The changing landscape of HVAC service & maintenance

The HVAC space has come a long way since I first joined the industry as a Field Service Apprentice, over 30 years ago, the requirement for service companies to appoint separate electrical, mechanical and refrigeration engineers are now a thing of the past, the multi-disciplined engineer is now a ‘must have’ not only for the aforementioned skill sets but with more in depth on controls and IT competence with the use of lap tops, tablets and mobile devices to download data from HVAC controllers.

HVAC has become essential across many sectors; HVAC plants sizes have increased and complex solutions are being designed to meet tighter efficiency requirements. In order to maintain a higher level of efficiency, HVAC service and maintenance is integral to ensuring the HVAC plant is running at its most optimum level.

We are also finding that with ever increasing energy prices the emphasis for tailored service & maintenance packages has increased over time. Your standard tick box maintenance packages are becoming less common and facilities managers as well as end users are looking for more value from their contracts, they want to work with companies who are driven to preserving the efficiency and life-cycle of the equipment and overall extend the life-cycle of the plant.

With regular maintenance being the key to reliability, service providers need to work closely with Facilities Managers to not only maintain the building plant for critical continuous operation but to continuously monitor the systems, with the target of preventative maintenance, reducing downtime and ultimately reducing the building energy usage.

The role of a service and maintenance organisation is not just to provide a ‘maintenance package’ to the FM or end user. Service and maintenance organisations now take on more of a consultative role whereby their extensive knowledge and experience helps to prolonging the life of the equipment and work on continuous approaches to reducing the plants running cost.  

Both chiller and air handling unit plant systems need to be regularly maintained to ensure smooth, trouble free operation.  With a regular service and maintenance programmes in place, unexpected breakdowns can be reduced by up to 70% with system operation downtime reduced by up to 40%.

Chiller maintenance is extensive and whilst the onsite FM team can carry out some basic weekly checks there is a recommendation of multiple service engineer visits per year covering the following:

  • Mechanical check: such as chilled water flow, air in the system and pressure drop.
  • Refrigeration check: such as suction and discharge pressures, sub cooling, superheat and expansion valve operation, also to meet the F-Gas requirements in today’s legislation.
  • Electrical inspection: such as on wiring, sensors, system safety switches, operating currents and transducers.
  • Unit inspection: such as fault generation, response monitoring, condenser and evaporator condition reporting, controls values and settings.

These service areas will help ensure that the chiller remains in good working order. Whilst Air Handling Unit maintenance may be considered a more simple service regime, we still need to ensure filters are clean or replaced on a regular basis, this is essential especially in the health care sector. 

As part of any service and maintenance agreement preventative maintenance is the key, however there are times where unforeseen breakdowns occur. This for many sectors can be detrimental due to the critical nature of the business operation.  The game changer here is the development of a secure remote monitoring system, which enables greater levels of forward planning of maintenance and remote diagnostics of problems, further reducing downtime of the HVAC plant.

Remote Monitoring

With today’s modern technology, remote monitoring is fast becoming a necessity in any modern building, with fast and fully secured networks and analytic software the service engineers most powerful tool is becoming his tablet or laptop!

Secure remote monitoring has been in operation within the refrigeration industry for many years now and is now forming a part of the enhanced maintenance packages. This enables your HVAC plant to have predictive maintenance, closely monitor the energy usage and shorten reactive call out responses from hours to minutes, all from the comfort of your service office.

This also enables the service provider to offer their expertise, advising the FM’s/end users on how they can save energy from the HVAC operation as monitoring is now 24/7/365, this priceless data assists in any energy saving proactive programme.

With HVAC plant being one of the highest users of energy in any building today, any changes to its operational status needs to be evaluated correctly and carefully using the correct information. Remote monitoring your HVAC plant is a key step in finding ways to reduce energy consumption, thus reducing the buildings energy costs.

Data collated from remote monitoring takes into consideration the key elements needed to evaluate the energy usage, including,  input power, delta T, chilled water temperature and or chilled water flow rates and ambient conditions.  With this information the FM/end user can reduce the energy usage of the plant that requires little or no investment.

New buildings are designed to X occupancy, once the occupancy is filled and the building becomes live, there is always the desire to increase occupancy above the design of the building. This creates a new dynamic for the HVAC plant where the operational aspects have changed to what it has be designed to do, which in turn requires operational data to see how the plant can be improved or enhanced.

Remote monitoring does this! The system enables the FM/End user to assess and flex their HVAC plant to suit the building demand. For example, can the current HVAC plant sustain longer operational hours; does the building require more chillers? Or can the additional plant operate at part load rather than one at full load? The collective data that the remote monitoring system now captures enables all these factors to be analysed quickly and efficiently to allow smart and cost effective decisions to be made.

With Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) technology now common in high efficiency modern manufactured chillers, the part load performances are so effective, energy saving can be made with more plant operating at part load than full, collating operational data enables this to be evaluated especially when the building dynamics have changed.

With the drive for businesses to hold ISO 50001 status, enhanced maintenance packages & remote monitoring packages will assist in making this process simple and easier to implement.

The ISO 50001:2011 provides a framework of requirements for organisations to:

  • Develop a policy for more efficient use of energy
  • Fix targets and objectives to meet the policy
  • Use data to better understand and make decisions about energy use
  • Measure the results
  • Review how well the policy works, and
  • Continually improve energy management.

Improving business standards that are energy focussed creates the need and drive to ensure the HVAC plant is maintained and monitored to operate in its most efficient way possible. This will reduce energy consumption which is great for the environment and in turn it will reduce operational costs, which is great for business and the ‘bottom line’.

Over the last 30 years since coming into the industry I have seen major shifts in the way in which service and maintenance is delivered to end users and the demands of service engineers is ever increasing. The change in delivery going forward is still with service engineers but also providing additional tools such as remote monitoring to deliver a higher level of service above which was previously been provided. It is exciting where the service market is going and what future enhancements may be ahead.

Barry Coe – National Sales Manager – Daikin Applied Service