Mastering the Art of Facilities Maintenance

managing time and resources effectively

Great idea from Construction Protection Systems

Managing a buildout or remodel in an occupied space can be a big enough headache, but trying to keep contractors from destrying common areas during the process can become a full-time job, and as a maintenance professional, you’ve already got PMs that need to be done, service requests, and other tasks on your schedule.
One great item I just found mentioned in Total Facility Manager as their product of the month is the 123 Door Shield from Construction Protection Systems llc.

the 123 Door Shield protects doors from dings and scratches during remodeling and interior buildouts.

the 123 Door Shield protects doors from dings and scratches during remodeling and interior buildouts.

The 123 Door Shield can be re-used, stacks flat, and can be recycled if you decide you don’t need it any more. No actual adhesive touches the door, as the pre-fab construction simply slips over the door. Calbrated perforations for door handles and door hardware make it easy to accomodate different locations for handles and locks.

Manufactured in Colorado, the 123 Door shield comes in packs of 5, and can be pruchased through local distributors of doors and door hardware. Click on the picture above for more information.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | buildouts & remodeling, facilities maintenance | 3 Comments

Highlights from ASHRAE’s AHR Expo

Expo floor shot

Expo floor shot

We just Got back from the show tonight, and I wanted to highlight some of the exhibits that I saw there. Since this was my first AHR Expo, I really didn’t know what to expect going into it, and I have to admit that I was impressed with the number of manufacturers that were represented at the show.

Johnson Controls probably wins “the biggest exhibit with the most hype” award, giving out free gadgets with drawings and a giant puzzle for the crowd to work on. They were also the first one to get an email out to me with more information after scanning my badge at the show.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of actual zigbee devices, while the zigbee-bacnet connection was pretty big news. Bacnet has decided to accept the zigbee protocol for wireless solutions, and IEEE (the creators of the zigbee protocol) has also decide to reciprocate. This should allow manufacturers to design hybrid systems that combine the best of wired solutions, with new wireless innovations.

A real example of a company moving forward with wireless is Honeywell, who was there with a large “hype booth” but also had a smaller booth tucked over in the corner exhibiting a new CO monitoring system that uses zigbee wireless sensors with a hybrid CO/ CO2 monitoring system.

Another small vendor with a really great product called Gasflux uses a liquid flux tank attached to an oxy-acetylene rig to create a really clean brazing technique. I’m sure this will catch on with refrigeration mechanics and welders alike.

Green was a big deal this year, as was to be expected- from variable frequency drives, to high efficiency pumps, solar collectors, and heat recovery devices, finding ways to reduce energy costs has become the holy grail of the HVAC industry. The thing that I like about ASHRAE is that they are making real efforts to gauge and measure actual energy savings, and their OPMP certification is a step in the right direction to help facility managers decide on the cost benefits of adopting an energy strategy. (I took the test, I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks if I passed or failed!)

Finally, the big news this year at ASHRAE was globalization- Many Chinese manufacturers were represented, as well as more european manufacturers as well. With efficiency and cost becoming hotter issues, manufacturers that can create small, modular high-efficient equipment at a lower cost will begin to stake out their own segment in the market.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | controls, facilities maintenance, wireless | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

BACnet has huge presence at ASHRAE

BACnet is making a real effort to become the communications protocol for HVAC/ Security/ BMS systems management for commercial applications, and they announced at the trade show that they will be supporting the Zigbee wireless protocol as well.

With Honeywell, Johnson controls, Siemens and several other large controls companies in compliance with BACnet’s standards, hopefully the dream of true interoperability can be realized, but there are a few hurdles that still need to be jumped before anyone can claim that it will be easy to implement.

BACnet is recommending that manufacturers use ip routing for their packets, while some manufacturers are still sticking with older networking protocols citing things like security and legacy as reason why they haven’t switched.

