101 Ways to ROCK! as a Building Automation and Controls Technician

If you want to become a Controls Freak style Technician in the Automation and Controls Industry, you have to check out these 101 ways to make it happen. Be sure to leave some comments down below.


Keep Calm and Be A Controls FreakWhen making this list I began to run out of steam at about 60-65, but then I kept on going and before I knew it I had 122 and had to cut out a few.

Since I know there is so many more be sure to leave your additions in the comments below and I will add them to the list.

I hope this list strikes a chord with the community and get shared amongst those who are or work with Controls and Automation Technicians.

Feel free to copy/paste and use the KEEP CALM image when your fellow technicians or colleagues start to feel like they have hit a wall.

 

  1. Learn about the Mechanical Systems you are controlling.
  2. Don’t point THE finger…or any fingers at the ‘other guy’. Find out what the problem is and tell the right person to call another ‘right’ person who can actually fix the problem. Be the hero and the first person the customer calls.
  3. Know how to find complicated calculations with some explanation on how to use them. As a great controls technician you have to become part engineer. I like http://www.rapidtables.com/ and http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/. Be sure to use their tiny search box to find what you need fast.
  4. The Engineers don’t ALWAYS get it right. You have to be able to know how to make suggestions without coming off as a know-it-all or saying “You’re WRONG!”
  5. Know the date when the electricians will have power to the mechanical units. Not more than 1 days after the electricians have put power to the units with in-factory startup, the general or mechanical contractor will want you to have it under control and operating in Auto.
  6. When selecting parts for a project or replacement be sure to know the incoming and outgoing signals and match them to those same inputs and outputs at the other end.
  7. Use a multimeter that you can understand and know how to work it. Don’t go using the highest dollar Fluke if you have problems setting the units or placing the decimal in the right spot. Messing up a reading can cause you to overlook a problem or create one.
  8. NEVER put Inputs in Manual unless you already know the sensor is bad, in the process of replacing it and there are too many outputs that use that value. It is just bad practice to mess with inputs. Better to place the outputs in manual that are affected by the bad sensor unless there are too many to deal with.
  9. Do point to point checkouts on every project. Before there is programming you can operate, turn on/off, modulate every output to be sure it is doing what is expected. For every input make sure the reading is what is expected and compare it to some other test tool or hand held sensor.

…things you think are simple, someone else wants to learn…

  1. Contribute your experiences, success or challenges to an online forum or website like The Controls Freak. The things you think are simple, someone else wants to learn more about for the first time.
  2. Help the Test and Air Balance understand your software and know what settings he needs to adjust to do his job. You don’t want him to turn in a report with issues that you will have to field verify and find out they just weren’t reading the numbers right or weren’t saving their changes to your controllers.
  3. SAVE SAVE SAVE your programming and setpoint changes. It sucks to make a change today, forget to save and when the power blips a month later you are stuck trying to remember what you changed or have to make that one change to all 99 controllers…again.
  4. Spell everything correctly. It drives me nuts to see a customer pay Tens of Thousands or MILLIONS of dollars for a Building Automation System and see words like ‘Condesor’, ‘Temprature’ or ‘Presure’.
  5. Know when the equipment is to be delivered on-site and in place from the Mechanical Contractor way ahead of time.
  6. Alarms based on a setpoint should have ranges that won’t cause nuisance alarms that will soon get ignored.
  7. Avoid installing wall sensors before the final paint. Even with tape they always end up with paint and someone has to remove it or pay to replace. work something out or get signatures.
  8. When pulling cable in the open above ceiling don’t zig-zag up/down, left/right. Try to stick to some sort of common pathway. Makes it easier to pull and easier to work with after the fact.
  9. Buy a couple of books related to controls or mechanical systems and share them with others.
  10. If you use a solid backplate for your enclosures, mock up the BACK side of one backplate with a sharpie and lay all the components out BEFORE drilling holes. It look cheap and poorly done when empty holes are left showing on a finished install.
  11. Don’t use zipties inside of Panduit. That is what the Panduit is for… to keep the wires together but hidden. Once you ziptie it all together then you can’t tug on wires to trace where they go.
  12. Label each wire before it terminates. If it comes out you know where it should go.
  13. Use the right tool for the job. You will get things done faster, break less stuff and break less tools.

