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Commissioning and the Preventive Maintenance Plan

In August we covered the importance of including the operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel in all phases of the commissioning process. This month we’ll go over some ideas on how the commissioning process can be used as a tool to ease and expedite the development of a preventive maintenance program for the new systems.

One of the primary benefits of commissioning is to have fully functional building systems and properly trained O&M staff coincident with substantial completion and/or building occupancy. In order to maintain the systems and allow for proper operation of the building in the future, the O&M staff needs to incorporate all of the new equipment into its preventive maintenance (PM) plan as soon as possible. Whether using a sophisticated computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) or a manual process, this PM program setup has historically been very onerous and time consuming. In order to set up the PM program, it’s necessary to inventory all of the equipment needing regular maintenance and document exactly what those maintenance procedures are and the recommended intervals at which service should occur.

The first step in this process is to obtain the information, and the normal source of this information is O&M manuals. Unfortunately, in most un-commissioned construction projects, the O&M manuals part of the Project Closeout Requirements, and Project Closeout activities can and do extend well past the substantial completion date. It is not unusual for a building owner to obtain O&M manuals 6, 12, and even 18 months after the project is “done.” Then, when the manuals arrive, they are often of questionable completeness and/or usefulness. For example, not all installed equipment is covered in the O&M manuals; the manuals are not clear as to exactly what equipment model numbers are installed on the particular project; the information provided is sales/marketing materials (cutsheets) of equipment with no operation and maintenance instructions; etc.

Most commissioning plans require the O&M manuals to be submitted well before the end of construction and before the start of training. The O&M manuals will be reviewed by the designer, commissioning consultant, and owner’s O&M staff to verify that all specified and necessary information is included and that the information is organized in a useful manner. Usually this means at least one “revise and resubmit” cycle. The result is a set of meaningful and complete O&M manuals available to be used in the training sessions as well as available for the building staff to peruse prior to having to operate the new building systems.

The early completion and submission of O&M manuals also allows the maintenance department to start entering the equipment into their PM program before the end of construction. This is clearly desirable, because it is critical that PM activities start immediately upon building acceptance from the contractors. If it takes 6-18 months to even acknowledge that there is equipment needing regular maintenance, by the time the first round of maintenance is actually scheduled and performed it’s probably far overdue. This could result in damage to the equipment or, at least, decreased performance. In addition, deferred maintenance may void some equipment warranties.

But the commissioning process can be tailored to address the PM program development even better than that. With some advance planning and additional specification requirements, it is possible to get the equipment suppliers to do a lot of the “leg work” of incorporating the new equipment into an existing PM program. On some projects we’ve been able to incorporate an Equipment Data Retrieval Form that the equipment suppliers are required to fill out within a relatively short period of time (1-2 months) of receiving final approval of their equipment submittals. The Data Retrieval Forms are customized to document the exact information needed by the owner’s PM program in a format which allows for quick and easy entry of the data into the PM program.

A typical Data Retrieval Form may ask for nameplate data such as manufacturer, model number, serial number, electrical characteristics, capacity, required environmental conditions, etc.; preventive maintenance procedures and associated frequencies; special parts information; service provider information; warranty terms; etc. Although not all of the information may be available within the 1-2 month time frame, we believe that 90-95% of it will be standard information that can be provided at any time.

The suppliers are required to submit a completed form for each piece of equipment to be installed on the project, allowing the O&M staff to set up the PM program and plan for their additional labor requirements well ahead of project completion when they would otherwise be extra busy with training, testing, and other project closeout activities. The 5-10% of the information not available early in construction can be obtained by the O&M staff once the equipment is in place, but should not prevent the immediate commencement of required maintenance activities.

Someday we’ll take this manual process one step further and require that the equipment suppliers provide the data in an electronic format which can be downloaded directly into a building owner’s CMMS. For now, though, we’ll take it one step at a time. Getting O&M manuals early in construction is a new (and frightening) concept to many contractors. Being asked to provide PM Data Retrieval Forms is another paradigm shift, but commissioning is all about improving the “old” process to provide new building systems which operate properly at Project Closeout and throughout the life of the building. Without appropriate and comprehensive O&M procedures in place, it is difficult to ensure success beyond Project Closeout.


Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, September, 1999

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318