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Airports That Run Themselves

Integrating Commissioning Throughout Construction Cycle Helps Create Digital Twins of Today’s More Complex Facilities

As airports grow more complex, monitoring-based commissioning is becoming an indispensable part of the construction program.

Commissioning is more effective than ever in driving cost savings and efficiencies, thanks to a wide array of sophisticated enterprise monitoring, management and controls technologies.

The technology has developed to the point that a digital twin of physical airport assets can be created. These virtual representations are connected to thousands of sensors and data points, giving operators a picture of how critical pieces of equipment are performing in real time.

The benefits are obvious. If an air handler, chiller, pump, relay or any other piece of equipment is operating outside of preset parameters, airport facilities staff can execute repairs in advance of a failure, preventing airline delays and meeting passenger comfort expectations.

Still, even with more sophisticated technology available today, the human factor remains essential. Gaining complete value from the commissioning process still requires “boots on the ground.”

 

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Commissioning is more effective than ever in driving cost savings and efficiencies, thanks to a wide array of sophisticated enterprise monitoring, management and controls technologies.

The technology has developed to the point that a digital twin of physical airport assets can be created. These virtual representations are connected to thousands of sensors and data points, giving operators a picture of how critical pieces of equipment are performing in real time.

The benefits are obvious. If an air handler, chiller, pump, relay or any other piece of equipment is operating outside of preset parameters, airport facilities staff can execute repairs in advance of a failure, preventing airline delays and meeting passenger comfort expectations.

Still, even with more sophisticated technology available today, the human factor remains essential. Gaining complete value from the commissioning process still requires “boots on the ground.”

Monitoring-Based Commissioning at Denver International Airport

A monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx) program at the $2 billion expansion of concourses A-West and B-West at Denver International Airport (DEN) is a good illustration of the need for “tech plus touch.” The MBCx program utilizes SkySpark, a sophisticated enterprise asset data management, analytic and visualization environment, to monitor and analyze the large amount of generated asset data to deliver clear energy and operational insights on a continued basis to the commissioning team and operators, allowing them to detect patterns that deviate from optimal performance.

This analytic environment supports the commissioning program’s primary mission for this massive terminal enclosure: Reduce energy consumption, detect equipment performance deficiencies and identify opportunities for operational improvement. The analytic environment has also allowed for the implementation of functional performance tests of all components, equipment and systems during the commissioning process, and to create sustainable workflow processes of continuous testing, placing DEN in a proactive position to identify equipment failure, reduce O&M costs and streamline O&M procedures.

Because of the rules, key performance indicators (KPIs), time-of-use functions and algorithms programmed into the analytic environment, SkySpark’s statistic analysis and machine learning methods have helped to identify issues, patterns, deviations and anomalies during the commissioning process. For example, SkySpark is calculating and detecting higher-than-normal heat rates, vibrations or fluid pressures, providing operators the big-picture view of when and where repairs are needed, heading or catastrophic failures. During the final phases of construction, the commissioning agents also use this data to identify opportunities to optimize a range of equipment across varying load conditions and proactively correct deficiencies prior to installation.

The technology, combined with inspections and verification by humans, results in twofold money savings. First, it validates that components like pumps, air handlers, motors and drives are performing as designed. Then, it provides ongoing energy analysis of the terminal, based on data acquired from a variety of sources. Over the next two years, all this energy consumption data will be uploaded to an energy management control system (EMCS) that now serves as a central repository for trend data collection and archiving.

Physical Inspections Still a Must

Even with automated monitoring, physical inspections remain essential to the ongoing commissioning process.

Because automated monitoring and management of facility systems increasingly depend on sensors, the first step in a physical inspection often will be to verify systems were installed correctly. If systems are installed incorrectly, automated setpoints could be feeding false positives or negatives to monitoring systems. Other inspections will test and verify that motion-detection sensors are working to gradually reduce lighting levels in unoccupied zones and that lighting levels overall are meeting requirements.

Other systems, like the enclosure system, cannot be monitored by the SkySpark system. Only physical inspection can bring certain issues to light. For example, an inspection of the coping materials installed for new roofing at the DEN concourses revealed that holes had been punched into roofing materials. Though the problem may not have resulted in immediate leakage, it is likely that a failure would have occurred within a relatively short time frame, requiring an expensive roof repair.

Total Value of Commissioning Difficult To Quantify

While it is easy to measure construction cost savings or the energy savings an airport terminal will achieve over time, savings from rework avoided or reductions in future operations and maintenance (O&M) costs are a bit tougher to quantify.

During the course of a year, hundreds of issues at the DEN project will be found by the commissioning team and brought to the construction team’s attention. Most are easily resolved, ranging from an inspection of a large switchgear that may detect a problem before it is installed, or a coping material fix that may save millions of dollars for a sooner-than-expected roof replacement.

The commissioning process aims to head o_ costly mistakes early, while they are still easy to fix at minimal cost. The goal always is a successful project — not pointing fingers or assigning blame.

Commissioning Is a Risk Insurance Policy for Aviation Projects

Though commissioning has long been an accepted final stage of construction projects, the total value it creates today is even broader than ever. It is a proven way for airport authorities to begin with the end in mind — focusing on long-term maintenance costs and ease of operations once the facility is turned over.

By creating operations plans concurrent with design, airports are being created that practically run themselves, thanks to today’s advanced technologies. Success results from defining key performance indicators that are consistent with design and verified during commissioning. In leveraging advanced analytics, airports can develop more prescriptive O&M programs. Thus, the asset handover becomes a crucial operational readiness step. The full benefit of a digital twin is realized upon the airport transfer.

More than ever, successful project delivery is unlocked by new and more sophisticated technology backing commissioning agents working on-site.

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2021 Special Report


Authors


Andy Graham

Project Manager

David Meyers

Commissioning Director

Nathan Sims

Project Manager