Across nearly every industry-type, regardless of their location, size, product offerings, or customer base, businesses are feeling the pressure to do more with less. In our world–companies with commercial or industrial refrigeration systems like walk-in coolers and freezers, and refrigerated warehouses–it’s a top-of-mind consideration. Whether it’s a kitchen in a chain of restaurants, or a multi-site cold storage facility, streamlining aspects of their operation are seen as necessities to remain not only profitable, but competitive. Staff are needing to wear multiple different hats, so to speak, more and more, and day-to-day operations are scrutinized with huge microscopes for any area, no matter how small or trivial it may seem on the first look, where things could be done better or more efficiently.
All of these companies also have one other thing in common: access to a wealth of data through energy management systems (EMS; sometimes referred to as building management systems).
Jamie Daubenspeck, writing for Green Biz, sums up the overall benefit of incorporating an EMS as follows: “EMS gives companies greater visibility and control of each facility and its assets and a means to collect cost and consumption data. Whether a company has five sites or 500, without EMS, companies must blindly rely on site-level staff to ensure adherence to standard configurations, respond to alarms and oversee asset maintenance.”
In most other aspects of our daily lives, “big data” has become an almost ubiquitous accessory. Smart cars. Smart homes. Smart TVs. Smart watches. We are seeing the positive impacts of convenient and insightful data, and are realizing it doesn’t take radically changing how we do things to incorporate their findings (such as walking 100 more steps today, or adding an hour of sleep).
On the business side of things, data can be incorporated just as pain-free, and can be just as vital and transformative.
“Leveraging this data and information can help companies reduce operating costs and provide insight to operational improvements, including:
- Increased productivity
- Equipment baseline and lifecycle reporting
- Portfolio-wide energy consumption benchmarking
Tracking data helps establish standard metrics and baselines that will help manage resources. By analyzing the asset level data from EMS, companies can reveal sites and equipment that are performing sub-optimally. Analyzing energy drift can help identify other smaller issues that may have gone unnoticed, leading to bigger expenses over time.”
Now, while the implementation of an EMS is different for, say, a floral distribution center than it is for a convenience store, the best practices and benefits of the EMS are universal. That’s sort of the point of the system; nearly every business has the same underlying areas that can be improved on with data. In the world of refrigeration and large HVACR, it couldn’t be more true. Each company with these cooling systems have compressors, and evaporator fans, and temperature requirements. And each of these cooling systems present the same mechanical issues and inefficiencies as all the others.
Below, Daubenspeck lays out 5 best practices for an EMS:
1. Maintain and enforce documented standards. “Implementing corporate-wide configurations should be a key component of an overall energy strategy when commissioning EMS. Capture the optimal configuration for your facilities — even if there are multiple versions based on the type or function of the building or its geographical location.”
2. Monitor system overrides. “EMS can help optimize the balance between occupant comfort and energy savings, until a human overrides the system. To avoid these changes from adding up, first address any recurring comfort concerns. Then establish set point standards and user permission levels to authorized personnel only.”
3. Regularly check sensors. “During EMS installation sensors are initially placed, but over time, as facilities and the environment around them change, the location may need to change. Leverage sensor alerts or data to look for outliers. Ensure that sensors are not affected during remodels and site improvements.”
4. Establish an alarm strategy. “Alarms are a key function of EMS, but there can be hundreds each day — some are true issues, but some are what we call false or nuisance alarms. Establish an alarm strategy that encompasses your entire portfolio, including an alarm matrix that identifies which alarms are most important to you and your organization. Reconfigure systems as needed to fine-tune the alarms and alerts to notify the right people on actionable issues and not send out notifications on low-priority issues.”
5. Implement maintenance checkout procedure. “When technicians are on site, they may have silenced an alarm or disconnected the asset from the control system, and then that asset becomes invisible to EMS. So establish a checkout procedure when anyone is onsite to verify that all standards and parameters have been implemented prior to the technician leaving the site.”
For businesses that rely on refrigeration, there are even more benefits to incorporating a management system beyond the above listed. Now, while nearly all of them will show you precise temperature data, or even energy usage, a few offer truly unique solutions that provide actionable data, provable energy savings, historical performance trends, predictive fault detection, and mobile notifications.
Based on observable data of our customers’ facilities, here are three other common benefits we’ve seen:
1. Provable energy-usage reduction of an average of 40%. For refrigeration systems that normally run at 100% of their capacity, implementing a management system helped reduce their runtimes through cooling schedules, equipment optimization, and tighter temperature control. This obviously affects the amount of energy they have to pay the utility for, thus recouping profits by spending less.
2. Uncovering hidden, negatively impactful issues. Sensors can detect when unseen issues such as cooler/freezer doors being left open, fans being manually shut off, or the compressor short cycling and alert you to their existence. These issues may seem minor at first, and aren’t as catastrophic as a full system failure, obviously, but if these are left alone over time, they can lead to much larger problems.
3. Improved food safety and quality. By having constant visibility of the operating temperature of your cold room or cooler, you can ensure your cold product remains in its safe range at all times. And if the space falls out of said range, you can be instantly notified and make the appropriate adjustments or fixes. Having a management system automatically monitor and log space temperatures, you remove the human element. Which is no insult to your employees, but it is one less burden from their most likely already-full plate.
It’s important to check with your maintenance technicians that your facility and equipment can support an EMS, and you obviously need buy-in from any higher-ups if operating at the corporate level, but even if you’re a one-location restaurant with a modest-sized freezer, you can benefit from the data available. It’s all about making smarter decisions in a more timely manner, and creating a ripple effect of efficiency throughout your operations.