Work SMARTER, not HARDER.

  1. Work SMARTER, not HARDER.
  2. Always perform your work using 2 of the 3 items in the Project Management Triangle. Fast, Good, and Cheap. Never offer all 3 and ‘Controls Freaks’ never do only 1.
  3. After dealing with an issue or leaving a meeting, follow up with an email. It shows professionalism not always found in many technicians.
  4. Read through the programming before messing with variables of a controller. Better to understand what those variables are used for before you make changes and not realized you caused another problem somewhere else.
  5. If you have room, leave comments in your programming that will help the next person follow through the flow and make troubleshooting easier.
  6. Know when to use simple programming to accomplish difficult tasks and complicated programming to make tasks simple.
  7. Get a nice tool bag and tool pouch. You will be using them over a long period of time.
  8. Controls are widgets. It’s YOU that designs, configures and programs them. Do your part well and just about any automation controller or device can be used.
  9. Don’t be afraid to use a part, device or software to create a solution even though it may not be sold or manufactured by your main vendor.
  10. Provide solutions, not sales/products.
  11. Always let the customer log in to the system and see that things are working before leaving the site.
  12. Perform a save of all controllers periodically while on site and save them on a corporate server drive or somewhere safe for when the ‘bad thing’ happens. Don’t be that guy asking the customer if they have any backups because yours are from the As-Builts when the job got put in 3 years ago.
  13. Carry several USB flash drives. You may lose them or fill them up and they always come in handy.
  14. Buy a fold out chair and tiny table. Yeah sometimes when you are in the field you really need to do office work like programming and in a mechanical room, a desk and chair is probably not gonna be found. Let everyone make jokes, they’re just jealous cuz they got an imprint on their butt that says ’5 Gallons’.

Don’t blow with your mouth on a poly tube … like it’s a straw in a milkshake.

  1. Don’t blow with your mouth on a poly tube going to a pressure transducer like it’s a straw in a milkshake. It may not seem like alot of pressure but the pressure created by your hot air is enough to make the sensor unreliable or blow it all together.
  2. Get good with the CADD program you use for documenting schematics and airflow drawings. In down time you can help out with Engineering as well as provide better redlines that you send back to the Engineering Department.
  3. If you redline the Submittal drawings to the point it looks like you bled on them. Get with those who made the drawings because you or them are not doing something right; that all these changes are being made from what was proposed.
  4. You know you are ROCKING it when your tool bags get smaller and smaller. You will have arrived when you only have about 10-15 tools on your hip and say, “If I can’t fix it with these tools, then I don’t need to be fixing it.”
  5. Fix the things that make the biggest impact first.
  6. Fans and pumps on VFD control shouldn’t oscillate up and down quickly. Tune the PID loop or check the programming and find out why.
  7. Put trend logs on every input and output. Include any variables that may be important as well.
  8. It is always going to be the Controls’ fault. Your computer is the one showing the problem or alarm so it obviously Is the problem, right? Accept it and refer to Item #2.
  9. Every input should have an alarm or event to identify when the sensor goes way out of range. Not away from setpoint… like FAR out of range. This is just to notify of a bad sensor.
  10. Label devices so others not familiar with the system can quickly know the function of that device.
  11. Always measure twice, cut once. When the opposite happens, “It looks like you measured it with a micrometer, marked it with chalk and cut it with an axe.”
  12. Tiny terminals with small screwdrivers don’t require your guns to torque them down. You will just break the terminal or make the next guy trying to use his pocket screwdriver with thumb and forefinger want to come kick you in the face.
  13. Don’t nick wire insulation and leave it. Don’t put tape over it either. Cut and strip it again.
  14. Make sure all wires don’t have an inch and a half of bare copper showing outside the terminal. Get the insulation as close to the terminal with out the terminal pinching down on the insulation.
  15. Get your color coding for wire standardized. Electricians always use black for HOT since that is the way 120VAC works, but all DC electronics use black for ground or negative. Keep it straight.
  16. Try to make it to a local AHR Expo or other industry conventions once or twice every few years to see what is new and make some new contacts with other industry professionals.
  17. Learn what it means to ‘Divide and Conquer’ when troubleshooting communications problems on daisy chained networks.
  18. Know who the IT contact is and get him on board with what you are doing. You will need their help if you are installing controllers with an Ethernet jack on it. You are in their house now.
  19. Whatever communications protocol you use, learn it. When it comes to integration you will need to know all you can.
  20. Never stop learning. Ask about training classes you can attend for free or paid for by your company.

