Avvir Academy
November 15, 2022

The Future of Building Commissioning

One may look at a building and see a simple structure. Yet, constructing a building so it operates properly is a complex process. Many elements need to operate in sync for a building to function ideally. Building commissioning helps teams construct and operate a building while considering every element.

What is commissioning?

Originally, building commissioning focused on documenting HVAC systems. Later, the value became so apparent, that commissioningtransitioned to include all MEP and fire protection systems, according to Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine. The information was to serve as an additional set of eyes for owners.

Commissioning has morphed into whole building commissioning. In addition to the systems noted above, the magazine notes commissioning now also includes information technology, cellular, audio-visual, renewables, enclosure, and air quality monitoring.  

According to Complete Commissioning Inc,  building “commissioning is the process of planning, documenting, scheduling, testing, adjusting, verifying, and training, to provide a facility that operates as a fully functional system per the Owner’s Project Requirements. The goal of the Commissioning Process is to enhance the quality of the delivered project by focusing the design and construction team on the Owner’s goals for a functional and energy efficient building.”

How is commissioning done today?

Building commissioning is typically led by a commissioning agent who works for the owner and interacts with all the key players during the construction process.

Today’s commissioning process tends to be done manually and inefficiently. The work requires that the commissioning agent spend significant time at the construction site reviewing construction with the building engineer and other relevant team members. Those involved are engaged in loads of trial and error as they test/access processes to note how equipment is functioning. Because this is a lengthy process, the commissioning agent often tests only a percentage of the equipment.

The resulting reports from the team and even the commissioning agent often involve multiple siloed spreadsheets. This makes interpreting the information and recognizing how work is progressing more challenging. Building commissions can be excessively time-consuming, thus lessening its benefit. There are often even contractual deadlines for project close out which creates an incentive for taking short cuts in the process.

Three ways we can use technology to improve the commissioning process

How can the building commissioning process be improved so the gains can be realized more quickly and efficiently? Let’s consider three ways that BIM technology could improve the process.

Digitize the commissioning process

Spreadsheets here, there, and everywhere. We’ve all had to look at a pile of spreadsheets and think, “Where do I start?”

Start by digitizing the information with a BIM-based issue management platform. Using a cloud-based web application, like BIM, as a database and repository for information about the project is a time saver. Plus, information is updated in real time.

Mission Critical magazine lists eight benefits of digitizing the commissioning process. Among the benefits are improved design review, collaboration, and organization. Information is maintained in a way that is easily searchable and updated. With multiple people/entities involved, keeping information organized and up to date is a challenge. Digitization can organize and maintain information to facilitate smooth collaboration because everyone is clear on who did what and when. This keeps everyone on the same page.

Other benefits listed include efficient search and sorting for deficiencies and filtering deficiencies based on criticality or status. Each of these benefits positively impacts efficiency.

Depending on the complexity of a building, a building commissioning process could take tens of systems, hundreds of pieces of equipment, and thousands of tests. Keeping this mammoth load of information organized is challenging. The ability to search and sort information means a person can quickly and easily find and generate relevant data. This ability can also be used to make lists of tasks, to note who is responsible for completing tasks, and to send notifications to team members responsible for the work.

Consider the benefits of using a BIM-based issue management platform such as Hexagon Intergraph. It promotes project collaboration, offers real-time status, and extends data/information to all stakeholders, such as owners, EPCMs, contractors, and vendors, with a responsibility toward common startup outcomes.

Utilize technology in the field to automate performance results

Just because a piece of equipment or a system is constructed and includes all of its components does not mean it will function properly or even work. Complicated systems and equipment are not like a desk from IKEA. Just because all the parts/equipment have been used doesn’t mean it will work per the specs. Testing is essential.

According to online magazine Automated Buildings, “At the heart of commissioning, functional performance testing is arguably the most critical and time-consuming step in the start-up process. This is the point at which all of the components and subsystems are tested together to verify that the overall facility meets design objectives from a systems perspective.” This step requires the “coordinated participation by all the suppliers and the simulation of a wide range of normal and abnormal operating conditions.”

Although not all testing is as challenging as functional performance testing, all testing is essential and costly. Therefore, the information needs to be noted accurately and on a timely basis. If not, the testing process could be less accurate and therefore less valuable.

But how to ensure accuracy and speed? Automated Buildings notes that testing and balancing are typically performed by a team (a balancing contractor who makes measurements with a flow hood and a controls technician who changes the appropriate control software parameters using a laptop computer). Ideally one person immediately makes the needed changes to the controller software, according to the online magazine.

There’s also a technological solution. Automated Buildings suggests, “… use a special intelligent flow hood that communicates to the VAV terminal unit controller via a network connection through the thermostat cover. The technician can use the intelligent flow hood to view the current controller parameters, override the position of the controlled devices, calculate any necessary calibration parameters (e.g., K-factors) and then download these parameters to the controller.” So, intelligent flow hoods get testing information directly to a digital database, ensuring its accuracy and usefulness.

Update your BIM during the commissioning process to deliver a digital twin asset

To maximize the usefulness of the BIM, it needs to be updated regularly. If information is not downloaded, it can fall through the cracks and lead to mistakes occurring on the project.

If the commissioning agent (or other team members) update the BIM, a digital twin can be developed from which to compare and ensure that reality and the design are the same.

As noted in this blog post, “The resulting model should be according to [the] owner’s handover requirements – it should be as-built and as-requested. The only way to achieve that is adding extra commissioning data to the model and logging adjustments made on site for the designers to update the model.”

Regularly updating the BIM takes time, but such updates will save time in the end. The digital twin can be reviewed by the owners and their representatives to inform countless business decisions.

 

Whole building commissioning is a valuable process. It can provide owners peace of mind and confidence after their buildings are completed. The building’s systems will operate in a cohesive manner and function as planned. Technology makes the building commission process better, faster, and more efficient.

3 Tips for using BIM as a Database throughout the Project Lifecycle

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat.