Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Preventive Maintenance

In the Jungle, Advanced Software Comes to Life

Michelle Segrest | August 9, 2016

The zoo’s carousel must be maintained with strict safety standards to keep visitors protected and happy. Photos by Michelle Segrest

An advanced CMMS program helps manage the maintenance of a complex and diverse park facility.

The Solar-Array Data Display shows park attendees and staff the benefits and energy savings of solar power.

The Solar-Array Data Display shows park attendees and staff the benefits and energy savings of solar power.

Maintaining a 23-acre park with attractions, indoor and outdoor facilities, fountains, special exhibits, irrigation and landscaping, and more than 700 live animals—some of them deadly—requires coordination, diversity, and special tools.

The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in southern Florida must accomplish all of this while also honoring its mission to inspire others to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world. With a full-time maintenance staff of just six professionals, facilities manager Jason Witmer must carefully coordinate the many job requests that range from checking and repairing safety latches to maintaining complex filtration systems, coolers, and HVAC equipment.

Using computerized maintenance management software from Mapcon Technologies Inc., Johnston, IA, Witmer can roam the grounds and receive maintenance alerts from anywhere in the park with a mobile app. Customized to the park’s needs, the technology can send him an alert from “Asia” that maintenance is needed on the Malayan tiger’s habitat, or he might be notified that the carousel is not functioning properly. Or, perhaps it’s time to maintain the filter on the two baby grizzly bears’ swimming pool.

Witmer can then virtually assign the task to one of the maintenance professionals. He is also notified when the job has been completed, along with a report of the job’s details. At any time, he can retrieve data that allow him to predict future maintenance and schedule non-urgent requests.

“We use Mapcon in at least 100 different ways throughout the zoo,” Witmer said. “From the conservation aspect, we use it to keep meter readings for our electrical panels. We have several throughout the zoo from which we can take manual readings and enter into the program. We track our water meters and keep data of our well usage, which we have to report to the city. This is important because all of the plants on the grounds here have irrigation. One little leak can cause a lot of water usage without even knowing it for a while. We even use Mapcon in our commissary to order food for our animals.”

The pink flamingos entertain park visitors every day around the main-entrance fountain, which is powered and controlled by a pumping system that must be maintained by park staff.

The pink flamingos entertain park visitors every day around the main-entrance fountain, which is powered and controlled by a pumping system that must be maintained by park staff.

Data are entered bi-weekly and monitored against previous-month trends. The software also monitors the amount of waste that goes to the compost pile, which is then used in the sustainability garden.

The software also allows users to automatically bill job tickets to the appropriate departments.

Preventive maintenance

Urgent maintenance requests are those that apply to the safety of the animals, park staff, and park guests. However, some maintenance can be planned.

Witmer uses the zoo’s Mapcon CMMS program to provide monthly work orders on all of the HVAC units, which require regular filter changes. The park’s many vehicles also require routine work. These orders are generated automatically and assigned to the appropriate technician.

All of the maintenance at the Palm Beach Zoo is coordinated through a highly sophisticated CMMS system that operates from a mobile app.

All of the maintenance at the Palm Beach Zoo is coordinated through a highly sophisticated CMMS system that operates from a mobile app.

“Zookeepers inspect the animal exhibits every day–especially the dangerous animals,” Witmer said. “Once a month, we have a work order that has to be completed for the actual maintenance inspection of the exhibit. This is an extra layer to keep our animals and people safe. We like to have a fresh set of eyes other than a zookeeper’s. We go over everything pretty thoroughly, down to the basics of checking each chain link.”

General park maintenance

Non-urgent maintenance situations can include anything from landscaping and other activities classified as “zooifying” to make the park beautiful. Even members of the administrative staff carry the CMMS app. For example, if a tree branch has fallen, a work order can be immediately entered into the system by an administrative or maintenance staff member.

Each maintenance professional has special skills, and Witmer easily assigns work orders to the appropriate technician.

The zoo’s hydraulic systems are connected to complex drives that must be maintained on site by zoo staff. Facilities manager Jason Witmer is shown performing routine checks.

The zoo’s hydraulic systems are connected to complex drives that must be maintained on site by zoo staff. Facilities manager Jason Witmer is shown performing routine checks.

In addition to the major systems, the maintenance staff also maintains all of the building equipment for the restrooms, restaurant, administrative offices, and animal hospital. The fountains, water features, and cooling systems also must be properly maintained.

The power of solar

The Palm Beach Zoo takes advantage of the boiling south-Florida sun, which burns bright all year long. The park has three solar arrays. One feeds directly into the main pump room and supplements the power for the fountain pumps. Another is at the animal hospital. The third is in the parking lot.

The Solar-Array Data Display shows, in real time, the power that is being drawn from the sun. It calculates ambient temperature, module temperature, radiance, and wind speed.

