Troy is a Chartered Professional Engineer with 20+ years’ experience in the design, commissioning, operation and maintenance of mechanical building services across Australasia, the UK, Europe and the UAE.
He’s has building services commissioning and retro-commissioning expertise across a wide range of sectors including commercial office spaces, retail and leisure centres, residential apartment developments, education, mission critical, pharmaceutical, aeronautical, correctional, food processing and healthcare.
Troy’s path to specialising in commissioning was paved by curiosity. He reflects on his career progression, starting with his early deep dives into the reasons why things didn’t work as they should and how they could be fixed.
What inspired you to choose commissioning as a career path?
I’m not sure it was ever a conscious decision to become a commissioning specialist – rather a natural evolution from investigating why things don’t work properly into ‘I’m sure we can fix this’ and we should also make sure that other clients don’t have to suffer the same problems.
What is good commissioning management?
Good commissioning management is knowing all the incremental steps that have to happen (in the correct order) for something to operate as designed; and then recognising as early as possible when that’s not happening!
What’s your career highlight project? Please give brief details on scope and what the client’s project goal was.
The Chau Chak Wing Museum was a recent addition to the University of Sydney’s Camperdown campus. Named after Dr Chau Chak Wing, whose generous donation enabled the ambitious project as the new home for the various cultural, historic, scientific and artistic collections held across the campus. These included the collections of the Macleay Museum, Nicholson Museum and University Art Gallery, as well as other cultural highlights from the university’s diverse portfolio. The museum provides temporary exhibition galleries alongside permanent galleries; whilst specialised study centres enable teaching with material culture and scientific specimens aligned with the university’s research and teaching interests. In addition, the museum was designed to inspire creativity, visual literacy and lateral thinking and to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the university.
ECS was appointed to overview and verify the mechanical services and associated controls for the project including commissioning; then provide energy-use analysis and operational reviews throughout the project tuning period on behalf of the university.
Tell us about the commissioning on this project, and include an initiative, feature and/or design challenge overcome.
The Chau Chak Wing Museum presented a number of interesting challenges throughout the testing and commissioning phase of the works.
One of the most rigorous tests involved room leakage assessment of 3 critical areas within the museum during the construction phase of the works. These included the collection store area, quarantine store and gallery 8. Each test was based on the total area of walls, floor and ceiling comprising the ‘room’.
The project specification detailed a maximum allowable leakage rate per m2 of surface area such that the design room conditions could be achieved and maintained under various operating scenarios. The success of each test was therefore wholly dependent on the room construction techniques and sealing details around the multiple service penetrations. Preliminary testing indicated that not all leakage pathways had been successfully sealed so exploratory investigation and airflow visualisation techniques were used to determine the problematic interfaces. Once these were located, remediated and re-tested, all rooms were certified as acceptably airtight to undergo further HVAC performance testing.
What innovative new approaches are you seeing when it comes to commissioning?
The commissioning process still generally follows the same sequence of events to achieve a specified outcome however, individual steps or tasks along the process are constantly evolving. For example, we use to use large differential pressure control valves with static balancing valves on every terminal unit to achieve the design water flow rates. Now we use pressure independent control valves that can be set to the design flow rate by simple adjustment of the valve dial using the manufacturers published settings. The water balancing step is now potentially easier, faster and can be achieved by less skilled individuals. However, skilled commissioning engineers are still required to work out where it has gone wrong, when a particular flow rate is not achieved.
Similarly, BMS and ‘standard’ control logic blocks make it easier and faster for controls engineers to create the software necessary to achieve the functional requirements for a particular type of HVAC system. However, unless the engineer understands the specific operating requirements, the safety and performance considerations of a particular piece of equipment and how it integrates with the other building services systems, the system and associated equipment will never operate consistently or reliably.
When do you believe an independent commissioning agent should be engaged on a project?
The appointment of a suitably qualified commissioning specialist as the ICA on a project should happen as early as possible. The best outcomes are always achieved when the quantum of available commissioning knowledge is applied to the early design stages of a project, when changes can be easily made to specifications and schematic drawings at the stroke of a metaphorical pencil (or keyboard). Once an element is detailed for construction (or physically installed), it becomes increasingly costly in both time and monetary value to make the necessary changes, whilst compromise solutions inevitably restrict or limit system performance potentials.
What is the difference between an independent commissioning agent (Green Star) and commissioning management?
An ICA is appointed by a client to ensure their project is commissioned properly and operates as intended when the building is first occupied. The ICA essentially provides the verification role, that the building services systems have been wholly commissioned; operate correctly, efficiently and deliver the specified level(s) of performance.
A commissioning manager essentially provides the co-ordination role for the commissioning process and ensures that installation, testing and commissioning activities occur in the correct sequence, meet the design performance criteria and ensure that the entire process is adequately documented as a basis for future changes or adjustments.
If you’ve worked across regions or countries, and/or across operating units, can you tell us about the key similarities and differences you’ve encountered when it comes to commissioning and your projects?
Every country I have worked in has a slightly different attitude to the commissioning phase of the works and its place in the overall project hierarchy. However, project commissioning time pressures are universal. The importance of commissioning does ebb and flow in response to changes in local building legislation, primary energy costs and any reputational damage associated with the previous project.
Where do you see the future of commissioning heading?
Commissioning will only increase in importance as environmental factors and energy costs challenge all building owners and users.