May 2014
Article
AutomatedBuildings.com

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The Evolving Market for Automated
Fault Detection & Diagnostics

AFDD turns mountains of data into actionable information by analyzing millions of data points from building automation systems to determine where operational inefficiencies and energy waste is taking place.

Alex Grace,
Director of Business Development
&
Nick Gayeski,
Co-Founder and CEO

KGS Buildings


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In the last five years, the world of automated fault detection and diagnostics (AFDD) in commercial buildings has grown exponentially. The ability to connect to increasingly open building automation systems has enabled an entire industry to be born around the analysis of existing building automation data to drive operational savings. There is now a rapidly growing competitive marketplace for software that helps building owners and operators find energy waste and mechanical inefficiencies. As the various names for analytics, AFDD, or monitoring based commissioning (MBCx) software demonstrate, the market has now matured to the point where clients are no longer asking “what?” but “how?” How are you different from your competitors? How do you integrate? Can you provide an enterprise view across multiple building automation system platforms? Are you a cloud-based or an on-site solution?  Can you monetize diagnostic results? Can you provide comfort and maintenance metrics? These and other sophisticated questions from building engineers and energy managers demonstrate an evolving market.

With competing technology firms using similar words for different things and different words for similar things, there is an understandable amount of confusion about what the various solutions actually do, and how facilities management teams or service providers can drive value with AFDD.

What is the value of Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics?

AFDD turns mountains of data into actionable information by analyzing millions of data points from building automation systems to determine where operational inefficiencies and energy waste is taking place. Effective AFDD tools must not only identify a laundry list of problems, they must identify root causes, direct resolution and prioritize findings based on the actual energy value, as well as the impact to comfort and the maintenance severity. A facility manager at a hospital may care about comfort first and foremost and energy savings second and must be able to sort diagnostic results to identify the biggest comfort impacts and stay ahead of occupant complaints.  Web-interfaces should be able to help building operators identify, investigate and track inefficiencies to prioritize maintenance activities, reduce energy consumption and improve occupant comfort.

Graphic 1

Is there a difference between “rules” and “diagnostics?”

Yes there is a big difference between rules and diagnostics. A common rule is the identification of leaking valves. Leaking valves can cost a lot of money and waste a lot of energy, especially when they trigger simultaneously heating and cooling.  A rule to identify that a preheat valve in an air handling unit is leaking, might say that if the temperature rises more than five degrees across the hot water coil and the valve says it’s closed, then it must be leaking. This is a useful rule. However, it is very similar to an alarm. Buildings have lots of alarms already. To drive greater value from AFDD, the software platform must connect the dots for you by providing comprehensive diagnostics that combine multiple rules into an overarching hierarchy to identify the root cause of the problem and direct how to fix it. These diagnostics may incorporate thousands of lines of code with complex logic:

Graphic 2 

(Further Reading on Outdoor Air Economizer Diagnostician and Clockworks)

With so much complexity behind the scenes, it is essential that the web-interface is easy to understand and intuitive:

Graphic 3 

Every Building is Different. How do you customize diagnostics?

A central challenge for AFDD is the need to deploy diagnostics across many different building profiles, systems and types of equipment. Effective solutions must avoid re-writing diagnostics with every new building, which is cost prohibitive, while at the same time avoid false positives. ClockworksTM addresses both of these two priorities with a centrally managed code set that is customized to individual facilities through a scalable software configuration architecture that enables rapid deployment. This means that a complete library of diagnostic code can be rapidly applied to individual buildings, entire campuses or even large building portfolios by mapping point, equipment and system parameters directly into an internal online tool that augments the central diagnostic code without re-inventing the wheel.  This is referred to as mass-customization.

Why the Cloud?

“A network of on-demand, traffic managed, load-balanced, virtualized servers, working  together with geo redundant storage, and distributed caching in a ‘cloud’ can accomplish more than any single server could do on its own, especially for collecting, storing and analyzing large volumes of data.” (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Building Data) What does this mean for Fault Detection? It means no “choke points”, no limits to data storage, no limits to the number of equipment and buildings that an owner and operator can analyze on a single platform. 

A deliberate decision was made early in the development of ClockworksTM to develop a cloud-based, rather than on-site, software solution. One only needs to open any business section of any newspaper to see the rapidly increasing growth of big data and cloud technologies. Fundamentally, we see two main advantages of the cloud for building owners and operators: scalability and accelerated technological change.

