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Posted by John Butterfield

Commissioning Lessons Learned: “The real-life importance of O&M manuals and training”

December 16, 2021

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted, and now you oversee the maintenance and operation of a brand-new building. You look on in pride at your shiny new facility. The architect, engineers and contractors have left, and now it’s all yours.

Several days go by and everything seems to be running smoothly. You tell yourself “Hey, this is a pretty good gig after all!”

Then Mother Nature decides to intervene and the temperature drops like a rock. As if on cue your phone starts ringing with urgent and sometimes angry calls. “Hey, we’re freezing up here on the second floor. How long will it take to get us some heat?”

So, you spring into action. You look at the building control system screens. Sure, enough there are alarms pouring in from every corner of the second floor. Oops, looks like the boilers just went into alarm also. You stare blankly at the screens and wonder where to start. What was it that those guys said during your two hours of owner training? Hey, that guy was talking so fast you barely understood half of what he said.

Moving on, you grab the Operations and Maintenance Manuals. They weigh about 10 pounds each, and are filled cover to cover with standard equipment cut-sheets. You’re not even sure what information pertains to your system.  They’re not much help either.

As-built drawings with updated sequences of operation? Yeah, we were supposed to get them, but they’re not here yet, and who knows when they’re coming.

Meanwhile, the complaints keep coming in and your boss is now starting to ask questions like “what’s the problem?”, and “how long will it take to fix it?” Are you going to tell him that you don’t have the training and the resources to troubleshoot and fix the problem? Not by a long shot. Hey, you’re supposed to know what to do.

So, in desperation you log into the control system and start “tweaking.” Let’s see, if you put the system in manual, override these interlocks, and force these valves open…then they should get some heat.

Sure enough, the heat comes back on, and everyone is happy; except that you have now locked the system in one control mode. You’re driving down the highway with the steering wheel firmly clamped in one position. It’s going to be interesting when you get to that next curve in the road! Mother Nature complies by raising the outdoor air temperature, and you now have a bunch of building occupants that are being baked alive. More complaints, more unhappiness. Oh, oh, here comes your boss again waving those high energy bills at you.In My Next Life

As you lie awake at night thinking about the mess you are in, a little voice inside your head says “In my next life, I am going to insist on more thorough training. I won’t let those engineers and contractors leave until I am confident that I understand how the systems work. And you know, my memory is good, but it isn’t that good. I’m going to have accurate documents and procedures available so that I can get to the root of the problem right away.

Now, when can I begin that next life, this one’s driving me crazy!”


About the author

John has retired from Hallam-ICS, but his contributions to the company continue to be valued.

Read   My Hallam Story  

About Hallam-ICS

Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide. 

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Topics: Commissioning and Validation

John Butterfield

By John Butterfield

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December 16, 2021

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