In Control

Regain control of the HVAC repair budget: Save on energy costs; improve productivity and asset life.

BY ANDY HUMPHRIES & DAN KUBALA

Retailers are well aware of the potential for an energy management system (EMS) to significantly reduce utility costs through enterprise visibility and control over HVAC, lighting, signage and other facility assets. An EMS often enables chain store operators to realize enterprise energy savings of 15% to 30%, which can be sustained long term and might even increase over time.

Dan KubalaUnfortunately, retailers are sometimes wary of implementing an advanced EMS, as having better insight into failed and underperforming assets (particularly HVAC units) might lead to “blowing the maintenance budget.” They fear that awareness of previously hidden equipment issues could drive excessive repair and maintenance (R&M) costs. In short, they worry that energy and R&M budgets might conflict with one another and that decreasing one budget might necessitate an increase in the other. 

But when managed properly, just the opposite is true. While a real-time view to equipment performance may in some cases lead to service calls that might not otherwise occur, the net effect of EMS is a significant reduction in the frequency of dispatches. Further, pre- and post-service call visibility increases the effectiveness of the remaining repair visits that are truly necessary.

As a consequence, the cost reduction opportunities on the facility maintenance budget provided by EMS can be substantial. One nationwide retailer conducted a year-over-year internal study to validate the maintenance impact of the asset management phase and documented cost reductions of 14% — more than $1,900 in savings per store each year.

Furthermore, chain stores that fully leverage EMS information to proactively identify and diagnose outliers can generate additional savings on energy costs and improve asset life by up to 25%.

BENEFITS OF A PROACTIVE ASSET MANAGEMENT APPROACH

A proactive asset management approach should help staff with minimal training instantly see all of the issues across the enterprise. This process includes real-time dashboards to identify exceptions across thousands of HVACs and lighting controls. More importantly, the tools and processes must categorize and prioritize issues so that the right issues are fixed in the right order.

This visibility and control allows facility maintenance staff to create the most value within their budget constraints. It is an approach that helps improve productivity and delivers even greater savings to the bottom line by:

• Averting unnecessary HVAC and lighting service calls.

• Maximizing kWh savings, identifying set point drifts and pinpointing equipment failures.

• Verifying that service providers are performing proper preventative maintenance.

• Preventing store closures by remotely identifying HVAC and lighting problems.

Equipped with actionable data from the EMS, the facility maintenance team can manage each service dispatch to drive cost efficiency. The process provides clear and complete directions to the service provider and consolidates dispatches and the tools needed to validate repairs before the service contractor leaves a site. Such information can be used to identify repeat issues requiring service that should be performed under warranty, or to determine if the equipment was installed properly at commissioning. These features alleviate friction and poor service performance. Lowering the number of issues and dramatically improving the “first time fix” rate reduces the average repair costs per site and improves customer/employee satisfaction.

EMS-ENABLED ACTIVITIES TO REDUCE MAINTENANCE COSTS

There are several key activities that retailers can implement to leverage advanced systems to drive down maintenance costs and improve uptime. Some of these are extremely easy to implement, while others require a higher level of operational maturity. Taken together, by deploying these processes, periodically measuring results, collaborating with maintenance vendors and implementing continuous improvement, retailers can increase the ROI of EMS while ensuring customer comfort and consistent standards throughout their chain.

8 KEY PROCESSES THAT REDUCE R&M COSTS

Below summarizes the operational processes that help retailers drive down maintenance costs and increase efficiency. “Process Sophistication” refers to the relative level of operational discipline and coordination required to consistently implement each activity.

1. Underperforming HVAC Identification

A California Energy Commission study concluded that approximately 35% of U.S. small commercial package rooftop HVAC units are broken and not functioning at optimal levels. For stores with multiple RTUs, odds are that one or more of them are in some sort of failure mode or performing sub-optimally in most stores. Since the other functioning units serving a shared sales floor will overcompensate, store managers and customers will rarely notice issues. Thus, failed HVAC units drive excessive energy and maintenance costs with no customer benefits — usually for months and sometimes, years. Repairing the HVACs quickly is well documented as decreasing a building’s energy usage and increasing comfort — as well as directly lowering annual maintenance costs.

Remote detection of performance degradations (commonly called Fault Detection & Diagnosis or, FDD) can be brought to the attention of the maintenance provider prior to the next preventative maintenance (PM) visit and in lieu of an emergency — and possibly after-hours — service call. The result is service call avoidance, elimination of overtime/after-hour charges, and the potential avoidance of catastrophic repairs through early detection.

For example, a large footprint retailer maintains an onsite data room that controls all POS and hand scanner controls. A temperature exception indicated a failure in the HVAC. A technician conducted an onsite evaluation, which showed a leak in the HVAC’s suction side was causing a cooling failure. Prompt action not only avoided possible store closure and data loss but also helped prevent what could have been much higher HVAC repair costs had the condition been allowed to persist.

