A minute of downtime can risk lives, cost millions and ruin reputation – whether that’s protecting patients by verifying essential lifesaving power or correctly calculating pressure cascade controls. Unfortunately, it often takes a major failure for operators to appreciate the value of commissioning in the design and construction process.

Protection is king in hospitals. In the newly refurbished operating wing of a hospital, the surgical team prepare the theatre for a day of lifesaving work. As they set up, an invisible threat washes through as the systems strain to operate safely. The operating manager battles with the howling wind when securing the theatre door and the surgical technician takes a face full of billowing steam from the sterilising unit as the instruments are cleaned. An unspoken unease swirls across the team. The theatre’s air pressure is too high. The infrastructure is failing to provide a safe environment and is endangering vulnerable patients.

So how can this be avoided? As your eyes and ears on the ground, a commissioning agent provides unbiased technical verification and ensures critical infrastructure is integrated and coordinated. Through a methodical approach, they enable stakeholders to design, document and install their components as intended so they reliably perform from day one.

Back to basics – What is commissioning?

We can compare the commissioning phase of a project to a ship getting ready to set sail. During both its design and construction, a ship must pass several key milestones before starting on its maiden voyage. Equipment is installed and tested, problems are identified and corrected and the crew is comfortable using their sea legs.

Just like a ship at sea, a commissioned building is one where materials, systems and operators have successfully completed a thorough quality assurance process.

But, a ship wouldn’t set sail if it hadn’t chartered its course with a map of how to get there!

In buildings, quality documentation is the essential map that helps operators navigate the performance, parameters and maintenance needs of systems as they set sail into long-term operations. With a qualified commissioning agent acting as your first mate, operators can deliver and manage an efficient, safe and robust facility now and in the future.

Why commissioning is one of the most effective risk mitigation strategies for your project

At a time when resources are constrained, pockets are shallow and pressure to achieve net zero looms, the risk of not fulfilling a building’s operating potential seems at an all-time high.

It has been reported between 15 and 30% of maintenance savings and 8 and 50% of energy savings can be realised for a commissioned facility versus a non commissioned facility. The energy savings of which could result in an average of approximately US$8 per square metre in existing buildings.[1] With an average payback time of 1.7 years[2], commissioning could be a key and effective risk mitigation strategy both in project delivery and for your building’s long term success.

A people-centric approach

Getting to the core of how, why and when you will use each system in your building early means the commissioning agent can translate this into the fundamental design to help set up operations effectively for the people that use the space.

For operators in critical environments such as hospitals or data centres, effective commissioning means the building services are correctly designed, installed and perform the way you need them to first time. This ensures your systems are intuitive to manage from day one and can adapt with your building, enhancing the experience for occupants and operations teams.

Regardless of environment, sector or scale, implementing risk mitigation strategies during the commissioning process significantly reduces risk of system failure, disruption, occupant discomfort and inflated operating budgets.

Maximising reliability

Functional and integrated performance tests are meticulously drafted by your commissioning agent in tandem with the project’s approved design. This ensures the systems work together in harmony in the event of a catastrophic power outage or emergency event.

For example, if a mains failure event were to occur at a data centre and the emergency power generation provisions have not been rigorously tested, the loss of power to servers may result in live and time-sensitive transactions falling behind or being lost all together. The impact on a business’ potential income and the subsequent damage to reputation could be devastating.

Your commissioning agent works with the project team to simulate and test scenarios like this. Accounting for the interconnected functionality between systems during the commissioning process means the racks stay online and the data centre remains secure, resilient and reliable for clients.

Safeguarding hazards

Before construction begins, the commissioning process thoroughly reviews the design of the facility, identifies potential hazards and issues and ensures compliance with safety codes and standards. Once installed, the commissioning agent provides this extra level of involvement, independently verifying the systems meet the required operating standard and design intent.

For example, if the fire alarms and sprinklers function as they should, but the fire smoke dampers aren't properly installed or functioning correctly, your yearly fire certification might fail. If the fire safety measures aren't properly synchronised, there's potential for fire and smoke to spread, putting your building occupants lives at risk.

Integrated performance tests facilitated by the commissioning agent, alongside your fire engineer and building certifier in this case, will uncover any oversight. They scrutinise the whole life safety system to ensure it fulfils its purpose of keeping occupants safe.

Preserving efficiency

As operational demands evolve, a successfully commissioned design can accommodate these changes and is better equipped to remain relevant, efficient and effective over time.

In sustainability rating systems like Green Star, commissioning credits are one of the categories used to check if projects follow through on the best practices required to make buildings more sustainable. Tuning power consumption, for instance, allows a commissioning agent to work with your sustainability consultant and suggest ways to optimise energy usage and how the plant can operate more efficiently.

Good planning, optimisation and maintenance are key to driving long-term sustainable performance.

Preparing for longevity

Building tuning, usage and maintenance in the commissioning process helps to ensure that all features are utilised to their fullest potential, maximising the return on investment for you and safeguarding future functionality. A commissioning agent plans this from the start, creating a commissioning roadmap for the entire lifecycle of the project. This includes a building tuning plan, smoothly transitioning you from practical completion into operating with full functionality.

For example, occupant needs are an essential part of designing and constructing a new high-rise office building. Although considered, the extent to which occupant behaviour is appreciated cannot always be fully planned for. Tenant needs vary – from how much electricity or water is used to after hours and special function activities. These requirements only fully come to light after tenants move into their space.

A tailored building tuning plan enables your commissioning agent to review energy consumption, uncover trends and timings and consider staff feedback. From their observations, they report and recommend actions to tune the systems further, helping to balance operating sustainably with a space that supports your needs. Once discussed and agreed, the commissioning agent works with facility teams to review that the operating manuals are accurate and robust and the documentation provided is clear before handover.

When users see that their requirements have been considered during the design of a system, they’re more inclined to accept and integrate this into their daily work, leading to long-term success.

Make commissioning a project priority

A well planned, tailored and technically-resourced commissioning process helps make your facility that bit more sustainable and easier to manage.

Early engagement is a critical aspect of the commissioning process and can significantly impact the overall success and efficiency of a project.

For project managers, this means aligning goals, expectations and defining clear project requirements during design development. Doing this before contractors are engaged enables project managers to articulate with impact so stakeholders know what to expect from day one.

When it comes time to interrogate the installed services, if there hasn’t been early engagement with a commissioning agent, contractors may underappreciate the required testing regime. This could result in a compressed commissioning timeline, putting pressure on performance and risking the functioning of systems efficiently work together as a whole.

There’s more to commissioning than first meets the eye

Commissioning takes a specific mentality, personality and skill set that includes a technically sound, scientific and artistic approach.

The global building services industry is walking a complex and challenging tight rope, balancing demand and supply, risk and reward and expectations and innovations. Successfully navigating this multifaceted landscape needs project teams to adapt, optimise and effectively plan throughout their project’s lifecycle.

A commissioning agent is a specialist that represents the owner’s business, goals, and needs. As the owner’s representative, a commissioning agent creates a smooth transition from design to construction and construction to occupancy. This approach to building services offers a plethora of benefits, paving the way for a greener, more reliable and cost-effective future.

Engineering Commissioning Services (ECS) helps turn myth into reality by providing a tailored commissioning process for your building to fulfil its operating potential. With careful design review, planning and testing, we're dedicated to commission buildings that excel, serve people well, and are kind to the environment.

[1] The economics of commissioning - Mypdh.engineer

[2] Building commissioning costs and savings across three decades and 1500 North American buildings - ScienceDirect

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