Stand-alone health care buildings: Automation and controls
Stand-alone medical buildings and specialized treatment facilities are engineering challenges, and more are being designed and built due to changes in health care requirements. Building automation keeps each of these buildings running efficiently and effectively.
Neal Boothe, PE, Principal, exp, Maitland, Fla.
Douglas T. Calhoun, PE, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff (formerly ccrd), Dallas
Caleb Haynes, PE, Principal/Director, TME LLC, Birmingham, Ala.
Brian Kolm, PE, Team Leader, Mechanical, HDR Inc., Omaha, Neb.
Craig Kos, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
Bryan Laginess, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, Peter Basso Associates, Troy, Mich.
CSE: When working on monitoring and control systems in stand-alone medical buildings and specialized treatment facilities, what factors do you consider?
Haynes: If it's an existing facility, is the legacy system viable and able to meet the needs of the owner? If the facility has multiple manufacturers installed, can the system be integrated at the system level to streamline operator interfaces and computer maintenance managements systems? The building automation system (BAS) is there to assist the facility operators, but these systems are constantly increasing in complexity without adequate training for the operators. Unfortunately, this combination typically leads to systems that are in disrepair and maintenance staff without the tools to fix them.
Laginess: Consideration should be given to who actually owns the building—independent developer versus a health system. The independent-developer building would most likely have local monitoring and control whereas a health-system-owned building may want the controls tied into or at least monitored by their main system.
Kolm: One of the main considerations when selecting an effective monitoring and control system for the client is the level of sophistication. One can design a mechanical or lighting control system many different ways and complexities to operate the systems to its full potential or to a level such that anyone can run. The key is to have that discussion early on with the owner to understand who will be operating the building and gauge their knowledge and understanding of mechanical and lighting controls. By having these discussions, the engineer can customize the system effectively to not only save energy from Day 1, but for the entire life of the building. One remaining factor to consider is whether the system is to be a stand-alone system that can be accessed only at the facility or will be a Web-based system that can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection. Again, discussions with the owner are paramount to delivering the correct system for their needs.
Calhoun: Simple out-of-the-box solutions for lower first cost. Systems are typically Web-based to allow a parent hospital or system to monitor remotely because these facilities do not have 24-hour, onsite facilities maintenance staff. The systems don't necessarily need to match existing systems at the parent facility, because the specialized treatment facilities are remote. This can open up the bidding process and keep pricing competitive.
CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome, and how did you do so?
Kolm: Typical system integration issues that may occur include when certain equipment purchased for the project does not come with the correct building communication protocol used by the building controls system. In this situation, the building controls contractor will have to add additional devices to translate the language to the building management systems (BMSs). The downside in doing this is that not all of the data may be capable of being translated over or controlled as originally intended. It is important for the engineer to specify the correct communications protocol for the installed building management and control system so that one can take full advantage of each piece of equipment.
Calhoun: When using packaged equipment or VRF systems, "black box" controls can be difficult to integrate into traditional BMSs. A team effort with contractors and vendors working together is required to overcome the obstacles.
Haynes: Within existing health care systems, multiple legacy systems with proprietary communication protocols are usually the norm. But manufacturers have been making advances in the last decade to develop integration products to properly overcome this limitation, and the market has opened up significantly. There are also multiple products available as system-level integration tools for multiple legacy controls systems that bring all the building operation information to a single source. This is a must for the modern operation of health care facilities as staffing levels continue to decrease.
CSE: What unique tools are the owners of such buildings including in their automation and controls systems?
Haynes: The greatest asset we see to the owner group today is the ability to harvest real-time utility data and populate that data into daily measurement and verification (M&V) reports. These reports use a weather-normalized consumption algorithm to accurately predict the baseline energy use of the facility and track that against the real-time meter data from the building automation system. This enables the staff to gain instantaneous feedback on the operation of their system, good or bad. I'm amazed at the motivating empowerment this gives the O&M staff to be vested in the operation of the facility.
Kolm: More owners are using their automation and control systems as a means to notify maintenance when preventive maintenance measures need to be taken for certain equipment. For example, in recent years, more owners have asked to have differential pressure sensors installed across filter banks in the air handling system to notify them when they are loaded to a certain level, instead of it being based on a period of time. With energy consumption becoming more of a priority, more owners are installing energy-metering devices to track their own energy consumption in an effort to create staff awareness and improve performance for the life of the building.
Calhoun: In some cases, power monitoring is used and reported back to a central location to monitor energy usage and compare between facilities. In this type of facility, there is not typically an onsite facility maintenance director with an annual energy budget to manage. Corporate may be more directly involved in monitoring energy-usage intensity and working to optimize for multiple facilities.