Simply running a system until it breaks down is a seriously false economy. As a chiller’s performance starts to dip, so it becomes less effective and uses considerably more energy. Using digital tools can help an FM deliver a better and more targeted maintenance service while keeping their own costs under control.
Remote monitoring of chillers is a sensible precaution and an investment that pays back many times over. Particularly during periods like last summer’s extended heatwave when the system can come under pressure, round-the-clock surveillance can ensure there is no interruption in service.
It also provides highly valuable operating data, which can be used to fine tune systems in operation for maximum performance – giving the end user a further opportunity to reduce running costs.
Lifetime cost and value of a contract, not just the bottom line
The government was recently criticised for taking too short-term a view of building services following an inquiry by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee into the way the government deals with its suppliers.
Its report recommended that the government consider “the lifetime cost and value of a contract, not just the bottom line at the point the contract is commissioned”. It added that government procurers should “get better at managing contracts through their life” in order to ensure they deliver value for money.
This suggests a change of approach for the public sector that is reflected in the private sector too. Items like rising energy costs and poor maintenance leading to higher bills are now a greater priority for organisations and their financial managers. They now have higher expectations and want their FM providers to deliver an all-round service that takes the lifetime operation of equipment into account to reduce ongoing costs.
Highly complex equipment requires specialised care
In the case of chillers, some are maintained directly by the manufacturer, but increasingly they are part of a general FM contract with the contractor responsible for all the building and estate systems.
There is no problem with so-called ‘soft’ FM providers expanding their reach to manage more of a client’s built assets because they have the management expertise to run a successful maintenance programme. However, they should not fall into the trap of thinking that critical, sophisticated equipment like chiller plant could be maintained in the same way as other more general ‘soft’ services.
Any piece of highly complex equipment requires specialised care and it is well worth the investment in that expertise for both the FM provider and their client. Contractors pitching for FM contracts will have to demonstrate return on investment for the end client – as well as guaranteeing legislative compliance – and planned, ongoing maintenance is the best strategy because it allows them to nip potential problems in the bud.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, we must hope that a new, healthy attitude to building services maintenance can now be properly established. We have seen greater use of digital tools to support maintenance during the pandemic and this should also help us win the argument that improved access to operational data gathered through remote monitoring will enable us to manage and maintain buildings more effectively – and safely – for the long-term.
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