The Facility Technologist: Measuring Technology
By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the November 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
One of the most basic elements of facilities management (FM) is having information about buildings, equipment, and grounds. Yet, despite how obvious this is, many facility managers (fms) are frustrated by the fact that their information is incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated.
I recently counseled an fm on an aspect that is all too common: determining the accurate square footage of her leased facility spaces. The size of the space may seem like a simple thing that should be known from the facility’s construction, but in reality, the actual size of the space may differ significantly from what is shown on construction drawings.
There are two main reasons for this. First, architects and engineers are not very concerned about the accuracy of square footage in the buildings they design. They have no financial or performance incentive to be extremely precise, so they are usually satisfied with a close approximation.
Ongoing modifications to BOMA International’s rules that determine which spaces can be charged rent are another problem. These rules have changed several times since they were initiated, with the most recent taking place within the last few years.
The financial impact of these discrepancies is negligible for organizations that own their facilities, but for fms who lease space, there could be costs accrued for areas that are not actually in use. Conversely, if you are the owner and lease out space, must account for facility expenses on a department-by-department basis, or are going to sell a facility, you could be getting short changed.
Frequently, fms find spaces differ from the owner’s information anywhere from 5% to 7%. In a large building, this extra space can be worth millions.
Fortunately, there are many technologies that can help accurately measure just about anything. In the case of interior spaces, tape measures have been replaced by inexpensive and highly accurate handheld laser measuring devices. These are similar in size to a tape measure and are even easier to use. Just place the device against one wall of a room, push a button, and a laser bounces off the opposing wall and returns to the device, providing accuracy to within a fraction of an inch. Using these devices, it is possible for fms to measure a space far more accurately, with less disruption to employees, and in a fraction of the time it would have taken with an old fashioned tape measure.
Sometimes fms need to measure areas that are more complex or capture information and measurements about items inside the space. And some fms want to take an inventory and import that information into BIM or CAFM/IWMS systems.
To measure spaces like these quickly and accurately, fms need a system like Trimble’s TIMMS, which uses a wheeled cart loaded with technology including LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). This innovation is similar to handheld laser devices, but it is able to measure in many directions to create a 3D virtual image and accurate measurements. TIMMS uses a 360? camera to provide a visually accurate model, floor plans, and measurements. By pushing this cart through the facility, fms can generate 2D and 3D models that would take a huge amount of time to do manually.
When it comes to the exterior, accurate measurements can be challenging. Google Earth gives fms aerial imagery and fairly accurate tools free of charge. These are great for measuring large, flat areas to determine acreage, distances, parking lot sizes, fence lines, etc. For sophisticated tools, Google Earth pro has more features for a fee.
Some fms need to measure the accurate location of assets spread out over a large area (like the location of water main shut off valves or access locations to underground assets like pipelines). For this, handheld GPS locators, again, like Trimble, provide amazing accuracy, up to 4″, with a camera and software to make field measurements easy.
Other measuring technologies can help solve pesky FM problems. Electrical sub-meters can tell fms how much electricity is being used by individual items like copiers to help pinpoint power wasting usage. And infrared temperature sensors can pinpoint the source of roof leaks by detecting the heat retained by water inside the roof membrane.
FM is difficult enough when there is accurate information for decision making. Inaccurate information just makes life that much more difficult. But these technologies can give fms a better handle on their facilities, which will ultimately help them determine the best methods of management.