Train O&M During Cx
While developing and implementing technical training programs for operations and maintenance (O&M) staff, I’m often asked if it’s possible to combine training typically performed during the commissioning (cx) process with a larger education initiative like an apprenticeship program or a multi-module training course. The answer is a resounding “yes”. In fact, the transition from construction to operations is the perfect time to perform broader level training that extends beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations and best practices.
During the commissioning process, there should almost always be a formal training event scheduled and executed, but training is never just a single occurrence. Training should happen throughout the project. Not only should training be a continuous effort, but its outcomes should be quantified in a manner that measures competency gains among the participants (in this case, O&M staff).
With this approach, operators will assume occupancy of the space and fully understand the design intent of the equipment and systems supporting it. Ideally, the design intent is directly communicated to the operators by the designer (engineer) of record. In today’s world of sophisticated technology, owners cannot afford to blindly operate their buildings, especially in complex environments like hospitals, laboratories, and universities. Technical training is a necessity – not a luxury. If bypassed on the front end, owners will always pay for it one way or another on the back end. No doubt about it.
Let’s start from the top. For a project to be most successful, the facilities management team should be engaged early in the design process. Oftentimes, they’re going to offer a perspective on operations and maintenance that the engineering/design team otherwise would not consider. As the design evolves and approaches final construction document development, the facilities management team can gather a new equipment inventory and related information like sequence of operations and operator dashboard trends.
Engaging the O&M staff early in the design process is critical, but don’t just take my word for it.
“Without early involvement in a project, extensive training in efficient equipment and systems operation, and a clear understanding of the purposes of the health facility commissioning process, it is very difficult for the O&M team to balance the competing agendas of maintaining high customer service levels and focusing on the commissioning authority’s effort to obtain the ROI.” ASHE Health Facility Commissioning Guidelines (2010)
One simple way (yet commonly overlooked) to involve the O&M team during the design process is to use their knowledge and existing documents to establish a consistent numbering system and methodology. How many times have you seen 10 different AHU-1s within the same facility? They’re different units, but they’re all labeled with the same name. A key focus that makes a significant difference is getting room numbering accurate since it will be referenced in so many different files and systems.
To take this concept further, the O&M staff could also support the project team by ensuring the established numbering system is consistent between the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and the design drawings. If an asset (existing or new) is identified in the CMMS, then label it (with its asset number) on the drawings as well. Again, this exercise is a fantastic way to engage O&M staff in the design process and to train them on how the equipment works together within a system.
While working within the CMMS and with the new equipment inventory in hand, gather the appropriate operations and maintenance information for each asset. Then, use this information to pre-program work orders into the CMMS so they’re automatically generated and dispatched according to each asset’s recommended preventative maintenance schedule. Include prudent measures for sensor and equipment calibration, which can provide a significant impact on energy costs and savings. For hospitals in particular, this effort would kick start the necessary documentation to create an Alternative Equipment Maintenance Program (AEM) for the equipment once the sufficient data is gathered.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. The first step in the training process is testing staff for technical proficiency and measuring their competency level against pre-defined expectations specific to their roles and responsibilities. In commissioning, this could mean a number of things. Training could focus on equipment and systems (anything from the thermostat to the utility plant), energy management, troubleshooting, operator dashboards and data analytics, codes and regulatory compliance, or all the above. It’s critical to establish a baseline of knowledge and skills before spending time and resources on training delivery. If you don’t know where you need to be headed, how can you be sure you’re going in the right direction?
Testing results will inform you where you need to focus training efforts. Since commissioning has a defined scope of work and is in conjunction with a defined project, the training curriculum is defined by the project. Objectives should focus on transitioning staff from current skills and abilities to operations once the project is complete. Use the operations and maintenance manuals, commissioning documents, and relevant codes and standards to outline the curriculum and to develop training material.
While the design is under development by the project team, this is the perfect time to train facilities management staff on some of the fundamentals related to airside, hydronic, and controls systems. If you know what type of heating and/or cooling system will be in operation post-occupancy, then focus on that system’s equipment – the individual components, what they’re called, what each one does and how it operates, normal operating parameters, maintenance procedures, and common troubleshooting scenarios. Incorporate concepts like metering, minimum and maximum airflow, valve operation, and basic sequences of operation. The design doesn’t have to be 100% complete to start training on these concepts.
In my experience, maintenance staff are kinesthetic learners that thrive in the learning environment when they can immediately apply the material. For this reason, I recommend a dual approach to training delivery – interactive and personal lessons that are first presented in a classroom environment and then immediately reinforced with field encounters that take the training participants to the facility’s actual equipment. For example, if the lesson is focused on how air handling units function and the purpose of each component, then go to the air handling units and point out these components. Ask questions at the equipment and engage your team in meaningful discussion.
Don’t just limit this training to HVAC technicians and plant operators, either. Include as many support services personnel as logistics permit. One of my favorite success stories to this day is how an electrician and a plumber were “caught” by their facility director looking over their building automation system (BAS) and discussing simultaneous heating and cooling. Facilities management takes an army, so cross-train as often and as much as you can.
By the time the fundamentals are covered in the training process, facilities staff should be ready to actively participate in the commissioning activities. Start by offering an outline of what to expect during the commissioning process.
The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) suggests the commissioning agent facilitate the development and implementation of the following items to prepare operations and maintenance staff for sustainable operations:
- Operating and Maintenance Dashboards
- Maintenance Staff Training
- Implementation of HVAC Control System Trends
- Commissioning Report and Systems Manual
- Maintenance Budget
- Fire and Smoke Damper Inspections and Testing
- Statement of Conditions (SOC)
- Building Maintenance Program (BMP)
Several documents are delivered throughout the commissioning process, all of which would benefit from review and feedback from facilities management personnel.
The Systems Manual is analogous to an owner’s manual for a car; it provides the owner with the information necessary to operate their building. The manual should be delivered in an electronic format and dynamically linked to Building Information Modeling (BIM) data like a 3-D Revit model and other relevant system information. The BAS should include dynamic links to sequences of operation, and the commissioning agent should close the project with a solution that enables building operators to access information on a real-time basis and in a manner that it can be continuously updated. The Systems Manual is effectively the owner’s training manual and should significantly influence the training that is delivered throughout the project.
The facilities management group could support the equipment installation process by reviewing the construction documents and verifying that installation complies with the requirements. If the commissioning agent develops pre-functional checklists per the design and shop drawings, then the internal team can take an active role with the commissioning team by reviewing these checklists and witnessing pre-functional testing.
Here’s just one example of how to engage internal staff with the commissioning process while also accomplishing training objectives:
Damper testing must be completed within a year of occupancy and every 6 years thereafter. Why can’t this testing be accomplished with O&M staff as part of functional performance testing? Not only would this approach engage O&M staff in a productive and meaningful way, but it would reduce the cost of execution. On average, it would cost $8-9 per damper to perform this testing during commissioning versus $35-45 per damper after occupancy. Obviously, these costs are estimates and vary by a number of factors including project complexity and location, but you get the point.
The team performing damper testing should develop a written report (or other document) that lists each damper number, damper location, date of inspection, damper inspection results, and associated corrective work, if required. Be sure your report complies with the appropriate regulatory authority – refer to NFPA 25, NFPA 72, EC.02.03.05, EPs 1-20, EP 25, etc.
After project closeout, a drawing should be kept with this report that identifies damper location and any impediments to access. For healthcare facilities, the goal should be to document in a way that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and The Joint Commission (or DNV GL) will accept.
Since they’ll be on site daily, it would also be beneficial to have the facilities team support the development and resolution of the issues log, too. Include this staff in contributing to the master issues log, site visit reports and follow-up correspondence, and the resolution process for each deficiency.
Approximately one week prior to functional performance testing, facilities management staff should be trained on the tuning and commissioning process to prepare them for functional testing. After training and testing are complete, staff will be equipped with the knowledge they need to continue the commissioning process post-occupancy. If the project is an addition or renovation to an existing building, then this would also be the ideal time to train staff on retro-commissioning tactics and techniques for existing infrastructure.
Commissioning doesn’t always end with occupancy; in many cases, the commissioning agent remains engaged with the project through the warranty period, so s/he can help resolve issues as they come up. Some owners choose for the commissioning agent to provide at least one training workshop during the warranty period that addresses the difference between design theory and operational reality.
Equipment and systems that commonly function differently than their original design intent include air terminal units, air handling units, the chilled water system, and the heating water system. These operational differences will become evident if trend data is polled and displayed on an operator dashboard (or similar reporting). Assuming the commissioning agent either established or reviewed these trends, then they’re the ideal entity to monitor them post-occupancy, adjust the sequences of operation as needed, and train facilities management staff on the tuning process.
In some cases, tuning isn’t necessary, and the difference between theory and operation comes down to effective training. If facility staff didn’t learn or retain what was taught to them during the construction period, then this competency gap will reveal itself in the trend data – especially if systems are not reset per their programmed schedules or expected occupancy modes, and if valves and dampers are not closing off completely.
Common issues that can be diagnosed with trend data include those listed below.
Air Terminal Units: simultaneous heating and cooling, malfunctioning terminal box dampers and reheat hot water control valves, blockages within the heating water piping system, capability of the terminal boxes to satisfy space temperature, and excessive energy consumption because of “over-airing” the space
Air Handling Units: static pressure, humidifier operation, fan tracking in variable air volume (VAV) systems, and operational issues related to coils and control valves
Chilled Water System: chiller loading, chiller short cycling (or stopping and starting inappropriately), primary chilled water flow versus secondary chilled water flow, primary chilled water temperature versus secondary chilled water temperature, differential pressure, set point and actual readings, pump speed, and pump status
Heating Water System: outside air and supply water temperatures, supply and return water temperatures, steam valve position, differential pressure, set point and actual readings, pump speed, and pump status
In addition to identifying and resolving operational issues with trend data, the commissioning agent can work with the facilities management team to measure and verify actual energy performance against any energy goals or targets, conduct post-occupancy functional performance testing, and participate in the end-of-warranty review and closeout process.
With effective operator dashboards and timely energy performance data, operations and maintenance staff can leverage their technical training to identify and resolve operations issues that affect life safety, occupant comfort, energy efficiency, and system performance.
About me: I have been responsible for the development and management of over $370 million in specialized energy solutions and infrastructure projects. Since starting my career in healthcare engineering consulting, I have provided healthcare facility managers with the tools and resources they need to make data-driven, well-informed decisions that improve their energy efficiency, building performance, and facility operations. The most recent of these solutions is a healthcare facilities operation and maintenance training program, the first of its kind in the industry.
Let’s connect: If you have a success story in facilities management, I’d love to hear about it and learn how you made it happen.