A Fresh Look at Facilities Maintenance

January 7, 2008
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How do you convince a facility owner that the HVAC maintenance you want to perform is truly worthwhile? Paul Wheeler, facilities management, and Lou Ronsivalli, service development, both with Trane, offered some advice on this and other topics during their Webinar, Align Facilities Engineering Objectives with Customer Goals and Plans. It was presented for members of the Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE).

Facilities engineers who are responsible for comfort systems “are often trapped in a catch-up loop,” said the Webinar’s planners.

Topics included the use of zero-based maintenance, reliability-centered maintenance, preventive maintenance (PM) program inadequacy, and performance-based service (PBS). The overall focus was, “how technology enables us to manage critical facilities.”

DIFFERENT GOALS

Wheeler discussed how to align facility engineers’ goals with end users’ goals. The four areas he covered were:

1. A short-cut method for aligning facilities objectives with customers.

2. Zero-based maintenance, which he described as “similar to zero-based budgeting.” It includes re-examining programs and processes from scratch, instead of building upon last year’s maintenance plan.

3. Shortcuts for reliability maintenance.

4. Challenging paradigms for technology.

“Many of the world’s best companies do not have effective business processes for aligning what has to happen for the businesses,” Wheeler said. “As a result, some engineers get caught behind … for what they need to do for capacity and operation.” He proposed a short-cut method for change.

“In the old paradigm, managers didn’t think small maintenance problems were important,” he said. “When we had a big problem, they wanted to see facilities engineers out there fixing it instead of in the conference room. Being a firefighter was what we were recognized for.”

In the new paradigm, there is an increased focus on quality and improvement, he said. “More companies are focusing on cost containment and reduction. A lot of goals are put in place, and we’re being managed by some pretty tough, saber-tooth tigers in business.”

More sophisticated controls and diagnostics can change the way maintenance is perceived, Wheeler said. “We have to develop the new skills that will get us into the corporate suite, with a message that aligns with corporate thinking.”

The first step, he said, is to identify gaps in equipment care. Point out where maintenance can help, “Get a handshake agreement [with management], and set up a roadmap for realigning infrastructure and maintenance processes. Typical things we would look at would include the regulatory climate, the cost of interruptions, cycle time for capacity tie-ins, vulnerability,” etc.

REAL DIAGNOSTICS

Is the maintenance you are performing, or want to perform, truly necessary? Or is it being done because somebody else did it a few years ago? According to Wheeler, re-examining maintenance needs can help you align it more closely with the customer’s real needs, and therefore make it more justifiable in the budget.

Zero-based maintenance, he explained, is “a process of starting at zero. If you could only do one thing, what would that be? If you could do 1,000 things, what would those be? Maintenance people are entrenched in what they need to do,” and how they don’t often question it.

Basic maintenance (cleaning, lubricating, changing filters and oil) is good for equipment, but “we shouldn’t confuse that with reliability improvement,” Wheeler said. Reliability-centered maintenance looks at the results of equipment failure and how they can affect business. “Take a macro view of the building and the impact to the customer, then decide what to go after,” he said. “Look at the current approach …. Evaluate current maintenance in terms of cost, necessity, and effectiveness.

“Look at condition-based monitoring technology,” he continued. “Put those programs in place to ensure the reliability of the system.”

Basic maintenance is a necessity, he repeated; however, most PM routines don’t detect incipient problems that could lead to failure. According to research from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), “Fifty percent of unplanned downtime occurs over a week after equipment has been serviced,” Wheeler said. “In many cases, the PM has become a pretty basic process, without people qualified to detect these problems.”

Wheeler presented a challenging thought: “There are no effective PMs for many different failure modes,” he said. “However, many budgets are spent on the PM program, and we still have failures and we don’t understand why.

“Preventive maintenance is extending the life of the equipment,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t promise no failures. That was an ‘a-ha’ when we went through the PM process.” During equipment life, “all equipment has a constant or increasing failure rate,” he said.