2. Remote HVAC Reset

In addition to being able to quickly identify which HVAC units could potentially fail near-term, the EMS analytics platform should enable a temporary shutdown/reset of the unit. For some HVAC units experiencing certain failure modes, calling for a remote system reset may allow the unit to continue functioning until the next PM visit. In these situations, the EMS’ capabilities not only reduce the cost of energy associated with operating the failing unit, they totally avert the need for an unnecessary dispatch. The cost savings associated with this capability can be substantial.

3. Remote HVAC Shutoff

If a remote shutdown/reset of the HVAC unit does not fix the problem, it is important that the EMS provides the remote capability to temporarily shut down the HVAC so that it does not continue to waste energy and wear out other mechanical parts. Combining remote system diagnosis with remedial action can help reduce significant maintenance costs, energy usage and capital expenditure reductions (via possibly averting an expensive compressor replacement). Facility managers can get a real-time view of the site environment and status of the other RTUs to assess how quickly the repair needs to be completed to ensure customer comfort is not impacted.

4. Remote Equipment Diagnosis

Remote diagnosis prior to a service visit can save the cost of having a contractor go to the site, diagnose the failure and shut the unit off until replacement parts can subsequently be dispatched and repairs performed. Understanding the probable nature of the failure can allow facility staff to obtain competitive bids for completing the repair, which can generate additional cost savings. Further, other broken or underperforming HVAC units at the location can be identified and added to the work order, eliminating the cost of a separate dispatch.

5. Repair & Warranty Validation

An important capability of the EMS is to validate repairs before the service contractor leaves a site. This feature eliminates poor service performance from the process, and therefore reduces the average repair costs per site. More importantly, the fact that service contractors are aware that the retailer has this capability often improves quality across all visits. Facility professionals can utilize this information to develop vendor scorecards. Proactive vendors will leverage the information provided by the EMS to improve performance and reduce inefficiencies and thus, their cost, while continued performance problems might spotlight marginal vendors.

For example, a retail site indicated a failure of an HVAC in a shared sales space served by 19 HVAC units. Prompt dispatch of an HVAC technician to diagnose and repair indicated that the failing unit had clogged filters and coils as well as a low coolant charge due to a small leak. Discussion with the facility team indicated that this site was under an HVAC PM program and should have been serviced the month before the identified unit failed. Since the PM provider failed to properly provide the PM services for which it was contracted, the unit was repaired at no cost.

6. Maintenance Vendor Integration

The visibility provided by the EMS should easily enable the retailer’s facility team to remotely validate whether repair work was completed properly as well as identify contractor performance trends. Further savings can be accomplished by providing remote logins to trusted vendors, while ensuring such access conforms with best practices in IT security for maximum protection of corporate data. Extending system access to service contractors affords them the opportunity to determine which items require immediate dispatch versus which items can wait until the next PM visit.

Additionally, the more sophisticated retailers deploy system-to-system software interfaces between the EMS and their work order management systems to further eliminate friction in R&M processes. Such strategies can reduce direct and overhead costs and improve performance, resulting in greater margins for both parties.

7. Prioritization of Repairs

The enterprise-wide visibility to asset performance and operating conditions provided by a modern energy management platform can play a key role in enabling facilities professionals to prioritize HVAC repairs. For example, an RTU could be turned off remotely until competitive repair bids are obtained for a marginal but expensive performance issue. Prioritization and proper visibility help the facility maintenance crew make better decisions that preserve their budget. They can dispatch to a site in Arizona that has three out of six RTUs down before dispatching to a site in Minnesota with one out of six RTUs down. Ideally, the system will automatically prioritize all locations within a vendor’s portfolio of sites by the number of potential issues at a location, allowing rapid identification and analysis of these trade-offs. This visibility allows managers to prevent budget overruns without jeopardizing customer comfort.

8. Predictive Maintenance

The 15-minute performance interval data collected and permanently hosted in an energy analytics platform provides a rich environment for equipment performance and maintenance optimization studies. For example, instead of scheduling PM visits solely based on a calendar (e.g., each service call occurs at 3-month intervals), facility professionals can begin to tie PM visits based on the actual equipment runtime. This avoids the cost of unnecessary premature visits, while also avoiding catastrophic repairs for units on the verge of failure.

SUMMARY

The effect of EMS on reducing electricity and gas costs at the store level is well documented and easy to understand. What is not as readily apparent, but equally impactful, is the effect of EMS with advanced analytics and FDD capabilities on reducing maintenance spend. By deploying the processes outlined above, facility management professionals can regain control of the HVAC repair budget to reduce energy and maintenance costs, extend asset life and improve productivity. RFB

Andy Humphries is head of engineering and Dan Kubala is director of business development for the Retail & Commercial Systems group of Siemens’ Building Technologies Division, located in Austin, Texas. Email them at andy.humphries@siemens.com and daniel.kubala@siemens.com.

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