What If? Commissioning Team’s Dream Commissioning Job

by Nick Baker, P.E., CCP, GPCP, LEED AP BD+C; Shaun May, EIT, CEM; and Jacob Odell

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

This month, we let our commissioning team’s imaginations run wild to answer the question, “What if you could do any kind of commissioning job…what would it be?” True to form, the team delivered results out of (and under) this world and highlighting the value of teamwork, exemplifying the passion and curiosity they bring to their work every day. Get a glimpse into the dreamscape of Wood Harbinger’s commissioning providers.

The Force is Strong with Jacob Odell

Traveling to space and living there presents multiple sets of challenges. I would think that the more resources that could be carried and distributed amongst the fewest people, the better off life would be. The ideal, then, would be a larger ship with mostly automated controls, because it would take less crew members to operate and leave more space for resources.

To get down to it, a Star Destroyer fits this mold well. My first thought about such a large-scale use of automated controls screams of complication and faulty systems. As we’ve learned in modern day buildings, which are becoming more and more automated, controls issues can be mitigated through rigorous testing. If you were to undertake such a testing process prior to initial departure, you just might be ready for a real space odyssey. You’d also create an opportunity for my dream commissioning job:

Starship Commissioning

I lived on a modern-day Star Destroyer—an aircraft carrier—for four years. I promise that it was built as a warship first and a place to live fourth. We had to perform a lot of maintenance in small spaces, with little to no room to work. With a good commissioning team, these kinds of working conditions could potentially be prevented on our space-faring vessel. Part of the commissioning design review process looks for these types of pitfalls in accessibility for maintenance personnel. Let’s take it one further and document systems maintenance access as a high priority in the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). With a detailed OPR and a commissioning team executing their design review with a hawk-eye to key priorities, we’re well on our way to a better working and living environment for our crew.

A starship would have to have some interesting systems to be a self-contained, self-sustaining city. This would make for a very specialized functional testing effort. A quick search of the web says the temperature of space is between -455°F and Thousands of degrees depending how close you are to a sun. This eliminates the relatively constant temperature of our atmosphere and takes out the heat sink, or supply, that most air conditioning units rely on. There would also have to be an intricate ducting system that will pull manufactured oxygenated air from either a pressurized tank or electrolysis. If electrolysis is used, a water tank would have to hold the water used for it requiring pumps to move it to the oxygen generator. These compounding systems would need component level and integrated system testing to make sure each piece is working, and they are all working together.

The possibilities seem endless for the variety of systems needed to make a space-going ship with a footprint the size of a small town. I would imagine it would take years of functional testing to cover everything, even with a team of 200 personnel. So when can we get started?

Shaun May Sees the Possibilities of Empowered Teamwork

I was drawn to commissioning by my desire to learn how things work and make them work the best they can. I enjoy problem solving. I want to be able to walk up to a piece of equipment, a tool, (even a game) and dive in to optimize its function…to me, this is play! So in a way, every commissioning job is my dream job! But I’ve narrowed down to scenario that supports a passion of mine: sustainability.

The reality is, we most often have to monetize the value of saving our environment. At the end of the day, that’s a goal I want our world to achieve, and I’m glad to be in a position and an industry that has some direct influence on energy efficiency and conservation. Saving energy in our existing infrastructure is one of the most important steps to achieving a sustainable society, so that’s the premise for my dream commissioning job:

Existing Building Commissioning for Energy Management and Sustainability

Imagine the scene: a building manager monitors his or her building’s energy consumption.  This building manager has a budget for the building maintenance program and energy costs (utilities), and baseline expectations for ongoing operational and energy costs. The building manager identifies that energy costs are increasing and suspects a likely culprit—deteriorating energy system performance. Instead of proposing hasty energy retrofits for the facility to replace “bad” equipment, the building manager delegates a portion of the energy/maintenance budget for an Existing Building Commissioning (EBCx) project. They hire an experienced EBCx provider to review the facility, discover the root cause of the energy performance issues, and work with them to right the matter.

The building manager and the commissioning provider start by reviewing the facility’s utility bills together, analyzing facility energy trends to identify changes in energy consumption. The building manager shares the facility history, putting a narrative to the data. This exercise can reveal hidden opportunities to improve facility operations and provides invaluable feedback and training for the building manager and context for the commissioning provider.

Next, the commissioning provider performs a facility energy audit to identify potential Energy Savings Measures (ESM), then compiles the ESMs with associated Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) and Return-On-Investment (ROI) data. Commissioning provider and building manager review, prioritize, and select the ESMs to implement.

