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Automation is an integral part of deciding how a building process will be managed. As an example, in the case of managing the open condenser loops and hot water or steam plants, found in industrial processes such as high-rise buildings, refineries, hospitals, airports, universities, and other commercial properties. Automation married to specific functions as these should have a single goal: A Positive Contribution to Throughput.
Throughput is a term that was developed in the computer industry to describe the computing speed of a total “System”. In terms of water, “throughput” means that a view of the total cost of operation must be adopted and not be confused with price of purchasing water and chemicals alone. We must take into account all of the variables that make up this total cost of operation, or the total System.
It is common for large buildings to create steam for environmental or process heating; they also use an open condenser loop to reject heat into the atmosphere. This means that somebody is paying for chemical, water, and service, among other components. Frequently, the cost of this process for a business can be hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars every year, yet the water programs are often not seen on the radar screen of the corporate decision makers. Throughput Management specializes in the application of technology, in the form of automation, and providing key resources that allow you to effectively manage your industrial and commercial water usage and its associated costs.
Building automation is one leg of a support system that plays a vital role in managing and controlling the building environment. For example, the tri-pod of water treatment management is the successful merging of three separate components: the Technical, the use of Policies, and the Administrative. This is the only way to create a single effective structure.
For our purpose here, the Technical aspect is focused upon an automation solution that will provide three outcomes; 1) interface with building maintenance department, 2) supply much needed and relevant data and information to the property managers, and 3) provide a comprehensive financial summary to the corporate finance department and financial officers.
Guiding principles and strategies are embedded within good policy. In turn, policies direct decision-making in the field and at the building level, and play a fundamental role in how technology is used in business today. For example, during the 1980’s it was common to hear corporate leaders, business professors, and industry pundits declare the end of the paper age and a new “paperless office”. Today, nearly every office is plagued with more paper than was dreamed possible. Our policies on information distribution and document retention have not kept pace with technology. Consequently, something that started as a terrific idea that turned out to be a colossal failure.
Any system that is managed over a long period of time will become susceptible to inertia. The tendency over time to return to wasteful or detrimental practices is well chronicled in business. How often has a “new” practice or program been adopted, shown impressive results, and then after a few short months or years, the majority of the former practices have returned. This tendency is often closely linked to the departure of a key person who was instrumental in the initial success of the program. Therefore, it is key to create a system that does not depend on a single person or a small group for its continued, long-term success.
Before we speak knowingly about any automation system, it is imperative that we explore the underlying assumptions that drive our reasons for automation. In other words, the goal(s) of any program must be clearly understood. AUTOMATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE IS WORTHLESS.
The goal is to operate the mechanical systems in their most efficient manor, which will result in a positive impact on corporate throughput. There are three clearly identifiable goals:
Operating Expense: Reduce and control costs associated with water and treatment today and in future years. Operating expenses include the cost of labor, chemicals, water, power and other incidental items.
Capital Investment: Meet or exceed the projected Life Cycle of the plant and its components.
Revenues: Prevent unplanned outages that will adversely impact the productive capacity and the profitability of the plant. For the purpose of this article, the word ”plant” can be described as a single building such as a factory, refrigerated warehouse, a large campus of buildings as we find in major universities, or a geographically diverse real estate portfolio with numerous properties dispersed around the globe.
In order to achieve the preceding goals there are necessary conditions which, if violated, will result in failure to achieve the goal in its entirety or, at best, a diminished return on the investment. In the case of industrial water and treatment, the necessary conditions that must be satisfied are:
No Additional Work for Field Personnel: Every maintenance staff is under more requirements today than ever before. Combine this with the growing shortage of seasoned maintenance personnel and you can readily see that any increase in workload is often met with resistance or, at best, indifference.
Timely Acquisition of Credible Data: Every business is unique. Often, the buildings within a portfolio are vastly different from each other and require varying degrees of monitoring and attention. The needs of your business should drive the frequency of data acquisition rather than predetermined visits by a consultant or vendor. Furthermore, the data that you receive needs to be relevant to your business.