Those who solve the biggest problems, get paid the biggest money.

  1. Those who solve the biggest problems, get paid the biggest money.
  2. Revisit your install and review trend logs to make sure the unit is operating efficiently or as intended.
  3. Copy your software install disc somewhere on the hard drive.
  4. Make sure the Frontend Graphics work and sit with facilities staff and let them drive while you watch and answer questions. Give any feedback to your Engineering Department about the User Interface if you notice problems or confusion from the facilities staff using it.
  5. Help your customers understand the importance of not replacing old technology with ‘newer’ old technology. Most times there are efficiencies in using the more current technology.
  6. Be techie and find cool ways to make your job easier. There are all kinds of apps and tools out there you can use on your computer, online or on your phone.
  7. Dust off desks or pickup large chunks on the floor after you just popped a bunch of ceiling tiles.
  8. Learn how to carry an 8 foot ladder over your shoulder properly and get good at going through self closing doors and door ways without scratching or banging every solid surface on your way through.
  9. Don’t just seek out knowledge and information. Retain it. If you can’t do that, then things you learn on this job or project won’t carry over to the next one.
  10. Clean out the bottom of your enclosures after drilling, stripping/cutting wires, etc. Make it look nice when you are done.
  11. When pulling wire use some hand soap from the bathroom to get big bundles to go through small or crowded pipes.

Be proud and passionate about what you do.

  1. Be proud and passionate about what you do. Not many people in the world can do the things you do on a daily basis. You are that mysterious guy that you can’t really explain to people what you do, but the biggest buildings and facilities would come crashing down if you weren’t there to keep all the systems running.
  2. Request For Information (RFIs) are best done up front, at the beginning of the project. Don’t save all your questions until the end when startup dates are approaching.
  3. Always check for voltage even after shutting off what you know to be the disconnect for the enclosure, unit, equipment you are working with. If you are using a beeper voltage tester thing… use it before you turn off power to test that the battery is working right then.
  4. Know a little of everything. As a Controls person you need to know mechanical systems, hydronic systems, properties of air and water, environmental conditions, occupied space use, IT connectivity…everything.
  5. Innovate new processes or standards. If you look back a year prior and see what you were doing and today you are doing exactly the same thing with no new changes. You are stuck. Always be thinking of something new.
  6. Get an Installation Guide or Specifications PDF for any device you will be working with or installing. Know how it works.
  7. Mount damper actuators exactly perpendicular to the shaft. Don’t get crooked.
  8. Learn what a good set of ‘happy lights’ looks like. Most controllers have LED lights that blink, flash or stay steady. Know what they all mean and get to know what they look like when the controller is working properly, so you can quickly tell there might be problems when you see they aren’t so ‘happy’.
  9. If you can get certified on something or add a few letters after your name… Do it!
  10. Own a battery powered tool set. The kind where the same battery and charger works for all kinds of tools.
  11. Volunteer to take on a project doing something you haven’t done before.
  12. Know the date when the electricians will have power for your enclosures and controllers. Start programming and doing point to point checkouts right then.
  13. Bring ALL your tools, ALL the time. Don’t get caught making trips back home or back to the office.

