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Web-based Controls Simplify Service Calls

Oct. 11, 2012
In 1974, following a concert in Cambridge, MA, music critic Jon Landau famously said, "I saw rock and roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen"

In 1974, following a concert in Cambridge, MA, music critic Jon Landau famously said, “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Today, we’re seeing the future of commercial building controls, and it is web-based. As commercial service contractors, it’s time for us to begin educating our building owner clients on the benefits of web-based controls. Let’s take a look at a typical service call to understand why.

When commercial building owners or facility managers place a service call, they’re looking for a timely solution to their problem. Web-based controls allow troubleshooting of a customer’s controls system to begin immediately — before a service technician is even dispatched to a customer’s site. These systems allow contractors to create and put into place standards that will save customers time and money.

When a service call comes in a web-based building automation system (BAS) allows you to be logged in to the customer’s system within seconds and follow along with them as they describe the issue they’re having. You can log in from anywhere that has Internet access, giving you the ability to monitor customers’ buildings 24/7. A web-based BAS is designed with service in mind, and reduces the time it takes to find out what the problem is. Through the monitoring capabilities of these systems, most issues are corrected before they even become a problem.

Another benefit of using a web-based BAS is the ability to create and generate custom alarms. A customer can receive a text message, email, or phone call if there’s a problem within their facility. Each of these alarms are customer-definable and then customized based on their needs.

Getting good, detailed information from the customer at the beginning of the call is important to narrowing down the area with the problem. Your technician can find out if the customer has done any troubleshooting, and then follow up on what they’ve done. By being logged in live while talking with the customer, the troubleshooting process has already begun.

For each jobsite, custom reports can be created for each piece of equipment, and for each area that equipment is servicing. By accessing these reports, your technician is able to not only look at the real-time data of the process, but can also go back in history to pinpoint when the failure happened. By being able to see when the failure occurred, he can then look at how that piece of equipment was operating at the time.

For example, let’s say a customer with a web-based BAS calls your office to report an area of the building that’s falling below its occupied heating set point. Your service technician can log in remotely and see the area in question. He can confirm the temperature in an area has dropped, and identify that there’s no airflow going through the secondary equipment. Looking then at the primary air-handler, he can see the unit has tripped on a low-limit switch. However, by reviewing the trends, it can be seen that it’s not a faulty low-limit switch, but a very low mixed-air temperature that caused the trip. This can all be determined while the customer is on the phone, and the customer can reset the low-limit and have the air handler up and running immediately.

The customer can also be advised on how to inspect and manually close the outside air damper to prevent the low-limit from tripping until the field service technician can arrive onsite to correct the problem. The service technician, when going onsite, doesn’t have to spend any time troubleshooting the low-limit switch, as he already knows the root cause of the service call — the outside air damper. This cuts the service technician’s time in half, making him more efficient, saving the customer money, and making the technician available to handle the next call sooner.

While still logged into the system, the technician can then monitor the equipment, making sure that it’s running as efficiently as possible. He may notice that the supply fan on an air handler is running faster than it should for the airflow it’s producing. This can lead to further troubleshooting, which could identify something as simple as dirty air filters or a leak in the ductwork. It’s necessary to let the customer know these things so that their BAS can run optimally and reduce the amount of energy it’s using. With the custom reports that have been created for the facility it’s possible to quickly diagnose all the equipment in the building to see what else is wrong.

Once the process has been completed, make sure customers understand what it was that failed, so they can be educated on the BAS and how it interacts with the equipment.

Another benefit of a web-based BAS is that service technicians can use their field laptops on site to ensure that the controls themselves are working correctly: by accessing the system, they can physically watch any value or damper actuators stroke, or any relays being energized based on the commands that are being sent to the control system.

When looking at a BAS, remember that just because an area is comfortable doesn’t mean the equipment is running efficiently. Understand what the maximum performance is for that particular piece of equipment and use the system in place to its full advantage. A web-based BAS allows you to review the trends to determine the temperature of the air an air handler is discharging, or the temperature of the water a boiler is producing, and at what gas modulation. By learning how to identify problems and working with and training the customer while on a service call, you may generate more service revenue, and at the same time the customer can pay for the service with the energy that you’re saving them.

Your customers will likely be thrilled with the power of their web-based BAS. Customers will turn to you to keep adding on to their building automation system because they’ll recognize its benefits, not only as an energy savings tool, but also for its ability to reduce downtime of equipment.

Bob Joseph is process assurance specialist at CCG Automation, Inc., Richfield, OH. CCG Automation is a certified Automated Logic Corp. controls contractor. Its parent company, CCG Energy Solutions, won a Contracting Business.com Design/Build Award in 2011. Joseph can be reached at 330/659-5082, or by email at [email protected].