Second, controls specifiers and designers still struggle with issues of cabling, Some have gone with the RJ45 for ethernet cabling, while other systems are still using older connectors like RS232 connectors(my latest Dell laptop doesn’t even have an RS232 connector)

Hopefully, their entry into the Zigbee Alliance will help them modernize these systems and truly bring this technology into the modern era. If they can’t do it, someone will.

January 28, 2009 Posted by | controls, wireless | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AHR Expo this week

I’ll be attending the AHR Expo hosted by ASHRAE this week in Chicago at McCormick Place.

This is my first day working full-time for my new venture Enercient a wireless HVAC monitoring system, so we’re going to the AHR expo to see the latest and greatest in HVAC wireless monitoring and controls.

I’ll be posting to brighkite with pictures and updates, and plan to report on new technologies, equipment and controls that we see at the show.  Maybe we can get some quotes and pics from the showroom floor. I’m also taking the OPMP certification test on Wednesday at the show, so wish me luck.

Later, We’ll be able to do more in-depth reviews and post material covering the show.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | wireless | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

maintaining pumps and motors

Many pumps, circulators and motors run quietly day after day sitting in the corner, and the technology has become so reliable- it’s easy to forget that there are still things that can be done to extend the life of the pumps and motors in your plant. Here’s a few things that you can start doing now:

1. monthly preventive maintenance and inspections Pumps and motors have internal moving parts, and moving parts can eventually cause heat and friction- which eventually leads to breakdowns and system failures. The best way to prevent this is to make sure that bearings, shaft hubs, and oil ports are lubricated regularly. Consult your O&Ms for the right frequency, but after a while you will learn what the best schedule to follow is. Also, keep surfaces clean and free of dust as dust buildup can cut off air circulation through cooling vents on motor housings.

2. Take readings and get to know normal operating parameters Motors will give another clear indication that they need care, because amp draw will increase as bearings begin to fail. friction causes a strain on the motor that was not there when it was new and moving free, so the motor will need to work harder to do their job- this immediately shows as an increase in amp draw, so take regular amp readings while the pump is in operation. Remember that you are working around live voltage to do this, so always use proper safety procedures during readings and inspections.

3. Duty cycling Many pumps and motors are installed in  groups or pairs  so that they can provide backup for failures and shutdowns, however it is important to cycle the backups because bearings and seals can develop flat spots if they are left to sit without running. Some engineers and operators will run their pumps in an alternating lead/ lag switching back and forth with each inspection- sometimes this must be done by hand, and sometimes its just a matter of throwing switches in a panel. If you are unable to put pumps into service, and you know that they will be out of service for an extended period (summer/winter) put it on your schedule to operate pump shafts by hand regularly.

Finally, and I’ve mentioned this in other posts and I’ll probably end up saying it again- always listen to your plant and get comfortable enough to put your hands on your equipment as you walk through. If you get used to the way your equipment sounds, you will notice when that sound changes. If you know your normal operating temperatures, you will know when those tempertures begin to rise. These are the things that will distinguish you in your career- and make you a better mechanic.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting the New Year Correctly at Your Facility

After the holiday trimmings are all packed away, and you’ve completed those end of year tasks like budgeting, forecasting, or just surviving the holidays, the New Year is a chance to start out fresh. You’ve got that new desk calendar from your favorite vendor, or that shiny new pocket calendar is riding in your back pocket waiting for some new tasks and appointments.The problem is, after a few weeks, those tasks on your office white board never change, and you get caught up in the usual rush to respond to emergency and “immediate need” ticket work, while longer-term projects collect dust. Here’s a few tips to keep the momentum going.

1.Learn to get in the habit of carrying something to jot notes, and when someone asks you to do something, pull out your notebook, daytimer, (whatever works best- I like the moleskine) and tell them you’re busy right now but you’ll get back to them in a couple days. This will help you start managing your time better, and keep you from having 6-7 open/incomplete tasks on an ongoing basis. The real trick here is to check your lists- and follow up on promises in a reasonable time.

