Control System Procurement; A Process Gone Insane

In his most recent blog post, Michael Ivanovich, talks about the
reaction
of a group of controls contractors to his discussion of the
commissioning process
.  Having worked in the controls
industry for a while as a systems and field engineer for one of the
major manufacturers, I can understand and appreciate their
frustrations.  But, I think the root of the problem is not the
commissioning process.  Rather I believe that the root cause
is a design and procurement process gone insane, as illustrated in
the slide below from one of my classes.

I believe this goes to the core of Jay Santo’s comment that
Michael referenced, specifically that If it wasn’t for the
immense problems owners are having with controls, there wouldn’t be
commissioning.
  I don’t think that Jay is saying that the
problem lies with the control systems per se.  Rather I think
he is saying that because of the manner in which the industry
currently goes about procuring controls (my take on it is the slide
above), Owners end up having a lot of trouble with their control
systems and commissioning is one of the mechanisms that is being
used to deal with that problem, sometimes successfully, and
sometimes not.  Bear in mind here that when I use the word
commissioning (Cx) I’m using it in its broadest sense, including
new construction Cx, existing building Cx, and the Cx like
activities associated with truly operating a building.  In my
opinion, which I believe may be shared by others, the root cause of
the problem occurs in the second step of the current procurement
process.

Sadly, because many designers currently feel they have limited
knowledge regarding the workings of a current technology direct
digital control system (DDC) and deal with it by writing a
performance spec and statements of intent  regarding how their
systems should work, (rather than detailed narrative operating
sequences supported by logic diagrams) they abdicate the design of
the control system to the control contractor.  Unfortunately,
for a number of reasons, including many that the contractors
Michael was meeting with mentioned in their discussion with him,
the control contractor is seldom in a position that will allow them
to efficiently and profitably assume this responsibility in the
manner necessary to really provide a good, reliable, robust control
system design.  As a result, the somewhat insane cycle I
outline in my slides is triggered and repeats itself.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing
over and over again and expecting different results
, which is
one of the reasons I term the current control procurement process
insane;  we keep doing it as if we think that somehow, we will
get a different result even though we haven’t made any real changes
in the way we go about doing it.  

That leads me to another one of my favorite Einstein
quotes;  We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of
thinking we used when we created them
.  So, it would seem
that the question is, what kind of thinking, and as a result of the
thinking, what kind of actions can we take to stop the
insanity?  Michael lists some of his thoughts on this topic in
his blog post and also asked me to chime in with my thoughts, which
of course, led to this post.  So, having laid the groundwork
in this post by giving you my perspective on the problem, I will
follow up with several posts over the next week or so sharing my
thoughts on the subject.

For those of you who have come back to see the next step in data
logger deployment, the follow-up I promised in my post on installing
a sensor to measure surface temperatures in the field
, don’t
despair.  That one is already written and “in the chute” so to
speak.  I just moved it out to post later this week so I could
respond to Michael’s request in a timely manner.

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One Response to Control System Procurement; A Process Gone Insane

  1. winbass says:

    Having had many years of experience in the controls field as sales rep to specifications maintainer and more I totally agree with Davids problem identification. Owners must invest the time somewhere to keep the knowledge in the design stage of the project and not allow it to advocate to the control manufacturers. Unfortunately the trend has been set over many years of that advocate. But it is never too late to set a new trend, to have the designer actually complete the design without the manufacturers direct input. BIM may prove to be one of the tools to accomplish this

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