Some of the best equipment failure indicators include vibration, wear, particles in oil, audible noise, and heat generation. “In the past, annual PMs and shutdowns caught a lot of problems,” Wheeler said. “Now more customers want to change things on the fly. This changes how we modify the infrastructure.

“Avoid the belt-and-suspenders approach to maintenance” - in other words, overkill maintenance. “Obviously you don’t want problems to occur, but we want to solve the root cause issues. You have to reinvent yourself and reinvent your processes in order to align with your customers, and get your costs and benefits right. Always focus on cost vs. benefits.”

PERFORMANCE BASIS

“We now have technology that tells us what is likely to fail and when. In early days data was manually collected,” said Ronsivalli in his discussion of Performance-Based Service: The Future of Service Contracting.

“What an OEM company thinks about all these critical elements, combined with technology now available, it allows us to look at things from a different standpoint,” he said. New technology allows service contractors to see what they need to deliver a little bit better.

PBS, he said, has been in play with the federal government for 15-plus years. There has been a challenge to apply some of the best parts of these principles and practices to the commercial sector.

The top-five market pressures for service contractors, Ronsivalli said, are increased competition, service profitability, customers demanding performance assurance, contract flexibility, and shared risk.

“Service delivery as we know it has a task-based scope and activity-based obligations (i.e., four filter changes/year).” A set of standard universal tasks is developed, and the tasks are usually performed according to the calendar. “System performance criteria are disconnected from the performance impact.”

In PBS, “When you have a system installed in a facility, there is an expected outcome based on performance. Services ensure that those design standards are maintained over time: The air handler will deliver so many cfm and Btu over time at certain conditions. It doesn’t matter if we perform the right amount of filter changes; if the equipment fails, it’s not successful.”

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES

The service contractor and facility owner need to work together to set up performance objectives, Ronsivalli said. Reliability, efficiency, uptime, output, Btu, quality, capacity, even output (power quality, IAQ, and load factors) need to be considered so the system can be maintained within a certain tolerance.

“The feds and others have specified performance objectives for service delivery and/or usage requirements for equipment,” he said. For instance, the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) offers an O&M best-practices guide to operational efficiency. “We are using it to kind of guide our thinking. They studied federal facilities worldwide; they found that for facilities that did not have a formal service program in place, putting one in place improved energy efficiency 5-20 percent without any other capital investments.”

In addition to performing maintenance, “You want to make sure that compliance [to performance criteria] gets measured and validated over time.”

BEYOND THE CALENDAR

After visible problems are fixed, “what goes on behind the scenes to maintain a certain level of efficiency? That’s a tough problem,” Ronsivalli said. FEMP’s performance-based records include “anything and everything that can affect the performance of the facility. They relate a metric to a performance objective,” instead of relying on calendar-based scheduling.

According to a 2007 FEMP report, more than 55 percent of federal facilities surveyed were working in the run-to-failure mode, he said. “Less than one-third had preventive maintenance, and 14 percent had predictive maintenance.” In those run-to-failure facilities, running the systems cost $18/equivalent hp/year. For facilities with preventive maintenance, the cost was $13/equivalent hp/year. In predicative facilities, the cost was $9/equivalent hp/year. “In reliability-based maintenance, that number drops even more,” Ronsivalli said.

“When you talk about predictive maintenance, you’re looking at testing, benchmarking, things that project the operational capacity for the future,” he said. “Is there anything in the oil that indicates a potential bearing problem in the future?” Predictive methods utilize infrared, digital thermography, and other tools to predict and prevent potential failures.

Best-in-class maintenance may include guaranteed hours of uptime. It requires a long-term commitment from both the service provider and the owner/manager, Ronsivalli said.

“The challenge,” he added, “is to take the principles, take the lessons and documentation, and determine how to service the customer base. What can we do with performance-based service that allows us to meet the objectives of a high-performance building? How can it also provide cost benefit and/or business advantages to the customer?”

A typical commercial building might have one chillier, air handlers, pumps, and a boiler. “It would cost so much per year on a run-to-fail basis,” Ronsivalli said. “That number can be cut, including the cost of the PM agreement. Everyone wins here.”

Publication date: 01/07/2008

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