We're Here to Help

177 PARK AVE, SAN JOSE, CA 95113

Shifting to Modular: Reimagining Data Center Commissioning

Data Center

These days, increased demand for construction services and the acceleration of the construction process as a whole demand a change in best practices for commissioning (Cx). 

Construction crews are redefining the layers of the conventional construction process by using a variety of modular construction techniques to minimize costs and shorten schedules. If the industry is to adequately respond to increased construction demand and speed to market, conventional commissioning procedures require a new approach that goes beyond the standard modus operandi.

The Conventional Method

Based on ASHRAE Guideline 0, the widely accepted best practices for applying whole-building commissioning most people are familiar with, describe the following stages:

  • Stage 0: Cx input is required during the design and planning phases to make certain that the documents are consistent with the client's intended use of the facility.
  • Stage 1: Factory observation testing to ensure that test plans are consistent with design specifications
  • Stage 2: Site acceptance and installation with visual confirmation to confirm that the equipment has been received in proper condition and is ready to be powered.
  • Stage 3: Pre-functional commissioning of standalone devices, i.e., checking, switching on, and starting the devices.
  • Stage 4: Functional testing to ensure that equipment dynamically conforms to requisite design specifications.
  • Stage 5: The entire system is subjected to an integrated system test (IST) to test it as a whole.

Make no mistake - the conventional approach is trustworthy because it is consistent and has fixed rules. However, it comes with a few challenges, the biggest one being that most of the work is done on-site, which limits the schedule. Any project delay adds more pressure to the schedule and reduces the time available for adjustments and time-loss compensation. 

As a result, commissioning cannot begin until the construction is complete. In addition, larger facilities are often subjected to factory testing, where only certain types of equipment are tested rather than the entire facility. 

These are just some of the elements that have helped make modular design a viable option for mission-critical projects.

In Support of Modularity

The use of modular construction techniques means that more and more work is being done off-site. This provides more flexibility in scheduling and opportunities for cost savings.

Essentially, going the modular route is a more effective use of time when all parties are present off-site. Collaboration and communication are improved, which in turn decreases labor costs. There are also fewer external factors that can affect testing, such as delivery problems, equipment damage, stacking of trades, and lockout/tag out (LOTO) ambiguities. 

Modular solutions are ideal for the Cx team as they can perform a combined version of stages 2 through 4 with all parties involved, while the integrators build the skids for the equipment in a safe area. Performing smaller work packages makes the work replicable, easy, and quicker.

Streamlining the Procedure

If you are using a modular design, testing provides further opportunities to speed up the process. 

Additional on-site testing is not required if testing has already been performed at an integrator or factory. The commissioning team can test the assembly with temporary power, as individual parts, and as a whole before it is shipped by pre-assembling the skids at the integrator. When the equipment is on-site, it can be subjected to quality control, visual inspection, and continuous power testing before IST is performed.

Reasons Why Modular Works

On almost every project, there is no shortage of problems caused by firmware updates, circuit breaker settings, BMS controls, etc. By utilizing modularity, most of the commissioning can be done off-site at the integrator's location, allowing these issues to be resolved much faster while leaving more time for the IST on-site. 

Customers benefit from the familiarity and repeatability of the equipment which grants modular design the ability to solve problems while maintaining schedules and costs. When the same customers and equipment configurations are used, tester expectations remain constant. This approach allows the consolidation of the entire commissioning process, which in turn speeds up commissioning while saving owners money and increasing speed to market.