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My New House - Does it Work?

15 June 2007

This article is reprinted from EuroFM Insight Issue 3 - Modern buildings are protected by a wide range of building technology. All the technological installations must function independently as well as together. Grontmij/Carl Bro develops a method for systemic quality assurance for buildings and their structural technology, working together with the contractor and the user’s own industrial management organisation

The construction industry is booming; new buildings containing huge amounts of technology are shooting up everywhere, while at the same time, requirements for functionality, indoor environments and energy consumption are being sharpened. Technological contracts are taking up an increasingly large share of the total contract sum. In addition to a good indoor environment for people working in the building, installations typically also provide other, smaller, processes: treated water for dishwashers, cooler for refrigerators, compressed air for workshops, etc.

How do we obtain an overall view of all these installations? Work on a standardised process for commencing operations of technical installations, also called commissioning, has been going on for some time abroad, especially in the US.

The commissioning process looks at the entire technical plant: project plans, installation, commencement of operations, and operational processes as a whole.

The increasing acceptance of commissioning as a new field is a consequence of the fact that a single contractor cannot monitor all the technical installations in a building. And contractors and subcontractors are not paid to look at other installations than their own.

The usual system of quality assurance is based on individual contracts or plants, so it may find isolated faults like off-centre mounting, leaky pipes or hanging cables, but traditional quality assurance makes no provision for integrated testing and documentation, and there is no concentrated effort to disclose problems in the interaction between individual installations.

Do I need to pay more to be sure that my building works?
This is nothing new. Up until now, builders have had to pay large sums to get building technology to work after the building is put into use. Now, with commissioning, we try to prevent the problems that arise from the way construction projects are organised.

Commencement of operations and initial adjustments are often postponed to the last possible moment in the construction process, with no time and not enough money to do it properly.

This means that many new buildings end up having problems with the indoor environment, increased energy consumption, or unnecessarily inconvenient or expensive daily operations. Subsequent rectification is expensive and difficult, since the work must be done in a building that has been put into use, with the resulting inconvenience for both occupants and technicians. Rectification can take years and end up costing considerably more than carrying out a planned commissioning process.

Commissioning starts as early as possible, preferably with an introductory evaluation of the construction programme to see if pitfalls for future operations can be found at an early stage. Next, the project engineering consultant’s plans are revised, with the focus on operations and initial adjustments. Planning and quality assurance for commencement of operations is done in cooperation with the contractor.

Commissioning organisation
A commissioning organisationshould be put together as early as possible, with as much participation by future operational personnel as possible. The organisation manages commencement of operations of all technical installations, giving special attention to the specifications of individual installations and their interaction, and making sure that the installations can perform as expected, that operational personnel are familiar with them, and finally, that installations are not damaged during commencement of operations. A frequent and typical mistake is starting up a ventilation system in winter before the heating system has been adjusted, resulting in a frost-cracked ventilation system.

It is important that installations are initiated and carried out in the correct order; everything must be tested, pipes flushed and pressure-tested, ventilation channels cleaned, etc.

Grontmij/Carl Bro prepares plans for installation start-up order andinitial adjustments. This ensures contractors‘ consideration for the technical installations that are linked to their own. It also avoids repeated start-ups because preceding sub-tasks have not been carried out and checked.

Having operational personnel take part in commissioning has a number of advantages:
.... Installations live up to users’ own specifications, and operation, user interfaces, etc. are familiar.
....The form and content of the contractors’ operations- and maintenance material is familiar and has been adjusted.
....Personnel have prior detailed knowledge of all the technical systems.
....It can be readily seen where outside expertise should be purchased for operations and maintenance, possibly as service contracts
....Personnel have viable contacts to key people in the construction organisation.

Commencing operations in cooperation with contractors
The commissioning organisation directs contractors during the actual work of commencing operations. This ensures that matters can be taken up that are irrelevant to the individual contractor, but which can mean considerable expense for the operating organisation if they are neglected. This has been a positive influence on a great many start-ups, either in the way the actual commencement of operations takes place, or in the timetable for commencement of operations.

Working closely with contractors, Grontmij/Carl Bro prepares guidelines and standards for all the initial adjustments involved in every contract, which means that we have been able to provide for installations’ interaction during initial adjustment.

In other words: we correlate the individual contracts, so that:
....The heating central provides enough water for the ventilation unit.
....The electrical panel provides the necessary electrical supply.
....The ventilation system provides the right amount of air at the right temperature in the right area.
....The control system manages the processes at an optimal level.
....Everything is quality assured and tested as a unit.

- And all without supply failures or problems with drafts, and with minimal energy consumption.

Final test and trial run
Grontmij/Carl Bro describes final tests which will serve as documentation that the technical installation fulfils specifications and intentions. These tests are carried out partly after commencement of operations, partly after occupancy and with full load on individual installations.

A traditional trial run by the contractor will never disclose problems relating to interaction between or output from installations that either supply the installation being tested, or are supplied by it. This is the reason why tests and trial runs carried out in the building after it is occupied are an essential part of commissioning, and test reports are an essential aspect of the building’s quality assurance.

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