Maintaining MEP

MEP Middle East assistant editor Peter Ward reports on FM solutions to the problems of maintaining MEP systems.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

MEP Middle East assistant editor Peter Ward reports on FM solutions to the problems of maintaining MEP systems.

When looking at the different components of a building, it is fair to say that the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems are among the hardest to maintain. This raises the question of how FM professionals should go about the task of keeping the working parts of the building doing exactly that.

Maintaining an MEP component brings with it a host of difficulties that the FM industry has to overcome. Some of the typical challenges faced on the average building include a lack communication between contractors and manufacturers; lack proper access to MEP systems; and a shortage in hardware, software and personnel.

There is a rapid move towards proactive maintenance, particularly in more modern and sophisticated buildings. - Mike Cairney, EC Harris

The rising cost of MEP equipment is also a major hurdle for FM professionals. EC Harris director Mike Cairney explains: "Many of the tenders that are coming through for new buildings are astronomically high in the MEP factors. For instance, we are often asked to value manage the design solution to try and get it nearer the budget."

But together with these rises, the value of contracts for FM firms on the bigger developments has also increased. For example, BK Gulf's contract to maintain Atlantis, The Palm project on the Palm Jumeirah is worth nearly US $3 million (AED11 million) a year.

Another potential problem is highlighted by Imdaad executive director Ali Alsuwaidi: "The main issue for MEP maintenance is the lack of information about these systems. You don't have the history of the equipment like the testing, commissioning and installation drawings."

Bahwan Engineering's senior manager Ramesh Babu puts some of this blame at the feet of the contractors: "Contractors are at times ignorant of the manufacturer's specific requirements and follow general procedures which can cause equipment failures."

Early involvement

One simple solution could go a long way to solving all of these problems: ensuring that FM consultants are present as early as possible in the design stage. However this answer is proving difficult to get across in the Middle East. Cairney puts it simply: "If you actually get a good modern thinking engineer on the design you can generally make quite a big difference."

Through early involvement and better communication between the different groups involved in the design and construction process, energy and cost savings can be made. In a presentation at the 2008 FM Expo, Dr Sadek Owainati, chairman and co-founder, Emirates Green Building Council, suggested that savings of up to 50% could be made on energy through better collaboration at the early stages of construction. Air conditioning is the main area where it is possible to save power followed by lighting and proper insulation.

MEP maintenance can be made easier through more involvement at the design stage as well, Mick Dalton, Emaar senior director of asset management, explains: "Traditionally MEP consultants are designing off a board and they aren't really practical when it comes to seeing what is needed at the handover stage and in properly maintaining the building. If there is more engagement with [MEP consultants] then we would get a better product."

According to Dalton, lists having proper access to components, enough space for maintenance and having building management systems that are totally automated and tested when handed over are among the biggest problems faced.

In some cases this early involvement is not possible and work must be done after building completion to make it easier to maintain. Babu explains what must be done: "A competent group of facilities engineers needs to audit the systems and recommend necessary changes or modifications."

Even this is not always possible as Alsuwaidi reveals: "It depends on the client commitment. With air conditioning some clients say: ‘let me think about it', then when winter starts they forget about it."

Attitudes of developers in the Middle East can also be a bone of contention for FM professionals due to the ‘everything now' mentality that surrounds construction projects. Babu says: "Clients at times do not realise the importance in having their equipment maintained. This is also a very important aspect in terms of energy usage."

Cairney reveals the impact of LEED assessments on buildings could make the life of an FM professional easier: "It is becoming compulsory to LEED assess your buildings and this requires a full set of commissioning records at completion of the building and 12 months later a further set of re-commissioning data." The advantage gained by this is it forces some "proper thought" to go into the commissioning process, reports Cairney.

Active thinking

Like the majority of the facilities in a building, MEP systems can be maintained either reactively or proactively.

Reactive maintenance, waiting for something to break before it is fixed, involves less short-term cost and can be useful for systems that operate without any work needed on them.

Proactive maintenance, on the other hand, involves creating and following a plan to regularly maintain systems and machinery in an attempt to prevent breakdowns.

Cairney describes proactive maintenance as: "actually going to oil and grease the wheels on a planned regular basis. And when things do break down you analyse the root cause of the problem and seek a fix that will have a proper lasting effect."

Unfortunately, the trend in the Middle East is to use reactive maintenance. However, the tide seems to be changing towards preventative maintenance on MEP systems and it is not just FM companies who are looking to encourage this shift.

Contractors are at times ignorant of the manufacturer's specific requirements and follow general procedures which can cause equipment failures. - Ramesh Babu, Bahwan Engineering

Alsuwaidi says: "I think the government is pushing for more preventative maintenance. It's coming and its improving and this is why there are more facilities management companies now operating rather than just maintenance companies or service providers."

Alsuwaidi also highlights a more important reason to shift towards proactive maintenance techniques: "I'm sorry to say that in some cases safety equipment that is not service-tied is still not fixed. If the air conditioning breaks in the summer everybody will complain, so they will do reactive and preventive maintenance to avoid this."

Alsuwidi continues: "But there are other devices like fire alarms that if they fail, [some firms and/or building owners] don't even bother to do preventive maintenance until the whole tower fails."

Cairney sees the move towards proactive maintenance as both inevitable and rapid: "There is a rapid move towards proactive maintenance, particularly in more sophisticated buildings. I think reaction is still inherent in villas and houses, but proactive is much more prevalent now in the big developments."

There are new technologies in the industry that are not being widely used in the Middle East as Dalton explains: "If I go back to the UK its quite commonplace that when you are installing a building management system you put in extra sensors so you can monitor the chiller and you can monitor the air in a more predictive way. Instead of changing filters every few months you can actually leave it a little bit longer."

MEP systems present a range of challenges for FM professionals. However these are challenges that can be overcome through design stage involvement and a stronger shift towards proactive maintenance. The FM industry seems to have a grasp on this and it is only a matter of time before the developers and building owners do as well.

Reactive vs. Proactive

Reactive Maintenance

  •  Pros
  • Immediate savings through short-term fixes
  •  For some MEP systems it is more cost-efficient and timely to only fix items such as CCTV cameras and sensors when they break down.
  • A smaller workforce is required.
  •  Cons
  •  By waiting for a part to break before fixing it, the root of the problem may never be determined.
  • There are liability issues with allowing something to break before maintenance
  • Customer response is often negative with instances of broken equipment

  • Proactive Maintenance

  •  Pros
  • Long-term savings from fewer breakdowns over the course of a contract.
  • Fewer unplanned repairs necessary.
  • Energy costs are lower because of improved efficiency of equipment.
  • Cons
  • Can be expensive initially and is sometimes seen as unnecessary outlay.
  • There are liability issues with allowing something to break before maintenance
  • Equipment costs for FM companies can also be high, especially for processes such as thermographic testing of electrical installations.


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