Get a good laptop computer. Don’t settle for the old hand-me-down…

  1. Get a good laptop computer. Don’t settle for the old hand-me-down if it locks up, takes an hour to get to the desktop, has a bad serial/ethernet/USB port or anything else that is just going to waste time out on the job site. The laptop is your most important tool with Building Automation Systems
  2. Join some industry Message Forums like The Controls Freak Discussion Forums and speak up and contribute. Introduce yourself to everyone.
  3. Get your work emails on your phone.
  4. Find others in your company who want to make a difference and build off of eachother.
  5. Know how to interpret the trend logs or historical information to be able to tell what is happening or what happened on the Building Automation System.
  6. Always look at the big picture. Both for your team members and customers. You have to take the blinders off and see that others have to deal with in their job duties. Then you can find out what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  7. When troubleshooting a problem always be asking questions. Why is ‘this’ doing ‘that’? Keep tracing further back or deeper into the programming or wiring until you come to the source.
  8. When a strange problem pops up and creates a large effect that you haven’t seen typically happen ask everyone, inlcuding yourself… “What changed?” Everything was working fine and then all of a sudden something big happens…something changed. Ask.

Get some serious MAN tools…

  1. Get some serious MAN tools that are a national brand or sold by a national chain store. They don’t have to be an expensive brand name, but they shouldn’t be available for purchase at the dollar store.
  2. When you are not on the clock, like on the weekend. Take a couple of hours and just search for stuff online like how certain mechanical systems work or teach yourself some sort of programming unrelated to controls. Watch YouTube videos of industry stuff.
  3. If you are in a Union ask about teaching a class about controls. You probably know 100 times more than most of the guys at the hall.
  4. Wire nuts. Stranded copper, twist before putting inside the wire nut. Solid copper, use the wire nut to twist the conductors.
  5. Make sure your trend logs or historical values give you atleast 30 hours of time. When something happens today at 9am you may not get the call or be able to connect with the system until the next day and if you only have 24 hours of time, you may have lost the data that would have shown what caused the problem.
  6. Attention to detail. This is huge in Controls and Automation. You can’t do things sort of correctly or almost right. It’s all in the details.
  7. When writing emails to customers use spell check and good grammar. Technicians in the field get a bad wrap for not being the ‘smart ones’. Show them you aren’t ‘THAT Guy’.
  8. Never take a new job position for less money… unless you oversold yourself on the last job you just got let go from.
  9. Always try to meet with the end user/customer and discuss what the Engineer has in his scope or sequence of operations. When possible get the customer to allow you to do what they want and not what the Engineer copy and pasted from the last 10 projects. You and the end user is who will have to live with the system once everyone else leaves.
  10. Get an 11-in-1 screwdriver. They are awesome, cheap and you will use on the daily.
  11. As you gain years of experience in the industry begin to become laser focused in one area instead of being able to do it all.
  12. Don’t be afraid to climb high, crawl low or cram into small spaces to get the job done.
  13. Get a profile on LinkedIn setup and filled out with your work experience, projects, published works (see Item #10), endorsements and recommendations. Don’t forget to connect with me once you do (http://www.linkedin.com/in/abelramirezii). If you get a job using just your LinkedIn Profile without a written resume, I want to hear all about it.

 

I sure hope you leave some comments about this article… I mean there is so much said up above it just begs for commentary.


What are some ones you think I should add to the list?
Who are you going to share this article with?

24 Responses to 101 Ways to ROCK! as a Building Automation and Controls Technician

  1. Darryl Trombley August 5, 2013 at 19:31

    I shared this with our entire team. Senior engineers down to control interns, Sales and PMs as well. It’s a great reminder that there are little things we all do every day that matter a great deal.

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 5, 2013 at 22:39

      That is awesome Darryl! Thanks so much for sharing it. It really helps keep me going knowing that people are actually reading and sharing the information on The Controls Freak. Cheers!

      Reply
  2. Craig Papcun August 7, 2013 at 15:55

    I would add 46a, label zone sensors to help locate devices that may be hidden in a ceiling. Or, it may be one of many like it, in a large common area. Labels speed up service!

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 8, 2013 at 08:32

      True True… It’s a little game of walking around finding those stickers even when you know you put a neon green or orange sticker that stands out like crazy. But some how when you go back looking for it… they are tough to see. LOL

      The fall back is to look fro the dirtiest ceiling tiles… those are the ones with that problem child on the other side. ;)

      Reply
  3. Robert August 8, 2013 at 05:56

    Great list. #76 is very true. I joined the Association for Facilities Engineering (afe.org) and got the CPMM certification that I use in my signature. I doubled my salary in 2004 and credit volunteering to serve on industry related Boards/Committees and getting a certification with initials. Initials after your name give you instant credibility. Please check #46 for spelling and #76 for grammar.

