operations & Maintenance Participation   

Results will underwhelm without O&M on board.

As most readers know by now, I am a strong advocate of using the commissioning process — starting in the design phase — to help prepare the future operations and maintenance (O&M) staff to receive and operate the new systems following construction. The acceptance of new systems can be a touchy subject, especially if the owner’s facilities operations representatives do not feel that the designers have incorporated reasonable and affordable facilities staff requests into the project requirements (see 2011 January and February columns). This month I want to turn the tables and look at what can happen if O&M representatives choose not to engage in the design or commissioning process.

One of the major challenges a design and construction team faces if the owner’s facilities operation representatives do not participate in the planning, review, and testing of new systems is the high probability that the O&M staff will not like what they get in the end. Given all of the different decisions regarding systems, equipment, controls, etc., that go into designing a new facility. The design and construction team will never get it right if the owner doesn’t give them some clues, guidelines, and/or specific requests.

If the O&M staff doesn’t like the systems at the end of construction, it could seriously derail the benefits of commissioning. Even if the systems are demonstrated to be operating as designed and achieving the owner’s performance criteria, if the operations personnel don’t agree with how things were done, they are apt to:

  • Complain about the systems instead of embrace and operate the systems as designed;

  • Change the system features they don’t like, potentially negatively impacting other features or integration strategies; and/or

  • Manually override the controls.

Documentation is Essential

Beyond the actual system performance, O&M involvement to the design, construction, and commissioning process is critical to meeting operations staff needs with respect to documentation and training. The facilities representatives need to articulate their preferences for these critical project deliverables in order for the project team to meet those expectations. Typical commercial/institutional bid specifications are weak when it comes to defining the particulars of O&M manuals, O&M training, and as-built documentation.

The best way to obtain a set of O&M documents that will actually be used is for the users to define what they need and how they want the documents delivered. There are so many options these days that it behooves the owner to take the time to consider what will work best for the anticipated facilities operations program.

There are a growing number of O&M-related guidelines and recommendations to reference, including ASHRAE Guideline 4-2008, but the building owner/operator needs to glean from those what makes sense for a particular facility and/or organization. A sampling of a few things (only the tip of the iceberg) that should be defined in the design phase and included in the specifications in enforceable and verifiable terms is as follows:

  • O&M Manuals

    • Hard copy or electronic copy (if electronic, what format? searchable? etc.)

    • Organization by equipment or by system

    • Contents

  • O&M Training

    • Approximate time to be allotted for each training session

    • Does each session need to be delivered more than once?

    • Level of rigor of the training, e.g., for experienced or inexperienced trainees

    • On-site vs. off-site training

  • As-Built Documents

    • O&M-specific features to be included, such as shut-off valve locations, control system device locations, smoke/fire damper locations, etc.

    • Hard copy or electronic copy (if electronic, what format? searchable? etc.)

  • General

    • Timing for delivery of documents and training sessions

    • Review and approval process

None of these choices put an onerous burden on the contractors, and pretty much anything can be prepared according to clear and detailed specifications. What we don’t want to have happen is for the project team to prepare documents they think meet a vague specification and then have the owner reject them as unacceptable. This is a scenario that will result in unhappy operators “trying to make do” with what they perceive to be poor documentation – not a formula for a sustainable optimal high performance building.

In conclusion, the success of the commissioning process is a team effort and every commissioning team member has a critical role to play. This includes the owner’s facilities operations representatives. There is no room for a hands-off “I’ll know it when I see it” attitude. If the owner has chosen to invest in the commissioning process, I strongly recommend that the owner invest the O&M personnel time and attention necessary to articulate what the owner’s operations group will deem acceptable at the end of the project.

 

Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, March, 2011

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