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Nightmares At Completion AKA Building Controls Systems

Nightmares at Completion AKA Building Controls Systems

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 290).

How do you manage the nightmare of setting to work and commissioning building controls systems? I have 15 tactics that will make a difference.

Building controls systems also known as BMS, BAS or ELV, are a classic example of scarce, specialist knowledge and therefore technical power. They are proprietary technology and require people who are skilled in:

  • Building systems engineering and application.
  • Software coding/algorithms and data interpretation.
  • Product knowledge and application.

I have just described unicorns who make a mysterious “black box of magic” work. To make things worse, there are no college or university courses to become a building controls commissioning technician / engineer. Training is “on the job”. This is a career choice you accidently find.

I have worked on several $1 billion plus size projects and without exception, the controls commissioning was a major issue and cause of delays, due to:

  • Lack of designers input.
  • Lack of understanding by all parties.
  • Lack of resources from the controls vendor.

On a $1 billion plus project I worked on in the USA, the whole project slowed down to the pace of 1 controls engineer plus one trainee technician. This was the maximum level of resources a multi national controls firm could provide no matter what pressure was applied from a scary client.

What can be done to better deal with this project managers, career ending nightmare?

Design Phase

  1. Require the MEP design engineers of record provide a written systems sequence of operation for each system and mode of operation.
  2. Require the MEP design engineers of record provide a controls points list
  3. Require the MEP design engineers of record provide a minimum standard for BMS (BAS) head end graphics.
  4. Require the MEP design engineers of record provide a systems cause & effect matrix detailing systems interconnections (hard and soft) with each other.

This is the design engineers job because they are the designers and know exactly what they want. It is not a specialists vendors job to interpret (guess) what they want from a set of drawings.

Construction Phase

  1. Manage building controls systems procurement, installation, startup and commissioning as critical path activities.
  2. Obtain written contractual agreements from the controls systems vendors on schedule and resources. Do not delude yourself, interrogate any claims on resources.
  3. Prioritize the controls submittals to ensure the final systems sequence of operation and points list are signed off ASAP.
  4. Manage the controls vendors to ensure all BMS head end graphics are built and approved prior to power on.
  5. Manage the controls vendors to ensure all systems controls code is written based on the approved sequence of operation, prior to attending site for start-up.
  6. Pro-forma all systems functional performance tests sheets based on approved controls sequences of operation.

On large, complex projects a main contractor (GC) should provide a dedicated package manager or technical services manager (TSM) to manage the controls vendor plus all items that interface with the controls system. This is simply good project and risk management.

Commissioning Phase

  1. Accept this phase will take weeks or months, not days, on any medium or large project.
  2. Employ a commissioning manager or TSM to manage all commissioning activities from date of power on.
  3. Plan and agree a commissioning program of work (schedule) prior to on onsite commissioning starting.
  4. Integrate the controls vendor commissioning technicians into the project commissioning team from the start. Do not let them work unattended.
  5. Witness and verify the controls vendor commissioning work as you progress. There are too many software jockeys who upload generic code and try to walk away. Systems have to be functionally tested in all modes of operation.

Completion means complete i.e. all controls commissioning must be 100% done at practical (substantial) completion. This is the main contractors (GC) responsibility and is a measure of success or failure. Therefore, delivery of building controls systems must be actively managed by people with domain expertise. Traditional construction management by shouting does not work with controls vendors.



Edifice Complex Podcast #029 Bill Gnerre – Why Does it Take So Long to Set up BMS? 

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