Pumps control the large fountain at the park’s entrance and all of the activity is automated. All water features have filters. The solar power interacts with the hydraulic equipment to provide the best-possible energy efficiency.

“This is just a supplement to the power, so we have power whether or not we have sun,” Witmer said. “However, any power produced by the solar arrays is stored for future use. We are not just conserving wildlife. We are also conserving natural resources.” Power from the solar panels accounts for about 13% of the electricity used at the zoo.

Dangerous animals

When operating a facility with predatory and dangerous animals, special care must be taken when maintenance is performed in those areas.

“The animals must be shifted so that the maintenance can be performed,” Witmer said. “We have animal experts here and they coordinate with the maintenance staff. They lure the animals to another part of the exhibit or habitat, usually with positive reinforcement, to shift them to a secure enclosure, so that the maintenance professional is safe.  For example, it’s tough to clean the glass with alligators in there.”

Keeping the park’s ancillary buildings, such as the animal hospital, cool and in good working condition is one of the responsibilities of the Palm Beach Zoo’s maintenance staff of six technicians.

Keeping the park’s ancillary buildings, such as the animal hospital, cool and in good working condition is one of the responsibilities of the Palm Beach Zoo’s maintenance staff of six technicians.

Another example is when maintenance is required for the black-bear-exhibit pool filter. “We use ozone for the water to keep it clean, and it is filtered,” Witmer said. “It turns out that when bears get in the water, they have a lot of grease and hair that needs to be filtered out. We use strainers and sand filters to keep the water clear. With the amount of hair and oil that is removed from the water, the filter needs a lot of maintenance.”

Zookeepers help with this by backwashing a few times every day.

The maintenance staff is also has responsibibilities at the animal hospital, including plumbing, general maintenance, and HVAC systems. The lab equipment is sent to outside vendors.

Special attractions

Along with the natural habitats and building services, there is other special equipment that must be maintained. That includes the zoo’s large carousel.

“Along with keeping the ride safe, of course, it is inspected daily by our maintenance team to look for anything that could be a safety hazard,” Witmer explained. “We recently found a way to conserve substantial energy. The carousel contains 1,690 light bulbs. We have changed them all from 10-W to 0.7-W lamps. This has reduced drastically the amount of electricity that it takes to run the carousel on a daily basis. This is also in conjunction with our mission of conservation. The cost of the bulb change will pay itself back in electrical savings in about eight months, which is incredible.”

For Witmer, maintaining the zoo provides daily rewards. “It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that you are an active part of conservation, for animals and the environment, while maintaining such a beautiful facility like the Palm Beach Zoo,” he said. “We always put the safety of our guests, animals, and employees first, and routine and preventive maintenance is such a big part of that. Mapcon is such an incredible tool to have and help manage the diverse maintenance challenges in a zoo environment.”

A Typical Day at a Historic Zoo

A typical morning for Jason Witmer begins with a walk through the park to see if anything catches his attention before the zoo opens to the public. He may stop with a group of children on a field trip from a local school to watch the pink flamingos play. “The best part about working here is that no matter how frustrated or busy you may get, you can always walk around and watch the animals, and the stress goes away,” Witmer said.

The Palm Beach (FL) Zoo had its beginnings in the 1950s when Paul Dreher, parks director for the City of West Palm Beach, FL, developed a lush botanical garden in what was then known as Bacon Park. Dreher decided to add a barnyard petting zoo for the children of the community.

With just $18, he opened his zoo with two ducks, a couple of chickens, a goose, and a goat. The collection was located on 1 1/2 acres and became known as the Dreher Park Zoo. The attraction soon became a favorite place for families, and the collection grew to include many more animals. In 1969, a group of committed citizens created the non-profit Zoological Society of the Palm Beaches and assumed responsibility for operating the zoo.

The zoo began charging a 25-cent adult admission in 1970. Within 18 months, attendance reached 125,000 visitors. In 1971, the zoo grew to its current size of 23 acres, and continued to increase the animal collection. 

The facility now houses more than 700 animals from Florida; North, South, and Central America; Australia; and Madagascar. More than 314,000 people visit each year.

In October 2013, the zoo’s name was changed to the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. The addition of the “& Conservation Society” helps the facility bring many conservation programs it is working on to the forefront in an effort to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world.

A Meaningful Mission

To better fulfill its mission to “protect wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to inspire others to value and conserve the natural world,” the Palm Beach (FL) Zoo began working with the Palm Beach County school system and in 1981 established a formal education division.

This was the foundation for a successful program that now offers animal encounters, field trips, on-site classes, teacher training, summer camp, overnight adventures, and outreach programs. The zoo’s education division now presents more than 2,400 programs each year that reach more than 128,000 individuals. An additional 113,300 persons are reached by keeper talks and other animal-care staff initiatives.

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Michelle Segrest

Michelle Segrest

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