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 8, 2013 at 08:35

      DOH! Another Grammar/Spelling Nazi… I like it!

      My grammar is not always best when writing off the cuff, but if you ever get a Sequence of Operations or an instruction manual on how to do something from a project I worked on… I am sure it will be properly checked.

      Kudos on the CPMM and volunteering time on some Boards/Committees. I have wanted to try and get a CEM certification for some time and just really haven’t pushed myself to do it.

      Reply
  4. william roberts August 8, 2013 at 12:27

    Don’t forget
    1. Remove overrides before leaving site
    2. Put back altered set points to ‘as found’, who has not found a coil blown costing thousands because somebody had forgotten to put back on the frost staging during testing/servicing
    3. It’s not my job to replace the mechanical systems during servicing (valves is the normally asked)
    4. Know where the kettle is, or bring your own thermos, or know the local cafe.
    5. NHS hospitals are ALWAYS the worst place to work (Why?)

    Reply
  5. Dimitri Papadopoulos August 9, 2013 at 13:28

    Nicely done… a few more

    1. Not all problems are fixed with code. Feel the pipes and and air coming out of the terminals.
    2. Ask. You may have just learned something new from a class or friend. Ask your customer to try it out somewhere. They’re usually happy that you asked and you might see some pull through work as well.
    3. Always follow up. Even if the answer is, “Sorry, I looked into your question, but am still not able to find a solution.” Customers want to know that they’ve been heard. Write it down if you forget, but having an answer to their question (even if a month later visit) goes a long way.

    Reply
  6. Marvin Mattingly August 11, 2013 at 23:22

    Things that make a great technician? An inquisitive nature to the point that you will tear apart brand new, perfectly functional equipment just to see how it works! The best of the best technicians will take new equipment home just to take apart and play with. They read everything in sight and want to know about how things work that may not even seem to be directly connected to their “job”. When on a job site they ask the typical question of a two year old; “why”? They never accept the “we have always done that way” explanation. They want to know much more than just the minimum necessary to do their “job”. They possess a logical approach to problem solving that involves a divide and conquer approach. Little tricks, troubleshooting methods and techniques you learn along the way cannot replace curiosity, organized problem solving and a willingness to learn. They just supplement it.

    Reply
  7. Gretchen Miller August 17, 2013 at 14:36

    Another one:

    “Don’t ziptie communication wire to anything that might cut the insulation.”

    Sorry if you had something like that in the list already.

    I’ve seen jobs where the installer ziptied the communication wiring to the all-thread above the ceiling. All was fine for years. Eventually though there were problems. The all-thread cut through the insulation and shorted the comm. It didn’t happen at many spots where they tied it off to the all-tread. But it does happen, and when it does, it’s hellish to find.

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 17, 2013 at 22:05

      This is a pretty good tip. When you want or need to ziptie to all thread… double zip tie. Ziptie a ziptie to the all thread then feed your wire through the second ziptie. Works great.

      Reply
  8. Gretchen Miller August 18, 2013 at 13:01

    A double ziptie does work great. The problem happens when lazy or sloppy or uninformed installer doesn’t do it.

    Reply
  9. Wesley Williams August 18, 2013 at 17:43

    Maybe an add on to number 2….
    Never be satisfied with “it’s a bad sensor”. Make an attempt to prove that it is a bad sensor and how it could have been damaged. This way you avoid the embarrassment of the manufacturer returning the “no fault found” warranty rejection and the delay from fixing the actual problem.

    Reply
  10. Andrew B. August 20, 2013 at 02:33

    Wow! This all so inspiring, this is exactly the information they don’t teach from a textbook, realy invaluable tips. I am an aspiring automation/maintenance technician, can anyone give me some hints on what employers are looking as far as degrees certifications or any other tip that might help me get a good paying job in the field?

