Magazine Article | October 23, 2008

Remote Monitoring Decreases Service Calls, Prevents Product Loss

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Since installing a BAS (building automation system) to remotely monitor its store equipment, this convenience store chain has decreased service calls and eliminated product loss as a result of equipment downtime.

Integrated Solutions, November 2008

Wawa is a chain of 575 convenience stores, 250 of which offer gas. Wawa locations sell more than 6,000 products, including fresh made-to-order foods, ready-to-eat salads, fresh fruit, and dairy products. With such perishable inventory, and often thousands of dollars in dairy items alone in a walk-in cooler, it is important for Wawa to closely monitor the temperature of each of the refrigeration units in the stores.

Wawa's headquarters set guidelines, and managers at each location were responsible for monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration unit and freezer, the temperature of the store itself, and also the store's lighting. If a refrigeration unit or store temperature fluctuated outside of these guidelines, the manager would report this to Wawa's central call center. The call center would deploy the appropriate service vendor to investigate the situation and perform repairs accordingly.

Two scenarios happened frequently that highlight the inefficiency of this method. The first was when service vendors were deployed when there was no real problem. For instance, when a refrigeration unit runs an automatic defrost, the temperature of the unit will rise. If a Wawa employee didn't know this was supposed to happen and alerted the call center, a service vendor could be sent to the location for no reason. The second scenario occurred when the call center had no idea what the problem was, and a service vendor would arrive at the location without the appropriate tools or parts for the necessary repair and have to make multiple trips to complete the job. Both of these scenarios were costing Wawa to spend unnecessary money. Further, lag time of repairs often caused products to expire.

Monitor Numerous Sites From One Location With BAS
Wawa began researching solutions in 2003. The company decided to implement a BAS, which consists of sensors for every point of data you want to measure on each piece of equipment to be monitored, hardware that translates the data from the sensors into data the application server can read, and BAS software. The BAS would enable Wawa headquarters to remotely monitor and control the refrigeration and freezer units, heating and cooling units, and main electrical panels in its 575 stores. Wawa partnered with HVAC Concepts, an integrator that had completed similar BAS installations.

"We considered 13 vendors," says Pat Hagan, BAS manager at Wawa. "We wanted one that offered the capability for all stores to communicate with headquarters and for headquarters to communicate with each store." Wawa also looked for a solution with the ability to read multiple protocols, meaning a device that can translate the data from various pieces of equipment into data the BAS application can use. Wawa ran a 12-store test with the last three vendors before deciding on a solution from Tridium. The solution from Tridium consists of JACE (Java Application Control Engine) units (which translate the data from each sensor into data the application can read) and Niagara AX (a software framework with customizable algorithms that can be used for all the various types of equipment Wawa has).

Use Existing Resources To Ease Installation
HVAC Concepts helped Wawa customize the BAS software to program the algorithms the company needed for its various equipment and also customized the solution to provide data from the JACE units in a dashboard view on Wawa's BAS intranet site. Wawa has hired its service vendors (the same vendors that repair the equipment) to complete the physical installation of sensors on each piece of equipment and a Tridium JACE at each store. "We did this because they already understand how the refrigeration and electrical equipment works, saving us the time of training someone on that equipment in addition to how to install the BAS hardware," says Hagan. HVAC Concepts provided training to service vendors installing equipment and went on-site for their first installation. Going forward, Wawa will have sensors installed on equipment as it is ordered from a manufacturer. Installation of the Tridium BAS solution began in 2006 and is complete in 188 of Wawa's stores.

HVAC Concepts assisted Wawa with training by providing a three-hour class to both Wawa employees who would use the BAS as well as service vendors, who have read-only access to the BAS to proactively monitor and diagnose equipment (all users need a headquarters-assigned login and password to access the system). "The navigation of the software is user-friendly," says Hagan. "What we were focused on in training was making sure the users understood all the data the BAS can provide and how to read it correctly."

Since installing the Tridium BAS, Wawa has seen a reduction in the number of service vendor dispatches. The number of nuisance calls (e.g. refrigerator on autodefrost), which Wawa experienced thousands of per year at an average cost of $150 per call, have decreased. Also, with the proactive monitoring the solution enables, refrigeration units go down less frequently, which has reduced product loss — Wawa hasn't had an instance of product loss as a result of equipment downtime since installing the BAS solution. Further, since the BAS controls lighting at Wawa stores and lights can no longer accidentally be left on, the company is saving 8% per year in electrical costs. Wawa is continuing rollout of the BAS and plans to have completed installation at 195 stores by the end of the year.