The COVID-19 pandemic has focused our minds on the impact of human contact and its necessity to run businesses and buildings effectively and efficiently. Pre COVID, we casually arranged meetings without a second thought, commuted into offices daily to complete tasks that simply required a laptop and the internet and checked and tested HVAC equipment routinely, whether there was an issue or not.
While socially, the demise of human interaction is a hard pill to swallow, in the workplace there are definitely some positives – from home working improving work/life balance to the adoption of the latest remote monitoring technology.
To beat the virus and boost the economy most businesses have to find new ways of working. Limiting close human contact is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
It’s not all bad, however; many of us wasted huge amounts of time travelling and taking part in often pointless meetings. Jumping in our cars to travel across the country for a couple of hours face to face chin wag was the norm, with whole days effectively wasted under an often false assumption that these conversations had to take place in person.
While I’m sure we all miss pre-COVID levels of human interaction, it cannot be denied that time, money and fuel has been saved during lockdown. Many businesses that have adapted to ‘working from home’ are not in any hurry to go back to the office and video conferencing is now the standard way we chat to our colleagues and clients.
But what of building services? The maintenance of essential HVAC plant surely requires people on site? It does – sometimes. However, by utilising remote monitoring technology, site visits and the number of engineers involved can be significantly reduced.
Monitor for efficiency
Practically every part of the building services jigsaw puzzle can be monitored remotely. The increasing popularity of BMS over the last 10 years and, more recently, technology that specifically tracks closed circuit water systems – the ‘arteries and veins’ of HVAC plant – has led to more efficient systems that are less likely to breakdown.
By having a true, real-time picture of a system at any given time, small changes in condition can be tracked and acted upon, allowing major repairs and breakdown to be avoided. Maintenance regimes become fit for purpose, rather than routine – if everything’s operating as it should, there’s no need to send people on site. All this leads to improved efficiency, reduced downtime and enhanced whole life costing. By gathering real-time data about a system, FMs and maintenance teams will have a far better picture of its condition and factors effecting it.
In the closed circuit water system world, which was slow to come to the data driven party, the move to remote monitoring has had a significant impact. The Hevasure remote monitoring technology tracks the parameters that cause corrosion, stopping damage before it occurs. For large water systems, if corrosion takes hold the costs to rectify the situation can run into the millions.
So far, so good. Pre-COVID, increasing numbers of specifiers, M&E contractors and FMs were seeing the benefits of a real-time preventative rather than reactive approach to keeping building services operational.
Monitor for safety
Now, and during full lockdown, remote monitoring has found a new relevancy, which could see it becoming even more standardised. With information about a monitored system accessible on any internet enabled device, for the most part, plant can be checked anywhere. Activity no longer has to be ‘routine’, it can be based on actual need.
The Hevasure systems issues alerts, via email or SMS, when changes in base levels occur (Hevasure monitors parameters such as dissolved oxygen, corrosion rates, inhibitor levels, pH, pressure, flow rates and temperature), allowing dangerous deviations to be investigated and fixed.
Without monitoring, problems are often identified when things have gone too far, which could lead to the need for external support – yet more cost, people and time on site.
During lockdown where many buildings lay completely dormant, those that were monitored could confidently reopen without any hidden problems. After all, water systems in particular are designed to be used. Without monitoring there is an element of guess work.
Data driven future
For the world to be triumphant over this and future pandemics, data is key. Countries successfully beating coronavirus are using the latest track and trace software and there are plans in place in the UK to introduce remote patient monitoring. Isolating COVID victims can stay at home while their condition is tracked, with appropriate care and intervention given where required. A quick reaction to progression of the disease will save lives, while allowing people to keep out of hospital where appropriate. Trials are currently underway in London and Hertfordshire.
This principle mirrors what we’re doing with closed circuit water systems – track, monitor and react if needs be. Minimising intervention, while keeping buildings operational and more efficient, will assist in a lean future, with less risk, reduced costs and a better and safer use of people’s time.