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The invisible referee

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The role of building services in the success of an organisation is at an all-time high and building owners and occupiers today have a much more developed understanding of the part they play in both staff productivity and the cost of running their building. Lee Coffin, chief operating officer of Western Automation and member of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), explains

 

Control of building services is essential and while for some they have always been seen that way, for many others this realisation has allowed the issue of building controls to move up their chain of priority.

Energy costs, CO2 emissions and all the legislation surrounding these issues in the built environment have turned the spotlight on building controls as a route to better building performance – and ultimately compliance because they are seen as the key element to achieving optimum efficiency in a building. In turn, this places a greater importance on the maintenance and servicing of these building controls.

Repair or replace?
It is no great secret that capital expenditure is difficult to achieve, so if someone has a problem with a component they are more likely to repair it than order a wholesale replacement – spending £500 to fix something rather than £5,000 to replace it.

But is it always better to fix rather than replace? A good facilities management provider for example would probably suggest the replacement of an old pump with new one that uses variable technology drive and in this case the building owner would pay more up front but the savings in the longer term could be substantial.

This is perhaps an over-simplification, but the point is that a competent service and maintenance provider will go beyond deploying a strategy that simply requires them to wait for a breakdown and replace like for like. A provider who has a good relationship with the client should be proactive in recommending products that don’t just replace a defective part – they enhance the system.

The fact is a building owner or manager does not want someone who is just reactive to a problem because if they have invested in a Building Energy Management System (BEMS), they want access to tools which not only identify problems, but also trigger alerts for items that need addressing. They therefore need a proactive approach which sees the service provider recommending more advanced products that can bring further benefit, and cost savings, to the end user.

This, of course, means having in place a preventative maintenance schedule where problems can be identified at an early stage and dealt with, as well as a breakdown service for emergencies.

The right balance
It’s a case of getting that balance right and understanding where the business-critical areas are. Building services controls are arguably less critical than plant machinery that is directly responsible for production.

But on the other hand if the office heating breaks down in the middle of winter you are going to struggle to keep staff at work if that problem isn’t quickly rectified.

An appreciation of high quality products should also be a central plank in the service and maintenance approach. If a low-cost valve fails six months after installation, the building owner is not going to be very happy. It is therefore important to look at the market and identify new innovations which will ensure reliability and energy savings. There is no point after all in a company installing a state of the art BEMS if the replacement parts are sub standard and will fail at the first hurdle.

This approach is in line with the rather obvious point that clients are at their happiest when maintenance issues are minimised. Essentially, they want to fix and forget. They don’t want their FM to have to go back and deal with further issues that interfere with the smooth running of a building.

The perception of the maintenance world can be that anyone can do it, and that is a feeling that will only be perpetuated by those who simply replace like for like and only react to issues as they arise in a building. What we actually need to remember is that clients want innovations. They have installed high tech building controls for a reason and they want their maintenance team to look for new products which will add value to the building they are responsible for.

Amid the many factors urging better energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions, it’s worth remembering that maintenance is essentially about people, and how the performance of a building can influence, both positively and negatively, how they perform. Building controls are responsible for ensuring that these people are kept happy and thus performing well. A proactive maintenance team which monitors and addresses issues before they are noticed by those people is therefore like the referee you don’t notice on the football pitch – they have probably done their job well.

Western Automation sponsors the BCIA Best Service and Maintenance Provider Award.

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