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EMPOWERING BUILDING ENGINEERS IN DIGITIZED ASSETS TO RESPOND TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS

Updated: Apr 22

Part 2: Operating Digitally Enabled Assets in a Post-Lockdown World


By Justin Lee, InSite Head of Engineering



As discussed in Part 1, building operators that are empowered with the tools provided by digitally enabled assets will be able to respond quickly to the changing landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic. These same tools will allow building operators to bring their facilities back to an operational state faster once Stay at Home orders are relaxed and people return to their workspaces. These digitally enabled assets will also be well-positioned to adjust to the new norms of a social distancing work environment. Looking further down the road, these combined effects will make digitally-enabled facilities highly desirable workspaces on the other side of the pandemic.


Bringing Facilities Back into Operation


Building systems are designed and constructed to be robust and resilient so they can run 12+ hours a day, five or six days per week. So, what will happen when people start returning to their offices and the buildings must quickly emerge from a state of significantly reduced operation or prolonged hibernation? Even the most well-equipped buildings will have a host of maintenance issues that will need to be addressed as building operators work to bring their facilities back online.


Digitally enabled assets will constantly be running analytics on their systems and addressing deep maintenance issues as they emerge and will be able to operationalize much faster than those that have been “flying blind”. Since many of the maintenance issues encountered during reduced operations will not be evident in a nearly - or completely - empty space with significantly reduced loads, building operators that are not provided with these valuable insights into how their systems are performing will find themselves working through a significant backlog of maintenance issues once they begin to resume normal operations. These issues have the potential to cause delays in re-occupying the facility and will result in unhappy tenants.


For example, Figure 1 details a recent example in a facility that is currently running reduced hours where one of the Rooftop Units (RTUs) called for cooling, but the supply air temperature was discharging above 80°F. The algorithms watching the store’s control system quickly picked up that both compressors were called for, but the discharge air temperature did not change.



Figure 1: Fault on an RTU in cooling mode where the compressors are not providing cooling


As buildings ramp back up to full occupancy and building engineering teams and HVAC service companies re-staff simultaneously, many building operators will find themselves with a long list of issues like this to address and limited support to get things done. Addressing major issues as they arise during the current period of reduced occupancy and prioritizing maintenance items as the buildings are prepared to return to full occupancy will be essential to quickly bring facilities to fully operational status.


Operating Facilities Under a New Normal


Digitally enabled assets will be better equipped to respond to new working norms by automatically adjusting building systems to new working environments. Whereas no one knows for sure what the new normal will be as society navigates past the pandemic, it would not be surprising if there is a transitional period where people are allowed to return to work but are required to adhere to social distancing requirements in their workspace to mitigate the spread the virus. Memoori recently published an article discussing how digitally enabled assets will be able to reoccupy faster under social distancing-based work requirements through occupancy analytics.


“A post-lockdown occupancy analytics system will be focused on keeping us apart. By understanding the movement of people around a building, an occupancy analytics system can calculate the maximum number of people that should be in each area, sending alerts to building operators or occupants when a space nears its socially distance-based capacity. By tracking the movement of people in this new reality, the systems can gradually find more and more ways to introduce additional workers while maintaining the appropriate social distance.”


Building systems are designed for peak load, with some limited reset strategies based on minor fluctuations based on historical occupancy patterns. If office spaces and retail locations are opened under lengthy social distancing regulations, building operators will need to be well equipped with significant and meaningful data from numerous sources throughout their facility to properly run their systems. For instance, an occupancy analytics system coupled with an enthalpy-based reset strategy will enable building systems to automatically adjust to actual people flows in real-time and divert limited building resources appropriately.


Digitally enabled facilities are better equipped to manage the massive disruptions caused by lockdowns and Stay at Home orders and will rebound faster due to deep analytics and the continuous improvement of all connected assets and systems. Once social distancing regulations begin to be eased, and the workforce resumes some semblance of normalcy, these strategies can be refocused on optimizing operations and managing operational spend. These types of digitally-enabled strategies will be critical operating buildings in a post-lockdown world.



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