Betting on Better Controls
While the major part of the renovation is finished, there are still a few behind-the-scenes items that have yet to be completed. One of those items is the bas, the retrofit of which began in 1998 and is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year.
For years, Harrah's used another system, which worked very well, but as parts became more difficult (and expensive) to find, there was a need to find a new bas. In addition, the engineering department at Harrah's wanted a system that was more graphics-oriented, could help point out where to save energy, and could keep tighter control of the indoor environment.
Harrah's found exactly what it needed through its long-time controls supplier, LONG Building Technologies (formerly Certified Service), Las Vegas.
A Little at a TimeSimon Niekerk, service sales engineer, LONG Building Technologies, was intimately familiar with Harrah's. Having installed the original bas system years before, Niekerk knew where everything was and exactly how the system worked. He suggested that Harrah's go with Alerton's proprietary system, IBEX for Windows.
He thought the IBEX would work best for a number of reasons. First, it wouldn't be necessary to run new wire, as the IBEX could use the same wire that was in place for the existing system. "We were able to keep the existing trunks and the existing wires and just add controllers and change sensors basically," says Niekerk. That meant easier and quicker installation times.
The global controller, APEX, was used rather than a satellite. Niekerk says the APEX is great because it is able to handle approximately 250 devices and also allows peer-to-peer control to other APEX controllers.
Second, it wasn't necessary to retrofit the entire system at one time. Instead, the hotel-casino has been using two computers, one for the Alerton system and one for the earlier system. The portion of the building that is under the original still runs just fine, and Harrah's has never lost any control of the building at all.
"We've just been phasing it out and switching it over. We would take an air-handling unit, for example, take out the controls and put in the Alerton controls, give it to our programmer, he'd program it, and that same day as we're changing the controls, the program was downloaded and started up. A lot of these units were the same under (the old system), so the code was similar," says Niekerk.
At press time, Harrah's was more than three-quarters finished with its bas retrofit. Only about 23 air handlers (out of approximately 100 total air handlers) remained that needed to be switched over to the Alerton system.
A third reason why Niekerk felt IBEX was right for the job was its ease of operation, as well as its easy trend logging capability. And Harrah's wanted more flexibility, which the IBEX could deliver. For example, Harrah's wanted more time schedules, but it couldn't add any more under the old system. The IBEX would give it the capabilities it needed.
And Niekerk knows what kinds of capabilities casinos need. LONG Building Technologies has installed systems with most of the major players in town, including venerable establishments such as Luxor, Excalibur, Monte Carlo, Boardwalk, Aladdin Hotel, Desert Passage, Mandalay Bay, Paris, Caesar's, Texas Hotel and Casino, Suncoast, Circus Circus, Four Seasons Hotel, and Imperial Palace.
Big Energy SaverOne of the biggest benefits Harrah's has realized with its new bas is tremendous energy savings. Lenny Swedberg, supervisor of climate control, Harrah's Las Vegas, says that newly installed pulse meters, which are tied into the bas, are allowing him to find out some of the problem areas in the building that may be wasting energy.
"The meters tell the computer how much kW have been used in a certain area at a certain time. Then we can go out there and actually see what's eating up all this power and make some changes in order to save us money. I know since we've gone to energy management here, even a step further than what we had before, we're saving approximately 130,000 kW a month and 1.5 million kW per year at this time," says Swedberg.
He notes that in the past, there were occasions in which a timer was set to trip off, but it may not have. Instead, it may have been left on for 24 hours a day for three weeks before somebody noticed. Now, the bas tells him exactly when the timer was turned on and when (or if) it was turned off. "I can more or less tell what's going on in the lighting, air handlers, or any of the hvac equipment," says Swedberg.
With energy costs spiraling upwards, saving energy is becoming extremely important. Given that Swedberg has around 1,000 pieces of equipment for which he is responsible, having the bas monitor what each item is doing is quite a benefit.
To that end, the new bas basically controls virtually every piece of hvac equipment at Harrah's. Items that are continually monitored include room temperature in the casino; vav boxes; return, supply, and mixed air on the AHUs; chilled water supply and return in the central plant; hot water supply and return; and temperatures of the flat-plate heat exchanger in the central plant. Drives were installed on the air handlers for static pressure control, and the vav boxes can control to a preset precise cfm.
CO sensors control how much fresh air is needed in the casino. Preprogrammed setpoints determine the quality of outside air. "When the quality of the air is very bad outside, we close off the outside dampers so we don't pull any of it in. If our return air is halfway bad we'll run it through filters and clean up the air probably fourfold better than what the air is coming off the street," says Swedberg.
As Time goes ByAll in all, Swedberg is extremely happy with his new bas. "The Alerton system has allowed us to do a lot more with the system, as far as climate control and satisfying people and finding certain comfort zones. We've added frequency drives that we never had before, which actually saves us a lot of money in the long run because it's based on satisfying certain setpoints, whether it be duct static or actual temperatures. Rather than run things at 100% full bore, we can back off and maybe run 50% rather than 100%. That has saved us quite a bit of money," he says.
In addition, Swedberg is pleased with the new graphics and how easy it has been to train his staff on the new system. "The previous system was a DOS system. It's a bunch of numbers. And unless you're very familiar with DOS and how it operates and know exactly what you're looking at, you can't determine what is going on. With the Alerton system, it gives you pictures. It's user friendly and it's on Windows, which most people know. Even somebody who doesn't know a lot about it can see a picture and know what's going on."
Before the new bas was installed, a large number of people needed to be present to maintain the equipment. That's because people had to physically go and check every single piece of equipment and put it through its paces. Now, the computer tells them everything they want to know, at the push of a button from a desk. If the system spots something that doesn't seem right, it notifies the staff, and a person can then physically go and check out the problem. Swedberg says that feature saves him an incredible amount of manpower.
So far there haven't been any surprises during the start-up of the Alerton system, and the staff has taken to the new bas like ducks to water. That's due to Swedberg, says Niekerk, who makes sure that he and his people know how to use the system properly. "Lenny does a super job over there. He goes through his system and knows it really well."
Swedberg adds, "Simon's been great to us, and he's always available when we need him. I even have his home number," he chuckles.
Sounds like Harrah's and LONG Building Technologies will be continuing what has to this point been a beautiful relationship. ES
Simon says...train your peopleSimon Niekerk has been in the controls business for over 20 years. Much of that time has been spent in the casinos of Las Vegas and Laughlin, NV. He likes working in the hospitality industry because he enjoys the people who manage the facilities. "People in this industry are very easy to work with," he says.
In addition, he likes the challenges of the job, especially when it comes to teaching people how to use his controls systems. Unfortunately, that training isn't always passed along to everyone in a facility, which Niekerk would like to see happen.
"My thought has always been in the hospitality industry that employees are there to take care of the plant. The facilities managers need to train their employees to understand and run their systems. They should not need outside contracting to do anything. They should be able to learn and do everything themselves because they're being paid to do that."
He adds that there are many facilities that do a great job of making sure the people know how the systems work. But there are others that don't seem too concerned whether or not the systems are being properly maintained or even if the staff know how to use them. These facilities usually either don't have the manpower, or they don't have the knowledge to get the job done properly.
"In some facilities the lack of knowledge is amazing," says Niekerk. "Then in others, people understand it all."