Unlocking the Question: Why is My Controls System Not Working? Part 2

By Bob Masland
Business Development, Controls at Fairbanks Energy Services

Have you ever grabbed your own head in frustration like our friend at the top of this post? Faced a controls system that’s not working? A year ago, we interviewed Bob Masland about his experience unlocking controls systems, working with building management systems and what clients should know about managing controls in commercial/industrial facilities. We’re returning to the topic to check back in with Bob about getting deeper into that frustrating question: why is my controls system not working?


"Most of the sites I visit have building management systems that are, in theory, 'working.' But, they’ve been overwritten to remain on 24-7-365"


Nice to be back, Bob. In the past year, what examples have you seen on job sites of control systems not working, and what were the reasons why?

2019 was incredibly busy for all of us here at Fairbanks Energy Services. We completed more mechanical/controls projects as a company than we ever have before.  Our momentum is pushing us forward into 2020 with a huge pipeline of energy savings projects, and controls is clearly top-of-mind for companies looking to improve their efficiency and bottom line. 

Most of the sites I visit have building management systems (BMS) that are, in theory, “working.” But, they’ve been overwritten to remain on 24-7-365. The easiest way to keep a building’s tenants satisfied is to never set back set-points. Unfortunately, this is also a huge energy hog since HVAC equipment always remains on, even when no one is present.  Typically during our initial assessment, we dig into the system’s scheduling capabilities and offer a solution forward to capture as much energy savings as possible without compromising occupant comfort. 

On the controls side we have been seeing and hearing a lot of the same complaints about their existing systems. 


Let’s get into those complaints: what are common occurrences of “controls systems not working” and how can those issues be diagnosed?

The first complaint we come across is that our clients have multiple building management systems that don’t communicate with each other.  We have one customer who has 3 different HVAC controls service contracts because each system is “locked down” with proprietary protocols.  We will be working with the client to integrate and “unlock” each of the systems by bringing them into an open protocol graphical supervisor.

The second complaint that we often hear is that our client’s systems are not user-friendly enough for their in-house technicians.  A building management system is only as good as the technicians who know how to work on it.  With a properly updated building management system, a customer should feel comfortable changing set-points and schedules on their own, so reconfiguration, new graphics, better integrations and on-site training are all a part of projects we’ve worked on in the last year.


"A building management system is only as good as the technicians who know how to work on it."


Where does energy efficiency come into the equation? What does “building management system integration” really mean?

Great questions. A building management system will only be as energy efficient as the team working on it.  We often come across systems where new controls have been installed only to find out that the programming was never completed.  Typically, when a client tells me that they control equipment in “hand” setting that is a huge red flag that energy is being wasted. 

Direct Digital Controls allow a customer to have a full BMS that has alarms, will alert them when something is wrong and will follow the programmed schedules.  Proper BMS integration allows a customer to have multiple systems living in the same graphical interface.  This allows for an optimal user experience for the customer: one login, one place to see everything. 


You keep using the term “unlock.” Why are you talking about “unlocking” systems?

I find when that I use the word “unlock” with customers, they don’t always understand what it means as it relates to their systems.  Proprietary software is also known as “closed-source” which means that it can only be purchased and worked on exclusively by the company who installed it. 

“Proprietary” and “open” systems are both building management systems, however an “open” system can be programmed or worked on by any controls contractor with any brand’s workbench license.  “Proprietary” systems, however, are “locked down,” which mean that they can only be worked on by the company who installs them. 

No matter the configuration, it’s important to work with a team of experts and engineers with extensive knowledge about how to work with or modify every controls system available on the market, integrate dozens of different types of systems and even convert a site from “proprietary” to “open” through the use of custom drivers, hardware and software if that’s the right move.


Who are the best candidates for a BMS audit or conversation with you?

Over the last 5 years we’ve seen tremendous technological advances in the BMS industry.  I would say that my best prospective client would be a campus with multiple brands’ systems that are not all visible on a unified supervisor. Once we get in there, understand the challenges, make a plan for efficiency and custom-design an integration solution, the resulting unified system should now allow that customer to receive alarms, trending and feedback from their equipment. 

In the words of the wise: “If you can’t measure it you can’t improve it” – Management thinker Peter Drucker. 


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Post categories: Controls, Energy Efficiency, Building Management Systems

Originally published on February 6, 2020 | Last updated on 02/06/2020

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