Full potential of BAS is often not realised
Simply ‘having’ a building automation system (BAS) isn’t enough to realise full potential
A building automation system (BAS) offers the potential for improved energy efficiency, operational reliability, improved productivity, global systems integration and end-user comfort and security. Sadly, the full potential is often not realised.
Despite many facilities having a mix of systems from different vendors – and many early systems cannot deliver the efficiency benefits sought by today’s facilities manager - we still have to cope.
Chiller manufacturers invest huge amounts in the development of chiller controls and algorithms and also develop chiller plant management systems. These systems may also be interfacing with a BAS from a different manufacturer.
In an ideal world, if a fault arises and a facility loses cooling, our highly capable technician will investigate and diagnose the problem and rectify it. But just who is our ideal technician? Is he the BAS, controls or electronics technician? The HVAC technician or electrician?
This is of course where real operational problems begin. We have state-of-the-art cooling equipment connected to an advanced control system but how many technicians do we have that fully understand both?
When a building loses its cooling it’s often the air-conditioning technician who is deployed. He arrives on site, makes a quick assessment of why the chillers may be off-line and, if he thinks the problems lies with the chiller plant management system or the BAS, eliminates the problem by disconnecting the external control system. He then let’s the on-board chiller controls do what they were intended to do, produce chilled water.
Happy that he has solved the immediate crisis, our technician then informs the facility owner/operator that although the chillers are working again, the root cause of the problem lies with the BAS. He will, of course, advise his supervisor who will schedule a visit from a BAS technician.
Two or three days later the BAS technician turns up.
He investigates the BAS system and concludes that no fault exists. He reconnects the system to the chiller controllers. The chillers carry on running so the BAS guy tells the client that the BAS is ok and the problem must have been caused by the chillers. Of course the fault develops again and we repeat the cycle. All the time the client is becoming more agitated and now demands that we send one BAS guy and one chiller guy together to fix the problem,once and for all.
This may sound a bit far-fetched but it happens all too regularly. BAS technicians generally do not know enough about chillers, while chiller technicians often don’t have the knowledge and experience needed to efficiently troubleshoot a building level control system.
We need to ensure that technical staff are adequately trained to bridge the gap between individual assets and higher level control systems. This requires us to carry out what many may view as cross-training or multi-skilling to ensure that we can send only one person to the problem. But this is not really multi-skilling, this is more the development of skill sets within a common domain.
A well-trained and responsibly tasked technician should have the skills needed to accurately diagnose the actual problem.
Maybe this sounds idealistic, but a little training does go a long way towards achieving the desired outcome. We need to continually develop our technical staff. The alternative is the continued disconnection of the building automation systems.