Why facilities managers need remote maintenance

Published:  14 April, 2006

Siemens
A building-management system equipped with remote-diagnostics capability helps ensure that an engineer visiting the site to put right a problem is fully equipped with the necessary replacement components.

Most modern building management systems (BMSs) have provision for remote access. This opens up the possibility of remote diagnostics which, as STEVE LOUGHNEY of Siemens Business Technologies explains, offer facilities managers big benefits.

If there is a problem with a building-management system (BMS), the tradition is that the facilities manager phones the maintenance company, which sends an engineer to site to investigate. It is usually a few hours before the engineer arrives, and that is often not the end of the waiting. If a spare part is needed, the engineer may not have a suitable component to hand. That means a second visit — and more delay.

If the problem is a complex one that the engineer cannot diagnose, a specialist may have to be called in. Even more delay is then inevitable, and it becomes easy to see problems continue for days at a time.

Remote diagnostics

The situation is very different for a BMS with well-implemented remote diagnostics. In the first place, the BMS will probably alert the maintenance company even before the fault is apparent to the facilities manager.

Once alerted, engineers at the maintenance company can investigate the fault via the remote link without having to leave their desks. In fact, with some arrangements, the engineers can access the link from any location where they can connect to the Internet — even from home, in the middle of the night!

Common problems can usually be fixed via the link, especially if they relate to incorrect settings or improper use of manual overrides. If the problem cannot be completely fixed remotely, it is often possible to use the link to set up a temporary solution. A faulty sensor might, for example, be bypassed. This ensures that comfort levels are maintained, and that the building remains fully usable.

  Even in the worst case, when remote action cannot get round the fault, the use of remote diagnostics will identify the type of problem, enabling the engineer visiting site to ensure he has the necessary replacement components with him.

Implementation

Remote diagnostics are clearly highly desirable, but how are they implemented?

  First, it is necessary to have a BMS that supports remote access; fortunately, most modern systems do.

  Then a data link is needed to the maintenance company’s control centre. In most cases, this will be a broadband connection or a dial-up link with a modem. Large organisations may be able to use their own wide area network (WAN).

  Of the three link types, the WAN approach costs least, as it makes use of existing infrastructure — but is only viable if this infrastructure is already in place. Dial-up modems are cheap to install, but the operating costs can be high. For most users, a broadband connection is the best choice as, even though the initial set up may cost fractionally more than for a modem link, the running costs are small and, just as important, fixed.

Some maintenance companies operate the links themselves, but many are now moving to indirect data collection. The links to the individual BMS installations are set up and operated by a third party, which forwards the data to the maintenance company. This service is, for example, offered by Siemens Building Technologies. The maintenance company no longer has to invest in and maintain the communications infrastructure and is free to concentrate on its core services.

Benefits

One of the major benefits of remote diagnostics for facilities managers is, as we have seen, efficient fault handling, but it is by no means the only benefit. By collecting and analysing BMS data, the maintenance company can derive much useful information. It can see, for example, if energy usage at a particular site changes, and how quickly it changes.

A slow change may indicate a need for routine maintenance, while a faster change may mean that settings have been tampered with or that a component has failed. In either case, appropriate action can be initiated. By logging the causes of failures, the maintenance company can identify fault-prone components and ensure they are replaced during routine maintenance before a failure occurs.

A building-management system equipped with remote diagnostics can alert the maintenance company even before a fault is apparent to the facilities manager. Common problems can usually be fixed remotely.

The maintenance company can also calculate and compare the energy efficiency of similar buildings, enabling those with poor performance to be identified, so that steps can be taken to locate and correct the cause of the inefficiencies.

Remote diagnostics for building-management systems cut plant downtime, help ensure that optimum comfort levels are maintained and often lead to significant gains in energy efficiency.

With new installations, and with most existing installations, remote diagnostics are neither difficult nor expensive to add, and their benefits will quickly outweigh the modest running costs. In short, remote diagnostics are no longer a luxury for facilities managers — they an essential tool for effective building and energy management.

Steve Loughney at Siemens Building Technologies Ltd, Hawthorne Road, Staines, Middx TW18 3AY. steve.loughney@siemens.com



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