2. Leave notes and communicate updates. When you complete a task that someone has asked you to complete, leave a sticky note, or a post-it for them to let them know you followed through. When you aren’t finished doing something, but you’ve done something to move a project along (like calling a vendor for a delivery update) A quick note to tell someone that you changed a light,made a phone call, or painted a door frame will go a long way to remind people that you’ve actually done what you’ve been asked to do.

3. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t complete something once you find out it is bigger than you thought. An example might be where you decided to tackle a door refinishing project, thinking that you’d have time to refinish doors in your facility. You’ve done 2 of them, and they look good, but it took you 4 weeks to complete the two that you’ve done, and you have 30 more. If you approach your property manager and let them know that the project is taking longer than you thought, and give them the option of deciding what to do next, they might; authorize overtime to complete it after hours, allow you to solicit bids from a pro, or you might find out that it is not a high priority, and they don’t mind waiting.

Finally, if you are not giving your property manager,  board, or supervisor a regular report (at least monthly) of your activities you should get in the habit right away. Your monthly report can include things such as; Completed Tasks, Work waiting approval, Open work orders, Parts on Order, etc. Just because you know that something is in process, doesn’t mean that everyone else does, and it is your job to tell them.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | organization | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Safety This Week

As the maintenance technician at your facility, it’s your job to make sure that the building is still safe despite all the mistletoe, candles, lights, and trimmings that are scattered throughout the building. You don’t need to go around yanking people decorations out of their cubicles, but there are a few things you need to be watching:

1. Extension Cords can be a hazard in a number of ways. improperly grounded cords can fault and cause fires, overloaded circuits can cause fires as well, and an easy one to miss is that they can be a trip hazard. Loan someone some tape or carry around a few extra wire ties so that you can make sure that cords and excess wires are tucked away nicely and free of hazards. If you need to, put a surge protector in, then you know if it overloads, you’ll trip instead of arcing.

2. Flammable Materials can really cause a problem because they look so nice and usually get put right next to sources of heat and open flame- you know, things like paper table cloths, ribbons, bows, wrapping paper, etc. Just make sure you know where the nearest fire extinguisher is before the office gift exchange occurs.  Also, another good idea is to spray the office Christmas tree and the surrounding tree skirt down with a product that acts as a flame retardant.

3. Food & Drink can be plentiful this time of year, but choking in the office or workplace can have a tendency to happen more easily because people tend to try to eat while standing, working, talking etc. and pay less attention to what and how they are eating. If you don’t know first aid for choking, burns, and finger cuts, identify someone in the workplace who does and ask them to be on hand to provide first aid in the event of an emergency.  Also, it would be a good idea to get the number of a local cab company and post their number around the office just in case someone has a few too many cocktails at the company party.

Finally, walk the building before you leave at the end of the day, and remind everyone to turn off the lights in their decorations before they go home in the evening. The holidays can be a fun time, but they can also be a stressful time for you and everyone else at work. Be pleasant, don’t act like the Grinch safety police, but be mindful and follow these tips to ensure that your facility and the peoplein it on a daily basis are safe and not put in harm’s way because of an unsafe occurance during the holiday season.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | facilities maintenance, safety | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Basics of Combustion Analysis

Now that the east coast of the US has been running in heat mode for a few months, boilers furnaces, and water heaters will begin doing strange things (like shutting down in the middle of the night so you have to go in and hit a reset button in the middle of the night!)

One way to make sure that oil and gas-fired equipment is running is to do a combustion analysis to get a clear and definite answer about what the flame is doing inside of your piece of equipment. Combustion analysis is performed using a combustion analyzer to determine how well a flame is burning by measuring the following things:

1. how much air is it getting? if a flame is getting too much air, it will flicker (like blowing a candle) and can cause the flames to hit the sides of a combustion chamber or burner tube causing carbon to build up, which can then cause other compound problems. Too little air can cause the flame to burn low, and then you won’t get the maximum output from the system.

2. how much carbon monoxide is it making? too much carbon monoxide is a sign that the burner is not getting the right air/ fuel mixture, while you’re doing it, take a few general readings in your plant to make sure your combustion chambers aren’t leaking deadly CO into your plant.

