Chiller Data: Connected Or Not?

For proactive chiller maintenance and operation, connectivity provides facility staff with quick access to equipment conditions.

By Terrill Laughton
From the November/December 2016 Issue

Facility executives have great intentions. They have organizational strategic directions, corporate long-range plans, and even personal timelines. But somehow, putting out the fires—sometimes literally—gets in the way of proactively addressing facility issues. Fortunately, recent design innovations and Internet-ready technology are making it easier to be proactive and allowing more time to tackle high priority issues.

chiller maintenance
(Source: Building Technologies Professional Network Survey, March 2016)

Moving from being reactive to proactive addresses the goals of many facility management professionals. Research conducted in early 2016 with the Building Technologies Professional Network indicates that facility managers spend more time troubleshooting and making repairs than on planned or predictive activities. This Network is a research and information-sharing group focused on enhancing industry knowledge and driving technological enhancements.

Respondents to the Network’s recent survey¹ say they’re often too busy managing budget issues and troubleshooting problems that they don’t have time to look to the future. They also struggle to keep tabs on critical data that allows them to measure reliability, efficiency, and mean time between failures. Given that most data is collected with limited frequency and stored manually (see infographic), these struggles are not surprising. However, facility managers can use technology to be more proactive through four key enablers: identifying best practices; providing benchmarking information; improving technical support; and accessing chiller data.

Connectivity and Centralized Monitoring. Let’s look at chillers. In addition to being more efficient, new chiller models require less maintenance and provide better connectivity and easier access to data. With a cloud-based platform, remote (or on-site) monitoring of hundreds of data points across one to many chillers becomes cost-effective. With access to performance data and enhanced diagnostics, technicians can identify and address maintenance issues in a manner that minimizes facility disruption. Equally important, the information provides insight that allows executives to make sound decisions with confidence.

Fault Detection and Diagnostics. To have effective monitoring, the best solution is to combine continuous data collection, key environmental variables (e.g., weather), as-designed performance characteristics, and fault detection and diagnostics (FDD). Combining a four-facet approach to FDD with cloud based computing and data storage identifies a wider range of issues earlier. Different models of FDD include:

  • Alarming: Identify critical issues at critical times.
  • Rules-Based FDD: Identify common performance issues caused by deteriorating conditions.
  • Performance Indexing FDD: Simplify and present complex data in usable format; offer a relative ranking score indicating performance.
  • Statistics-Based FDD: Adjust rule and performance thresholds and identify performance outliers and optimization opportunities.

Facility managers benefit from the combination of all four approaches. The technology discovers distinct characteristics of each machine and applies the right analytics. Hundreds of data points are remotely monitored to detect trends or early-stage problems. Deviations from design conditions trigger a machine health check, and a technician can be dispatched before the situation escalates. Since the technology can be utilized on both old and new equipment, it can effectively extend the useful life of an older asset and keep new equipment operating in peak condition.

Data-Driven Decisions. Time is money. Studies show the decision to correct the problem can take 20 times longer than the repair.² With connected chillers, facility managers can identify and attend to significant priorities, such as reducing unplanned downtime and slashing the time required to resolve issues. Data-driven decisions can improve the effectiveness of maintenance budgets, especially when combined with planned service agreements. The information provides a way to objectively evaluate equipment, assess risks, and enhance operations.

The investment pays off not only at budget time, but also in creating more productive, comfortable workplaces. And that’s something all facility executives can enjoy—fulfilling their great intentions.


¹ Streamlining Chiller Maintenance: Opportunities to Enhance Chiller Maintenance Using Technology & Support, The Building Technologies Professional Network, March 2016;

² Myrefelt, S. (2005). Functional Availability of Climate and Ventilation Systems. International Journal of Ventilation, 5, 133-142. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from

chiller maintenanceLaughton is the vice president and general manager for Johnson Controls’ Energy Optimization business unit. Before joining Johnson Controls, he was an associate principal in the Chicago Office of McKinsey & Company where he was part of the Global Energy and Materials practice.

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