This question arose out of my reading the March column, “Continuous Commissioning,” by Rebecca Ellis.

The descriptions given in that column for “recommissioning” and “continuous commissioning” appeared to be suspiciously clothed in the same garments as preventive and predictive maintenance, respectively. Consider the similarities: “Recommissioning” was described as the process of retesting previously commissioned systems with the same original checklists and verification test procedures on a regular basis, whether needed or not.

“Preventive maintenance” is the process of performing scheduled equipment inspection, testing (italics are mine), and maintenance (lubrication, adjustments, consumable parts replacement, etc.) on a regular basis to prevent service failures (whether needed or not).

“Continuous commissioning” was explained as the process of continuously monitoring system performance data against a baseline reference and retesting systems only when their performance falls outside of this reference.

“Predictive maintenance” is the process of monitoring selected performance data for equipment against a baseline reference to identify and predict impending failures for just-in-time maintenance attention (only when their performance falls outside of this reference).

What’s Your P.O.V.?

How are these four efforts intertwined? The differences to me at first seemed fuzzy from a facilities management perspective. After rubbing my eyes to clear my vision, however, I began to see some distinctions worth noting.

First, what is my viewpoint? Am I the facility owner or the maintenance manager? Is my facility functioning to meet its original design intent or has this intent ever been communicated in the first place? Is overall systems performance a priority, or just component condition? In answer to these questions, commissioning efforts focus mainly on systems performance, while classical maintenance tends to concentrate mainly on components.

Commissioning is basically a problem-finding activity, while maintenance is a problem-solving endeavor. Commissioning strives to be largely proactive, while maintenance typically struggles to move beyond an essentially reactive stance. Even with a facilities organization demonstrating world-class maintenance capability, reactive maintenance activities still account for 30% of all maintenance time invested.

The true benefits of both commissioning and maintenance are often not appreciated by business managers focused primarily on reducing short-term costs. While appearing to boast short-term cost reduction success, deferred maintenance and lack of commissioning produce longer-term headaches and increased operating costs to regain effective facility function.

What Is The Desired Goal?

Second, what are my operational performance goals and how complex are the systems I count on to achieve them? Is my operation a museum with priceless artifacts; a research and development center housing long-term sensitive projects; a data or technical center requiring round-the-clock uptime; or an intelligent, Class A office building with diverse and sophisticated tenants? Or is my facility a retail strip mall, distribution center and warehouse, or light industrial manufacturing plant?

While all of these facility types will benefit from commissioning, only those in the first grouping may actually get commissioned. They all need maintenance to stay in an acceptable operational state, with the more complex facilities demanding more sophisticated maintenance skills and a broader management outlook.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Third, do maintenance staffs typically have the requisite skills, mindset, and outlook to perform recommissioning and continuous commissioning? They could, if taught how to, but often do not because they are already deeply mired in day-to-day operations with little time to step back and take an overall systems view. This typical reality handicaps maintenance management’s ability to stay current with redefined operational intents made necessary by the rapid pace of business changes in chasing ever-variable market conditions.

Returning to the original question, are the recommissioning and continuous commissioning processes then subsets of “normal” maintenance operations? No. They could, however, be subsets of “superior” maintenance management and facilities operation. This management would know the design intents of their facilities, adjust on-the-fly to dynamically changing business needs, and master these adjustments by successfully confirming retuned operations through the documented verification provided by recommissioning and continuous commissioning.

The results of weaving commissioning into traditional maintenance practices show up in increased customer satisfaction, reduced downtime, and verified functionality that paces strategic business changes, offering the facility owner an ongoing competitive business advantage. ES