Keeping Your Facility Ready for the Future

What would the facility managers of 25 years ago think of the job today? While many of the responsibilities are the same, the facilities themselves have made huge leaps forward in technology, and the tools and expertise required to keep buildings in tip-top working order can be quite overwhelming.

Twenty-five years ago, the internet was still in its infancy, so the concept of devices connected, communicating with and being controlled remotely and wirelessly through a digital network would seem like some-thing out of science fiction. But today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a staggeringly robust industry, expected to bring in $745 billion in 2019 alone, with over 25 billion connected devices operating globally— a number that is projected to triple by 2025.

IoT devices make up one of the areas that have revolutionized facilities management, helping to drive efficiencies and savings that would have been unthinkable in previous eras. But it’s also raising the bar for what is required of people in the position. Security cameras, light fixtures, lighting controls and sensors, thermostats, asset tracking devices, and even door locks can all be connected through a mesh network covering an entire facility, communicating and adjusting their behaviors based on environmental conditions or changing facility priorities, such as demand response actions, shifting energy budgets, heightened security concerns, etc.

It’s a brave new world for facilities and facility managers. But with the right frame of mind and the right strategies, it’s possible to create a facility that meets the needs of today as well as the challenges of tomorrow.

An Innovative Project That Almost Wasn’t

Whenever I think about future-proofing, it reminds me of one of our projects that could have become a cautionary tale, but ended up being a big success: a parking garage at 7th & Alameda in downtown LA that made a last-minute switch from fluorescent lighting to LED fixtures.

All 10 levels of the parking garage feature high-efficiency LED light fixtures, controlled by integrated passive infrared occupancy sensors, which dim or turn off lights when an area is unoccupied — the combination of which has resulted in yearly energy reductions of nearly 1.4 million kWh and energy cost savings of $167,458 annually.

But it almost didn’t happen.

At the time the facility was designed, the lighting technology that now provides the garage’s bright, high-quality light and its considerable annual savings wasn’t widely available. Fortunately, by the time the gar-age had been approved and cleared for construction, the pendulum had swung toward energy-efficient LED lighting and intelligent lighting controls — which has already saved the facility owner hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Availability alone didn’t facilitate this shift, however. It took a team effort, including a savvy electrical contractor, a timely partnership with FSC Lighting, and an architect that pushed not just for the most cut-ting-edge technology, but also for the most forward-thinking and adaptable solutions. By working collaboratively and thinking creatively and holistically about the structure they were building, the team on this build was able to determine a set of solutions that would carry the facility gracefully into the future.

That’s the best-case scenario, but what happened to all the facilities built around the same time that didn’t have a forward-thinking team fighting for the future use of those facilities? More than likely, at some point between their construction and now, they have been forced to undergo costly retrofits to bring them up-to-date (or even up to code).

All of which brings us to another question: what can we do today to prepare facilities for how they will be used 5, 10, even 25 years into the future?

How to Future-Proof Your Facility

The truth of the matter is, even today’s most cutting-edge facilities will need to adapt in the near future. The pace of technology is too quick, and even the way buildings are being used is shifting. Does the distribution warehouse of 25 years ago bear much resemblance to the Amazon fulfillment centers of today? Physically, perhaps. But the technology, the human scale and the pace of an Amazon fulfillment center is light-years ahead. Handheld devices allow real-time tracking and processing of product assets; RFID tags automatically collect data on assets as they move throughout the facility, and mesh networks allow full WiFi coverage, even across multi-building facilities — all facilitating the fulfillment of processes in hours (that used to take days).

So, the best bet for architects, electrical contractors, facility managers and anyone else who has a hand in keeping a facility up-to-date, is to build adaptability into your plan. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

Think Through Potential Future Use

How might people use this facility or areas of this facility differently in the future? How can design choices, technology choices, and even decorating choices help to ease that transition? Obviously, we can’t predict the future, but we can always work to prepare for what might be coming down the line.

Don’t Lean Too Much On Any One Technology

Technology, by its very nature, is designed to be replaced. The pace at which this process transpires has vastly increased in our lifetime, so we should all be used to this concept. Regardless of how excited you may be about an innovation, be aware that it may be replaced by something better, it may become out-dated by its own future iterations, or it may simply wear out. Make sure you don’t get yourself in a situation where you have to make a much more costly decision because you put all your eggs in one basket.

What is Your Technology Replacement Plan?

Going one step further, when your current tech inevitably becomes obsolete and you need to replace it, what will that require, both for removal of existing devices and installation of new devices? If you’re hearing a lot of heavy machinery in your head right now, you may want to revisit your technology plan.

Use Solutions With Built-in Adaptability

Solutions that allow your tech to be easily replaced and don’t require a massive overhaul of existing infra-structure are ideal. PowerPlus, for example, is a module that comes pre-installed or can be added to existing FSC Lighting fixtures, and it allows users to power electronics (including IoT devices) directly through the light fixtures. Could adding or replacing your tech be as simple as plugging in a new device? That’s the ideal situation. And when you consider that PowerPlus could provide a potential power source wherever your light fixtures already are, that would be a powerful bit of tech infrastructure already built into your facility.

Good Planning for Future-Ready Spaces

There are no perfect solutions, but the best solutions begin with creative and holistic thinking around the needs of a facility and the people who use and inhabit that facility, now and in the future. If the one constant is change, the challenge becomes: How can you build that certainty into your design, so that your facility is ready for the future, whatever comes next? If you’re up for the challenge, chances are you won’t be one of the people left behind. See you in the future!