Effective Information Management: There is little sense in collecting data that will require intensive manipulation by you before it can be useful in answering the questions that you have in everyday decision-making. And data becomes useful information only after it is converted to a format that directly applies to your business. These two statements combined mean that an automated process of data acquisition and formatting becomes a necessity.
Protection of Equipment: In order to keep your vital processes operating without unplanned outages and to protect your long-term investment, it is necessary to balance the money being spent with the productive capacity of your system. Focusing on throughput acknowledges the cost of unplanned outages to your business.
Efficient Management of Program Deployment: This looks and feels very similar to Necessary Condition Number 1(No Additional Work). In this case, when a new process is deployed at your plant, the maintenance staff is a critical link in the chain of the deployment process. Minimizing annoying and non-productive meetings and communications will alleviate the waste of valuable labor-hours.
Long-Term Management of the Water Treatment Program: Since the Goal is to reduce and control expenses today and in future years, any management program must possess the policies that drive good decisions and be independent of a single person or small group, whether this is an employee, a contractor, or a consultant. A truly autonomous or nearly autonomous system coupled with the right policies will survive the incredible churn rate (employee and staff turn over) that has become commonplace in corporate America.
Now that we understand why we are automating the water operational processes and treatment, we can finally discuss how we accomplish this task. Previously, we stated that the Technical component (automation) was one leg of the tri-pod. Actually, the very recent technical advances in controller technology finally make possible the cost effective and seamless merging of our three separate components (Technical, Policy, Administrative) into a single structure of a nearly autonomous water treatment management program.
There are now several manufacturers that build and support controllers that are capable of allowing remote access. With this advance it is possible to dial into the controller using a standard POTS line (Plain Old Telephone Service) or wireless technology that is connected to the modem at the controller. Now we can manage this function independent of the vendor service call frequency, availability of building maintenance staff, or diversity of the portfolio. This off-the-shelf technology brings you close to attaining your goals but there are inherent limitations that continue to violate the necessary conditions:
An individual or group must command the program to access this data.
The format of the data may not match your information and reporting needs.
Significant events can occur when several days or weeks may elapse before your staff responds; this elevates the risk to your throughput. It is simply raw data with no contextual meaning and fails to provide your operation with direction.
All service records created by you or your vendor will remain in hard copy format and not readily available to anybody except the building maintenance department.
Inertia is likely to set in after a short time, thereby destroying your gains.
There is a simple solution to remove the final barriers that reside in off-the-shelf technology and stand between you and the goal of improved throughput. The result will firmly place the control of your water and treatment program into your hands. Throughput Management specializes in offering a web-based monitoring platform and data analysis program. This robust information system will resolve the inherent limitations in the current technology available.
You and your staff can be notified of alarm conditions, regardless of time of day or geographical location of your system in relation to you. Your business needs will determine the monitoring frequency and notification process. The method of communication is your choice; voice, pager, fax, and e-mail are all available to your organization. There is no additional workload; in fact we are able to off-load a manual process from building maintenance staff and supply meaningful information to your management team by an automated process. Additionally, the time required to determine the program scope and program deployment has been broken into small pieces of time, each with a focused purpose. This streamlined process is to ensure that you do not waste valuable labor hours.
At all levels of the organization, from field support to CFO, it is possible to manage this process from a single point, anywhere on the planet that you have internet access. This is an information system designed to provide you with critical data and information analysis to aid your decision making process and to manage long-term superior performance. This solution combines the Technological, Policy, and Administrative structure to help you create a program with lasting results.
Finally, there is no single point of failure that will allow inertia to take hold. Since the program incorporates the three key levels of your business: building maintenance, property management, and most critically the finance department, the probability of long-term success is greatly improved. It is typical in business today to sacrifice our long-term revenue generators in the quest for short term cost reductions. The opportunity for success resides in the intrinsic conflict in reducing costs while protecting the equipment that generates your revenue. With today’s systems, it no longer matters who your water source is or who your treatment company happens to be. What matters most is how they are managed and that you are firmly in control of the management process.
Automation With a Clear Goal- improving your bottom-line. It’s all about the money!
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