    Reply
  11. sultan August 22, 2013 at 10:41

    This all so inspiring, nice information

    Reply
  12. Todd S. August 25, 2013 at 17:23

    I’ve been sifting through pay dirt for thirty years to find a source of Hvacr and controls info like TCF. I just hit the mother load. I share your learning philosophy and your teaching philosophy. The best way to learn is to teach someone else what you know. You will quickly learn their is more to learn about any subject.
    When I started in the trade, I envisioned the learning process as a pyramid with school at the base and the end my career at the point with a lot to learn at start and less to learn as time and experience went on. I discovered in the first couple of years that I had the pyramid up-side-down – the point was school, and the base only gets wider. I love that about this trade. Keep on keeping us hungry for knowledge. Kudos!

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 25, 2013 at 19:14

      Hey thanks for the Kudos… Glad you found and are enjoying the site. I like your pyramid analogy. Definitely it is upside down… Especially when you think about the fact that Controls and Automation continues to change with technology. It is not like some other trades where once you learn to do it one way… it will be the same way to do it for 10-20 years moving forward.

      Reply
  13. It is these little gold nuggets that are the most valuable information that you can gather in seminars.
    I’ve been to countless one-day and one-week seminars in my 30-year career, and I’ve picked up many of these priceless bits of advice along the way. Most of your 100 were new to me.
    One old timer – and I mean old – gave a bit of advice in a boiler controls seminar right off the git go. He spoke about one of the biggest obstacles in troubleshooting – frustration. He said “When I start to get frustrated, I turn over a bucket and have myself a Moon Pie and an R.C. Cola.” His point being to take a break, anyway you can get it, when you start feel frustration creeping in. He said to switch gears and work on some other part of the project that needs to be done anyway. Take a tool out to the truck that you’re done with, or go get a tool you will need on the next stage of the project.
    Nine times out of ten, you will figure out a solution on the way or the way back. Works like a charm.
    After spending my first ten years in the Hvacr trade – primarily as a BAS controls tech – I had the privilege of instructing Hvac at a tech school. The Moon Pie story was one of the first things I would pass on.
    At the end of one semester, I was under the gun to finish up the last phase of training. I was starting to feel frustrated. The students could sense it apparently, because when I returned from morning break, one of the students directed my attention toward the white board. When I turned to look, I was struck in the back with a barrage of 30 Moon Pies. I was spared the 30 cans of R.C. They told me to practice what I preached.
    So I sat down and had myself a Moon Pie and an R.C. Cola.

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 27, 2013 at 10:46

      That is a great story… and one that is oh so true. I get pretty frustrated myself sometimes and it seems once I return to being calm is when I start thinking a lil more clearer and figure it out.

      Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
  14. Robyn Marquardt August 28, 2013 at 11:04

    Love this and sharing with my team!

    Thanks for the tips Abel! I just hope it doesn’t motivate my guys to look for work elsewhere!

    Reply
    • Abel B Ramirez II August 28, 2013 at 17:27

      Great to hear you like it enough to share it! As for your guys… All I can do is give away great information to make your guys better or maybe have them learn something new. Keeping them ‘happy’ is the company’s job. ;)

      I am sure the more you enable your guys to do more will only make your company a stronger provider in HVAC Controls and Automation.

      Reply
  15. Tom Patrick September 4, 2013 at 09:41

    An add to #42.
    Choking the PID loop with a ramp does not constitute tuning.
    I usually want controls technicians I am teaching to understand the basic arithmetic of the PID and the associated variables. “Is the variable you are manipulating on the numerator or denominator? If I make it very large or very small, what is the net effect on the tuning?”

    Shared this with the entire group.

    Reply
  16. Randy Stockfisch October 16, 2013 at 15:08

    I had to leave a controls company because I wasn’t given the time and resources to practice these very things listed above.

    Nice job!

    Reply
  17. Lou Persinger December 10, 2013 at 13:23

    About #48. Please get the wire tight enough that it doesn’t pull out while you are tracing other wires in the same enclosure.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

A Great Value in Online Advertising

The Controls Freak has slowly been building up a dedicated audience of Building Automation/Controls and Facilities Professionals in the United States and around the globe. As we bring aboard more contributors our viewership will continue to grow exponentially.

Full analytics reports can be requested on the Contact Form along with a request for current rates and available advertising spaces.

Now is a great time to support The Controls Freak and introduce your brand of products or services to even more potential customers for an extremely affordable rate.

Send a request today and let’s start working together.