3. What is the stack temperature? A hot stack (or flue) can be another sign that not enough heat is getting into the air or the hot water that you are trying to heat. This can also be caused by carbon buildup which can act as an insulation blowing the heat right out through the flue piping. You can get temperature readings with an IR camera but for the purpose of this test a simple infrared thermometer will work fine.

If you don’t have access to this equipment and you chose to use an outside contractor, make sure you use a contractor that has been trained by the National Comfort Institute, and make sure they leave you a copy of their readings and explain what each thing means.

Finally remember that this time of year is critical for carbon monoxide poisoning. People burn fireplaces they aren’t used to using, try to use parts of their stoves they’ve never used before, and many other combustion-related fatalities can occur. Look into getting a permanent CO detector, and have it checked annually just like your fire alarms and smoke detectors. CO is a colorless, odorless gas- and has been called “the silent killer”.

Remember, in addition to all the other important things that a maintenance technician does, you’re probably the company safety officer as well- stay informed and stay up on the latest in Facilities Management skills right here at Maintenance Mastery.

December 19, 2008 Posted by | combustion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Building your maintenance tech resume

Over the years I have seen hundreds if not thousands of HVAC and maintenance facilities resumes and job applications, and I’m constantly amazed at how unprepared people are when they apply for maintenance and facilities jobs. Having a good resume is a key to getting hired & can be a helpful tool when asking for raises or promotions. Here’s a few tips for having a good HVAC and facilities maintenance resume:

Start building your resume now, even if you aren’t currently looking for a job. Make a folder, and keep the certificates from any classes you take, any commendations or letters that you get from your employer or customers, and be sure to track and keep a record of any special tasks you perform that go above and beyond your job description. You don’t need to bring all of your certificates to an interview either. If you have your HVAC recovery certification, make that a line on your resume, don’t ask your interviewer to sort through ten pages of certificates. It is ok to be proud of them, but they belong on your wall (not stapled to the back of your resume.)

Second, try to get training in areas and abilities that complement your job description. Take a word-processing class, or a time-management class. You will not only build your resume, but it will help you communicate with your non-maintenance co-workers and show that you can move and communicate  in their world.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You want to have at least three people review your resume. You’ll want to have someone review for grammar and spelling errors. Nothing catches a reviewers eye like spelling “maintenance” wrong on a maintenance application. Next have someone in the business review your resume, to look for technical errors or clarifications. Finally, have someone read it to see if you’ve used technical terms where you don’t need to. Rather than say “managed HVAC condenser retrofit program” say “managed a program to replace air conditioners” Remember, chances are that you’ll be hired by a non-technical person, and if they can understand your resume it shows you aren’t hiding behind technical lingo, and you actually know what you’re saying.

Finally, keep a soft copy of your resume in digital form, that way you can easily refer to it, keep it updated, and make changes to it as you develop in your career. Even if you don’t have a computer, buy a usb memory stick and carry it with you to keep documents and files handy.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | resume | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using OEM Information to Create a PM Program

Everyone says “according to manufacturer’s recommendations” when writing preventive maintenance tasks, but in reality, how often are the OEM-Original Equipment Manufacturer’s recommendations actually followed? When writing a PM program, it should become standard practice to consult the installation, startup, and operation documentation that came with the equipment.

More often than should be the case, the original OEM material is not with the equipment, and it is nowhere to be found on site. So, what do you do when the OEM’s aren’t onsite? Write down as much information you can find on the equipment including model number, serial number, amperage, voltage, etc. and consult the following sources:

1. go to the manufacturer’s website

2. call your local manufacturer’s representative

3. consult a third-party engineering firm to write your program for you

Finally, keep a library of your preventive maintenance tasks for future reference.  If you have a PM written for a specfic type of pump, fan, motor, or other piece of equipment, and you later acquire a contract that has that same piece of equipment, you can use the one you have. I prefer to call this my “best practices” book, and I keep both a digital copy, and a hard copy for reference when writing new programs.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | facilities maintenance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment