Six years ago, Richard Zbin was asked to “fill in” as facility manager while his company searched for a permanent replacement. Today, he is the proud winner of the 2019 Facility Manager of the Year contest. So how did he get from point A to point B?

“Quite by accident,” Zbin said. “I was a mechanical designer and have designed the mechanical systems for many Kaiser Permanente buildings before designing an addition to the Silver Spring Data Center. After the addition was completed, I was involved in various capacities in helping run the building.”

Though it probably never would have happened if Zbin hadn’t been asked to help out, he decided to apply for the position full time. Not only does he serve as facilities director for the Kaiser Permanente Silver Spring Data Center, he is also a part of the data center operations team that operates and maintains all of Kaiser Permanente’s data centers across the U.S.

“No two days at work are the same,” he said. “Every day brings new challenges and opportunities.”

Perpetual advances in technology create a need for expanding and maximizing operations and capacity.

“I continually learn new technology to support those computer advances and ensure that our facility meets its core purpose — to be available 24/7/365.”

In the pursuit for uptime, Zbin implemented an on-site ice storage system.

“The idea came to me after visiting several data centers that had ice storage,” he said. “They had a dedicated chiller only used for ice storage and separated chillers for chilled water. I asked a few manufacturers why that ice storage chiller could not only be used to build out ice but be used to support the building too.”

The chillers were capable of handling dual-cooling applications, and that was all Zbin needed to hear.

The Silver Spring Data Center has a 2N design — any chiller can make 45°F chiller water for the building or 29° water to build ice. That’s because Zbin’s system called for a couple of chillers to build ice at night, while the rest of the chillers supported the building load. During the day, at peak demand charges, the chillers were turned off. One variable-speed pump was used for the ice storage system, which could provide up 10 hours of operation.

“It makes your job easier when you have all this support behind you — from the operating engineers who maintain the building to upper management,” Zbin said.

While in full operation, the system saved Kaiser Permanente $60,000 per month over the course of several years. Now, the facility is 100% wind-powered and only employs the ice-storage system during a power outage.

But saving money isn’t the only reason Tim Pool, executive vice president of engineering for Tec Inc. Engineering and Design, nominated Zbin. According to Pool, facility managers should be actively engaged in project development, communicate with their engineering consultants, and use their experience and expertise to motivate those they work around to ensure project success.

“Rick has these qualities and is a fantastic leader,” he said.

But Zbin doesn’t just lead his team.

“Rick’s leadership stands out in his involvement with the development and implementation of ASHRAE standards,” said Elizabeth Burneko, senior director of data center operations for Kaiser Permanente. “This not only benefits Kaiser Permanente but also the industry at large.”

After ASHRAE Standard 90.4 was published in 2016, Zbin was asked to join the committee to give an owner’s perspective to the process, and, in 2017, he became the chair of the committee.

“I am impressed that he can manage so much activity on a daily basis while still providing individual attention to the people he works with,” Pool said.

The Silver Spring Data Center has won the Uptime Institute’s Continuous Availability award nine years in a row — a hard thing to achieve in this ever-changing IT world. 

When asked about how he felt to be named 2019 Facility Manager of the Year, he deemed it a wonderful surprise. But like all distinguished leaders, he passes the credit along to his team.

“I think it’s a testament to how well we run our award-winning data centers across Kaiser Permanente,” Zbin said.