Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is a concept that relies heavily on the role of big data and analytics on industry as we move into the future. One of the key impact areas of Industry 4.0 is the product lifecycle, which directly affects the profitability and longevity of critical systems in our facilities and buildings. Critical mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems require measured and efficient approach to maintenance and management in order to extend the product lifecycle. Preventative and predictive maintenance of HVAC systems, for example, naturally reduces the costs of replacing equipment more often than is necessary and can reduce annual energy costs by 5-40 percent.
In order to achieve these reduced costs and energy efficiency goals, organizations must utilize innovative data collection, interpretation and reporting techniques that support preventative and predictive maintenance strategies. Unfortunately, there are few “off-the-shelf” products that effectively address these widespread facility needs. Instead, companies like NIKA are pioneering practical, easy-to-use custom solutions that have a direct impact on the lifecycle and longevity of critical MEP systems.
In 2015, a U.S. military agency approached NIKA with concerns about the quality of the water treatment program at their 78 healthcare facilities across the globe. Anecdotal evidence suggested that equipment requiring the pass-through of water (cooling towers, chillers, boilers, valves, piping, etc.) was failing more often or more quickly than would normally be expected. These failures were resulting in higher than anticipated capital expenditures which were negatively affecting their facility budgets. NIKA estimates that the military and other agencies could potentially lose millions of dollars of lost money in failing systems due to mistreated water. A process or tool that helps to track the quality of water to extend the life expectancy of water treatment systems by 5-10 years, could result in significant cost savings for the agency.
To prepare for this project, NIKA conducted a series of site visit studies to evaluate the quality of the water at representative facilities. These studies quickly revealed that the water at their facilities was often not meeting requirements established in Unified Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS).
The NIKA team found that, while each site was already being serviced by water treatment contractors, those contractors were not collecting uniform data, were not collecting data specific to UFGS requirements, and were using their own discretion as to the type and amount of chemicals used in the water treatment process. Without really considering that the contractors have a vested interest in selling chemicals and testing out-of-spec, the government was not properly instructing contractors on the government’s treatment requirements and guidelines.
Furthermore, the government’s facility managers were only receiving handwritten information deemed important by the contractor themselves. They did not have consistent, detailed, actionable information about the measurements that were being taken and, thus, had no way to make recommendations to their supervisors based on quantitative data.
Based upon discussions with facility managers and military health leaders, NIKA established a set of basic objectives for this project:
- Help the client protect the capital investment of their facilities equipment.
- Establish a set of UFC/UFGS specifications that should be measured across all facilities.
- Develop a tool for recording, analyzing and reporting water data.
Ultimately, the client needed a solution that would centralize the throughput of data and help them enforce guidelines based upon that data.
Based upon the client’s determined needs, NIKA proposed to design a website where contractors could simply and easily record the requested water measurement information and submit a report for the facility manager. The website would be used across all facilities, allowing for viewing at both the facility and enterprise levels.
Once the client signed off on the idea, NIKA faced a critical challenge in the development process: Where would the website be hosted? In order to achieve the client’s goals, the website had to be accessible from any device, anywhere, at any time. The website, which was built on the .NET Framework using a MS SQL server, needed to be a web-based application that allowed for adaptability to different mobile devices. These considerations naturally led NIKA’s developers to select cloud hosting (using Amazon Web Services on NIKA’s own domain), which gives secure access to water contractors, facility managers, and project stakeholders alike, all accessible by Department of Defense (DoD) machines.
By creating custom dashboards and one-click report submission, NIKA’s developers gave their client the ability to record and view truly actionable data, almost instantly revolutionizing the way water treatment is handled in the military. Now in beta testing stages, the website is showing the government the benefit of data collection, reporting and consolidation. For the first time, they are able to use enterprise-wide data to make smart, cost-saving decisions regarding water treatment. The wide array of analytics available through a customized facility data solution can ultimately be used to develop comprehensive standards, increase the efficiency of the equipment, and extend the lifecycle of that equipment throughout the facility.
While the Water Treatment Website is a perfect illustration of a customized facility data solution, the potential applications are virtually limitless. This type of innovative solution could be applied to a wide variety of building systems, including:
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
- Facility Fuel Storage
- Energy supply – gas, electricity and renewable sources
- Water, drainage and plumbing
- Fire detection and protection
- Security and alarm systems
- Lightning protection
- Low voltage (LV) systems, distribution boards and switchgear
- Natural lighting and artificial lighting, and building facades
- Ventilation and refrigeration
- Communication lines, telephones and IT networks (ICT)
The data collection process can be vastly improved through a customized facility data solution. Instead of collecting disparate information across disparate systems (e.g., Excel spreadsheets, databases, etc.), NIKA has created technologies that allow organizations to collect, report and store structured and unstructured data in one place. This ability leads to better analytics system-wide.
Furthermore, facility data already being collected can be used more effectively with a customized solution. For example, while data regarding energy usage is widely collected, reporting and creation of actionable analysis based on that data is still woefully inadequate. NIKA can help the government, military, and commercial organizations better analyze their data and easily create reports that help in the budgeting and maintenance planning processes. With customized facility data solutions in place, there is even greater potential for the implementation of automated collection processes that further eliminate the possibility of human error.
As the role of data in our facilities increases, so does the need for smart solutions to collect, manage, and analyze that data. Organizations continue to look for cost-effective solutions that will help them make smart decisions related to equipment maintenance and replacement throughout their critical building systems. A customized facility data solution designed by NIKA has the potential to help a wide variety of organizations develop budgets and capital expenditure plans that reflect their business priorities and serve the needs of their constituents.