Commercial building maintenance—the regular work required to keep up and improve upon a building’s systems and equipment—is essential to sustaining a property’s utility and value. It encompasses a range of activities that include inspecting the building’s current condition, making repairs, and also taking preventive action to lessen the likelihood of unplanned equipment failures. Without these regularly performed services and processes, a facility cannot operate at peak efficiency.
Much of commercial building maintenance is done manually, with crew members following recommended maintenance schedules and making planned or scheduled repairs. But what if some of this work could be automated? How would it impact your operations? Keep reading to find out more about maintenance automation, and for a commercial building maintenance checklist that identifies tasks suited for automation.
Why automate commercial building maintenance?
Traditionally, maintenance work is both reactive (fixing something when it breaks) and preventive (checking something then tuning it up to prevent breakage). Preventive maintenance helps avoid failures, but it also has drawbacks. Sometimes it leads to unnecessary work being performed, such as regular tune-ups that are done not because they need to be, but rather for the sake of avoiding a potential failure of a piece of equipment. For example, the manufacturer may recommend replacing a fan filter every three months. But if that filter is located in an area of the building where it wasn’t used much, you could go longer without replacing it. Work that’s performed too frequently costs more. Or, in some cases, work may not be done frequently enough, in which case the machine’s failure will be brought on sooner than it should be.
Today, facilities managers are starting to take advantage of technology that makes it possible to automate maintenance tasks, transforming some elements of maintenance from being reactive and preventive to predictive. Predictive maintenance is the practice of predicting when a breakdown or failure might occur, and performing work which prevents that from happening.
How Automation Works
Automation relies on the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect and analyze data related to your building equipment. Wirelessly connected sensors embedded into your machines capture information about their operations—for instance, a pressure sensor measures a filter’s air flow, and a vibration sensor on a motor or pump detects excessive vibration.
That data is then sent to the cloud via a network, where it is processed by software, which helps you analyze the data to learn more about the current operation of your machines and equipment. Some software utilizes machine learning to help with the analysis, alerting you when maintenance might be needed or if there’s high likelihood of a breakdown.
Not all aspects of maintenance can be automated; for instance, the annual cleaning and reconditioning of boiler system fire tubes will always have to be done manually. But there are a number of tasks that can—and should—be automated to realize the benefits of predictive maintenance. Those benefits include:
Reduced Maintenance Costs
Knowing ahead of time when equipment needs care means you can fix it before it breaks, potentially reducing the cost of the repair. It also avoids the added expense of emergency service calls. Some companies have seen their maintenance costs go down by as much as 25 percent as a result of predictive maintenance. The two largest mechanical systems in a building are the cooling and heating systems; any failure related to either of these areas is typically costly, sometimes up to millions of dollars for very large buildings. As a result, they are also the areas with the highest return on investment for automation.
Automation also helps you avoid unnecessary maintenance spending. In the case of the fan filter mentioned above, an automation solution could continuously check the air flow with a sensor and indicate when the filter actually needs to be changed, even if that time is a bit longer than the recommended three months. (Here’s how one facilities manager changed his approach to maintenance and saved tens of thousands of dollars.)
No solution can avert every instance of unplanned downtime, but predictive maintenance can absolutely help reduce those occurrences. Downtime is a costly and frustrating problem for many businesses, but for some it can be even more damaging. Hospitals, for instance, rely heavily on operational infrastructure to provide patient care; failure of a key mechanism would have to be addressed immediately and backup provided. For example, in the middle of summer, one hospital experienced the catastrophic failure of one of its cooling system’s main compressors; it had to utilize a temporary portable cooling trailer integrated with its existing system until the problem could be fixed. Predictive sensors would have alerted the hospital facilities staff that this failure was going to happen and provided them the valuable time to address it prior to a failure. High-value and critical assets benefit the most from predictive maintenance solutions.
Predictive maintenance keeps your assets healthier longer—and running at maximum efficiency continuously. Machinery operating at peak efficiency costs less to run, so it’s smart to utilize tools that can help weed out minor issues such as leaking heating systems pipes or an HVAC damper that isn’t closing properly.
A Commercial Building Maintenance Automation Checklist
As mentioned above, many maintenance tasks must be done manually, specifically, those that focus on repairs or part replacements. But many tasks also revolve around tracking the health and operation of machines and equipment—which is where automation comes in handy.
Below is a commercial building maintenance checklist for the major building system areas where automation is most beneficial. Sensors can be deployed to all the below elements to collect data. Once that data has been transmitted to the cloud it can be analyzed, and notifications can be sent if conditions are determined to be outside the norm.
- Compressors: Sensors can tell you cycle times, how much power is being used, the temperature of the coolant going into and out of the compressor, the level of vibration, and detect anomalies.
- Fans: Sensors can detect excessive vibration, and the air temperature and air flow at the fan.
- Dampers: Sensors can detect if a damper isn’t closing properly.
- Filters: Sensors can determine if a filter is clogged, or not getting proper air flow.
- Water quality: Sensors can detect whether water going into and out of boilers needs to be treated.
- Burners: Measurement of exhaust flue gases can ensure that the burner is operating at maximum efficiency.
- Motor: Sensors can detect excessive vibration, power consumption, and detect anomalies.
- Pump: Sensors can detect excessive vibration and power consumption; they can also measure the flow of fluid and run time, and detect anomalies.
- Sensors can monitor the presence of:
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Dust particles
- Temperature and humidity
- Volatile organic compounds
Looking to do some preventive maintenance on your building management system (BMS)?
Just like the rest of your facility, your building management system needs regular maintenance, too. All the system components—sensors, cabling, controllers, and other equipment—need regular checking to ensure they continue working efficiently and are calibrated properly.
Many building management systems (BMS) come with hefty annual software service agreement fees. An IoT solution can either supplement a legacy BMS system or be a better alternative to a traditional BMS. For a significantly lower cost the IoT solution will give you greater visibility into the health of your equipment and machinery, and provide the granular data needed to lower operating costs and increase the efficiency of your facility overall.
Interested in learning more about commercial building maintenance automation?
Implementing an IoT solution to help manage your maintenance checklist is a good way to become more proactive about maintenance and repair. At Iota Communications, we offer a variety of solutions for creating and managing the IoT devices required for “smarter” (and simpler) maintenance. Our smart building solutions are cost-effective and require minimal overhead to get up and running; you can even start small and scale as needed. If you’d like to learn more about how our sensors, software, and analytics platform can benefit your facility, get in touch today.