Scalability: For large organizations with hundreds or thousands of sites, scalability across the enterprise is very important. Cloud software technology enables large deployments with an unlimited amount of buildings, equipment and points. Effective AFDD platforms must have the ability to process and display millions and even billions of data points quickly through an accessible, intuitive web platform. When data is streaming into ClockworksTM from hundreds of sites, cloud based servers spin-up automatically on-demand to handle, store, and analyze that data. Thousands of virtual servers can be used as needed to process all diagnostics on all data globally in under two hours. When many users within an organization log into Clockworks at the same time, multiple servers can spin up to handle the requests from those users, eliminating bottlenecks. The bottom line for scalability is that cloud technology eliminates both the data storage and processing power limitations of PC or single-server based applications.

It is worth noting that any software can be “installed on the cloud.” One can put a SQL server or any application on a cloud server and access it through the web, but this does not eliminate bottlenecks. There is still a limit to the size of that single server in terms of its ability to process, analyze and store data. If many users try to access the same web server, the system will slow and become unusable. Picture 50 users trying to use your PC remotely at the same time. This is different than software architected around the cloud which allows the use of thousands of servers at the same time to collect and process data, run diagnostics and efficiently serve those results to a website.

Rapid Technological Change: The pace of technology change today is so rapid that one may consider a standard software package loaded on a server or PC outdated within a year of installation. Rather than yearly releases, software teams can now constantly innovate and iterate by building features and functionality continuously and deploying those upgrades dynamically to all users. Customers are no longer asked to upgrade to new versions periodically; upgrades appear through the web interface consistently and seamlessly over a rapid development cycle. This method of software development allows the product team to respond rapidly to customer and market feedback. 

ClockworksTM currently collects over two billion points of data per month and is growing at rate of 50% every three months. At this rate, the platform will collect five billion data points every month by January 2015.

Systems Integration

Reliable ControlsThere are different approaches in the market today to communicate with building automation systems (BAS) and extract data for fault detection. Clockworks utilizes a customized Data Transfer Service (DTS) to stream data to the cloud without the need for additional hardware. The DTS is a Windows service that sits on the same network as the building automation system. It communicates with global/supervisory BAS controllers or databases to poll temperatures, pressures, flows (inputs and outputs), and setpoints (numeric and virtual points) from the building automation system and push one-way to the cloud.

How do you bring AFDD into Facilities Management?

Technology is essential, but without a process for managing and responding to diagnostics findings, there is only limited value. Ownership over FDD programs is important and a defined workflow is necessary for scheduling maintenance and responding to diagnostic results. The extent to which work is performed by an in-house facilities engineering team or by outside engineering or services providers is dependent on the organization. Some customers use ClockworksTM to dispatch and plan maintenance every week internally. Others do not have the people or time to manage the platform and prefer to have an energy services company, trusted consulting engineering firm, retro-commissioning firm or controls contractor utilize ClockworksTM to drive energy reduction. Since some diagnostic results require programming changes and sensor replacement and others require mechanical work to be performed, a well-defined process is important for maximizing ROI. 

Conclusion:

The market for Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics software is expanding rapidly with more and more organizations looking to drive value from the HVAC data that they already have locked up in many different controls systems.  Effective AFDD solutions must be able to:

  1. Identify root causes through comprehensive diagnostics, not just rules.
  2. Accurately calculate energy impact, as well as provide comfort and maintenance metrics.
  3. Scale across entire portfolios rapidly and be capable of constant evolution.
  4. Provide intuitive web-interfaces with multiple tools to manage building performance across the enterprise.
  5. Drive an effective process for action.


About the Authors

Alex GraceAlex Grace is the Director of Business Development at KGS Buildings. He is responsible for channel and direct sales, enabling end-customers and channel partners to develop data-driven proactive maintenance processes. Alex has extensive experience scaling organizations to effectively combine software as a service (SaaS) and engineering services.


Nick GayeskiNick Gayeski is Co-Founder and CEO at KGS Buildings, LLC working with customers to help solve their needs with building performance management software and automated fault detection and diagnostics. Nick supports channel partners and large direct customers in adopting and incorporating Clockworks into their service offerings and facilities processes.  Nick has published in or served as a reviewer for the HVAC&R journal, ASHRAE transactions, and Lighting Research and Technology and presented at conferences including CleanTech, Realcomm, the ASHRAE annual conference and others.  Nick is an active member in ASHRAE TC 7.5 Smart Building Systems and has conducted cooperative research and development with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, funded by the US DOE.  Nick holds a BA (2002) in physics from Cornell University, and an MS (2007) and PhD (2010) in Building Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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