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Commissioning: Improving Resiliency by Testing in a Controlled Environment

The commissioning process is one that can benefit mechanical and electrical systems in new and operational buildings. While the commissioning process can impact efficiency and impact operational costs, the focus of this blog will be mitigating risks and improving resiliency. The recent guide asks the questions: “How do we adapt these systems to work the way we need them to?” and “How do we make these systems work the way they were originally intended to?” Another question to should be “are we sure the system will work as intended during an unforeseen event?” Unfortunately, the last question can never be answered with 100% certainty because there always unseen goblins in systems and age doesn’t get better with time. However, through the commissioning process, you can be reasonably certain that unforeseen events (such as power outage or fire) will cause the building system to react in a predictable manner.

One of the biggest benefits to commissioning is putting a building system through its paces in a controlled environment, when issues won’t cause an issue with a life safety or mission critical system. Anyone involved with the building’s operation would want to know that a significant problem exists when a team was standing by for the purpose of correcting issues as they arise. While that is not a sustainable situation, through focused, scheduled commissioning, the opportunity exists to fix problems proactively when impacts are minimal. The commissioning process can identify an issue that can be easily remedied (low or no cost) or it can identify an issue that requires a higher level of intervention, such as a major repair by a contractor or a full design-bid-build process. While both have cost implications, a controlled environment offers the benefit of segregating associated repair costs of issues from operational losses, inventory losses, and most importantly, potential loss of life. The worst time for a health care facility to find out a significant issue exists is when patients are mid-treatment.

Any building with heating, air conditioning, building management system (BMS), domestic hot water systems, process systems, emergency and standby power or light controls should be able to have a reasonably certain expectation of system responses to normal and unforeseen events. Commissioning systems individually ensures that each will work as expected. Integrated Systems Tests (IST) are a recommended approach since a building wide event affects interactions between individual systems. The individual systems may continue to function normally in their own right but aspects of one can easily have a ripple affect through other building systems. It is easy to imagine the ripple effect that can occur throughout a building if a significant system went offline, but the issues that occur within integration between systems are often less obvious.

Imagine an end user who commissioned both the generator and BMS individually, but not the integration between. As a result, the Emergency Power Off (EPO) button being pressed was not correctly alarmed at the BMS. While avoiding alarm fatigue is important, everyone can agree that alarms are required to ensure timely solutions to issues. There was no immediate way to know how long the EPO was in the power off position, but because of that fact, when the power went out the generator did not start. The ripple effect caused by the generator not starting would be a reactionary nightmare.

Imagine if an end user who commissioned both the lighting control and fire alarm individually, but not the integration between. If the fire alarm contactor for an “all on” lighting command was wired backwards, the fire alarm being triggered would cause lights in the building to be turned off. This would also be a reactionary nightmare. It’s not hard to see how a school, hospital, laboratory, data center or other building could benefit from simulating these scenarios in a controlled environment to prevent potentially dangerous consequences under real world conditions.

Commissioning in any capacity can benefit academic, healthcare, science, and mission critical facilities. Beyond commissioning specific systems, an IST can benefit by testing systems holistically. Variations from the expected sequence of events would ideally be worked out in a controlled environment, which commissioning allows for. Each client has their own priorities, there is no reason to think that a manufacturing facility, high school, hospital and data center would have the exact same concerns during an unforeseen event. Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates will work to understand these client priorities and retro-commission systems in a controlled environment to help end users answer yes to the question of whether or not you are reasonably sure the system will work as intended during an unforeseen event.


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