• Steve Crowe

Critical Equipment and the Scientists that love them: 24/7 Monitoring

Magnetron, Linear Accelerator, Gamma Ray Knife is not a description of the next Transformers movie villain waiting to be destroyed by an epic Michael Bay explosion but instead are the names of different “Critical Equipment” pieces that can be found in hospitals. I am going to stay within healthcare for this blog because they seem to have the most impressive-sounding names, but you can interchange any of these with the standard “Data Center” or “Lab Space” and gain the same understanding. One thing is clear, somebody “loves” that equipment and the job it is trying to achieve. I say love because these individuals will protect their charges, care for them, and do everything in their power to ensure that they are operating properly. It is this understanding that mandates the 24/7/365 monitoring rule and where the antiquated building technology often fails the modern and technologically up to date critical equipment.

So how does a 30-year-old automation system’s technology handle the needs to effectively monitor and deploy the correct technicians to a problem? In my experience, it doesn’t (especially in the world of HIPPA and data security). The reality is remote access is very limited especially with healthcare institutions and even more rare allowing a large group of individuals access to the critical BAS operating data. This results in experiences, like my own, in which a multi-tiered system for addressing concerns within our critical environments begins with our security guards. In a building I oversaw, we had very strict IT security measures that created a belief that remote access to the BAS was very bad so, therefore, we were not given it. We were, however, charged with maintaining the lab space with very specific environmental needs to support the 24-hour operation and this forced us to rely on the following “process”:

  • Security team members (without training on the BAS) would take “tours” every 30 minutes to check the temperature, humidity, pressure, and exhaust fan statuses using mechanical stats.

  • If any “anomalies” were spotted, a call would be made to my team.

  • My team would collect the information from security and attempt to verify what they saw on the initial inspection and does it require escalation.

  • We would then call one of the specialists (scientists that run the equipment) and inform them of the conditions to have them determine the severity and where to check for corrective actions.

  • Finally, we would deploy a technician to the site to have them look over the equipment with the specialist on the line and have them remain on site for an additional hour to verify consistent operation.

This is obviously a terrible system! It lacks the amount of segmentation within the individuals that were tasked with correcting any problems and the TOOLS needed to effectively alert and transfer the information automatically to all parties. This also leads to “mis-communication” errors as data is being transferred through multiple layers of humans which leads to issues of “mis-diagnosis”.

In another scenario I experienced, an engineer was tasked with determining the issue with a delicate instrument not receiving enough cool water to maintain a solid-state. This engineer was told to investigate some heat exchangers because they were likely the issue AND in order to validate this assumption they would need access to the historical data. Unfortunately, these “trends” (the way historical data is referenced in a BAS) were not in place because adding trends is a programming activity that takes time and has a cost attached. None of the “Critical Equipment’s” data points were trended in this case within the BAS by the contractor because they were not requested on implementation a few years prior to the investigation. To make matters worse, there was a requirement by IT for the engineer to enter into their VPN system in order to access the BAS which added another step and pain point. Once BAS access was granted, additional training would be required so he could navigate the non-user-friendly BAS in an effective way that would not require constant phone calls with the control’s contractor or costly programming requests. I said “would have” because in this case, the customer had armed their building and team with an additional tool in the Resolute Building Intelligence software. The reason that the software was able to alleviate a good portion of the above trouble is due to a few key components:

  • Once connected to our system, all data points within the BAS are automatically trended.

  • The software allows for secure “single sign-on access” which means you can log in from anywhere that has an internet connection without risking any sensitive building or tenant data which all are segregated and inaccessible from our connection.

  • Users cannot negatively impact the site or BAS as there is no ability to “write back” from the software into the building. This allows anyone to be given access without fear of negative impacts.

  • Real-time data can be accessed and reviewed at any time…24/7/365.

Using the software, the engineer made a very beneficial discovery. It was found that a costly re-design of the system’s heat exchangers was not required and the poor cooling performance was a simple matter of improving the PID tuning attached to the valves that controlled the flow to the exchangers. This was able to be proven using the data and shared with the entire team with easy-to-read and understandable charts. The engineer then informed the facility team to stop addressing the issue and schedule the controls contractor to make the valve commands respond more quickly to the “open” command and the results allowed for this project to be closed.

Results like these are very attainable for anyone within this type of profession and only takes a few key components such as ensuring the data is there and easily accessible and transferrable. The more we can arm professionals with this type of technology (which many of you may be surprised is not already there) the far less wasted efforts and lost hours we will see.

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