The commissioning provider oversees ESMs implementation, advises building manager on hiring contractors as necessary, verifies that ESMs are correctly implemented and that any newly installed systems and/or controls operate as intended so that energy savings will be realized. Then he or she trends new energy performance data to verify that its beats old baseline energy consumption and confirm the LCCA and ROI are projected to be achievable.

Together, the commissioning provider and building manager document the results and share the energy savings data with Capital Projects or others in charge of funding so that this work might become regenerative: the energy savings realized by this project funds the next project, and energy consumption gets slashed again and again.

A case-study about this successfully EBCx and energy savings program is published and shared with the public as a differentiator for the facility’s business. Publicly publishing building energy consumption data is a growing trend that entices entities to compete to use less energy, showcasing their commitment to sustainability and stewardship of the environment. Taking the proactive approach to improve existing building energy consumption is rare and stands out in today’s market.

The end goal of this scenario is to improve our society’s energy efficiency building by building, operator by operator, to the point of achieving sustainability. This scenario places responsibility on both the building manager and the CxP to achieve real results, and they are empowered to do so through available resources (the building manager’s budget for an EBCx program) and leveraging the commissioning providers’ skills in systems analysis to recommend and actualize energy savings opportunities. In this scenario, we’re utilizing the human imagination and thriving because people taking pride in their work. It leverages synergy through collaboration between interested parties to create something greater than that which existed before. Hey, you asked for my ideal scenario, you’re going to get some idealism!

Nick Baker Plans for Doomsday

Underground Bunkers

My dream commissioning job is underground bunkers. Underground bunkers have been around since the dawn of man. It all started in caves, which are a form of underground bunkers. There’s a big difference between the good old cave and the modern-day underground bunker capable of sustaining humanity through the post-nuclear, natural mega-disaster, alien-invasion, robot takeover, super-virus, apocalyptic dystopia which, according to every new major motion picture and young adult novel, is inevitably in our future. I’ve made my peace with that. Now, making the leap from cave to bunker takes some major planning, design, and construction. And when design and construction teams meet, that is where commissioning shines.

The top level of your basic post-apocalypse underground bunker needs to be at least five stories underground. Necessary systems include a potable water reserve, power generation, HVAC, waste removal, security and access control system, decontamination showers, blast doors, kitchen, food storage, and armory. The level of sophistication and redundancy for these systems is all dependent on the owner’s wants and needs balanced with budget and schedule, and that is where a good commissioning provider is key.

During the planning stage, a wise and prepared underground bunker owner would bring on their commissioning provider early to help develop the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). Being a highly specialized project with dire consequences in the event of facility failure, it’s crucial to have a solid OPR. As the commissioning provider, I could help the owner determine the levels of redundancy they want or need for their bunker, including back-up power, redundant HVAC, security and access control needs such as automated drone missile controls and storage, fire protection systems, domestic water supply, grey and blackwater removal, a double airlock sally port for recon missions, and so on. Why are you looking at me like that?

During the design phase, regular design reviews of the basis of design, specifications, and drawings will provide the owner with the peace of mind that all the various systems are designed to meet the OPR. Having a commissioning provider who fully understands the owner’s perspective, their wants, and needs can help guide the design team to the best design product for that owner.

During the construction phase, the commissioning provider needs to perform regular onsite installation verification to ensure that each system is installed per the design and, if a change is needed, to help facilitate that conversation between the contractor, design team, and owner.  The earlier a change is identified, the cheaper and easier it is to correct, especially when the building’s top level is at least five stories below ground level.

The most notable commissioning task, functional testing, will run all the systems through their paces and ensure proper operation. The owner is going to want to know that systems like the oxygen scrubber or waste removal systems are operational before the apocalypse; you don’t want to find out your decontamination showers don’t work after the contractor is gone…like, patient zero gone.

Of course, for this project we’d run a black-out test. On most projects, the black-out test imagines the worst-case scenario, but on an underground bunker, the black-out test would just be an all-systems operational test. Like any other project, this would be a simulated test; no actual nuclear detonation needed. Why have you backed up all the way across the room? Can you still hear me over there?

After the construction phase comes the occupancy period. I’ll collect system operation trend data over a 15-day period after the owner moves into their new underground bunker to verify that the systems operate correctly. Finally, if the end-times haven’t begun yet, I would return for the 10-month pre-warranty follow-up to verify the systems are still operational as planned, designed, and constructed.

You’re looking kind of pale…don’t worry! With comprehensive preparation and a solid commissioning program, we’re gonna be fine, I promise!


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