The Controls Integration and Coordination Meeting

If you take one of the commissioning classes I am involved with,
you will likely hear me say that at its core, commissioning is
about performance and integration.  In fact, the interactive,
integrated nature of building systems
  is a topic I
have discussed on several occasions
in previous posts. 
Control systems are usually at the heart of the integration (or
dis-integration) process, as illustrated in this slide, which is
one of my favorite examples of a little problem rippling out and
causing big problems.

In this example, when a control loop serving a preheat coil
becomes unstable, the ripple effects end up causes false spikes in
outdoor air temperature which in turn cause the chiller plant to
attempt to start until it locks itself out on its anti-recycle
timer.  Meanwhile the building occupants are blissfully
unaware of the problem because from their perspective, the building
is comfortable.

If you are curious about the details behind this little upset,
you can read about them in the
Integrated Operation and Control Chapter
of the
Functional Testing and Design Guide.  My point in
bringing it up here is to illustrate how important control systems
are in the over-all integration of a building with its systems,
occupants, and functions.

But there is more to integrating the control system than getting
the hardware properly installed and operating.  Integrating
the people that are involved with the design, procurement, start-up
and operation of the control system can be just as important and
just as challenging.  And failing to integrate the control
system team will likely lead to a failure of the control system to
perform as intended.

To address this issue, a number of commissioning providers I
know conduct a meeting or string of meetings targeting control
system integration issues.  Karl Stum and Norm Nelson wrote a
paper titled The
Controls Integration Meeting
discussing their approach to
the process and presented it at the 12th National Conference on
Building Commissioning
if you want to take a detailed look at
one approach to doing this.  In general terms, key points of
most approaches that I am aware of include the following:

Attendees include all representatives of all
stakeholders
with a vested interest in the successful
performance of the control system.  Typically this includes
the commissioning provider, the control contractor, the designer,
and the building operators.

The meeting or meetings are held relatively early in
the construction cycle
either as a way to ensure that
the control system submittal will be correct and easily approved,
or as an actual mechanism for approving the control submittal.

The meetings focus on both hardware and software
issues including:

  • Controller selections
  • Sensor selections
  • Valve and damper selections
  • Control panel arrangements and details
  • Operator work station and interface tools
  • Network architecture
  • Point lists
  • Point naming conventions
  • Trending and alarm requirements
  • Graphic requirements and structure
  • Operating sequences
  • Documentation
  • Training

By getting everyone who cares together and working your way
through this list of topics in a setting where everyone can
interact directly and share their thoughts, concerns and
understandings regarding the requirements of the project, most of
the challenges associated with obtaining a successful control
system can be addressed before they become problems. 

For the approach to work, everyone needs to realize that the
meeting are working meetings intended to provide an open forum for
the discussion and resolution of issues and concerns related to the
control systems.  

Everyone has a voice

There are no “dumb questions”

Issues that are important to one attendee merit
consideration and discussion by all

Posturing and finger pointing have no place in the
process

Coffee and donuts or pizza and soda are highly
desirable

Granted, on a large project, a process like this can take some
time.  In fact, when you first bring up the idea to a team who
has not tried it before, the first and biggest objection is likely
going to be that nobody has or wants to take the time to attend a
bunch of meetings.  But, in my experience, if you spend a
little time walking people through what the goal of the meetings
is, they typically will begin to see that the process could be a
time saver rather than a time sink and will agree
to give it a try, at least for one meeting.  And, in my
experience, once they attend a successful implementation of the
process, you will have created another believer, which will ripple
out and improve the delivery mechanism for control systems on other
projects.

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