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Building Automation Trends: Building Automation Evolution

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Published on June 25, 2013 with No Comments


By Marc Petock
From the June 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

There has been a tremendous amount of advancement in the facilities management (FM) environment over the last several years, and building automation is one area where this is apparent. What has driven advancements in building automation systems (BAS)? There are several contributing factors.

From the technology side, there are three fundamental drivers—the concept of integration and interoperability, the growth of Internet Protocol (IP), and the “open” influence on physical systems. From the operational side, drivers include financial pressures to contain costs and improve operating efficiencies, the rising cost of energy and maintenance, and the need to maintain occupant comfort.

So what’s next? What will drive next generation BAS? What factors are influencing the direction of the industry?

The industry appears to be entering a turning point and another “disruptive” period. And disruptive is a good thing in this case. More than 20 years ago, a significant disruptive class of technology emerged in the market that tested the traditional FM world, and nothing has been the same since. A primarily mechanical driven environment was introduced to affordable microcomputers and the advent of IP-based technology. With that came the arrival of embedded electronics and interoperable subsystems: mechanical, electrical, and software.

Now the industry is at the beginning of another monumental shift in how facilities are managed. It is being driven by the business side, and, as a result, the value equation is shifting from efficiency to one driven by facility usage and performance, financial optimization, business intelligence, and operational maximization.

So as these values shift, how is the technology changing to meet this new value equation? What are the trends? Here is a look at a few.

Applications. The development of applications is moving at a fast pace (and will continue to do so) providing facility managers (fms) with a wide range of choices. Applications will be a catalyst to drive the value creation for BAS further. Value creation will not only come from the applications themselves but through their integration with one another and how they are managed together.

Measurement and verification (M&V). There continues to be increased use of M&V, especially concerning the energy landscape of a facility.

Device level. The lines of middleware are contracting. Controllers are being increasingly embedded with software and offering enhanced functionally. Not only are BAS systems moving up in the enterprise and to the cloud, but at the same time, devices are getting smarter with higher end capabilities.

The trend is toward connecting more and more devices that provide information with each device. Additional value will take shape when the devices are extended by layering applications that leverage the activities, services, and interrelationships—not only of the devices but of all people, systems, and connected devices in the network.

User experience. The one-size-fits-all approach is going away. Today, it is about the individual and his or her specific experience, needs, and requirements.

Wireless. There is growing importance of wireless control, especially when it comes to building retrofits and energy measurement and management. With the requirement for wiring removed, the cost of installation is significantly reduced. It also means that retrofitting becomes more practical, because structural changes are not needed and disruption is kept to a minimum. Significant advances in wireless technology are being made, which means products are more robust in terms of signal reliability.

Automation For HVAC, And More

By Neil Maldeis

Building automation system (BAS) technology has come a long way since first “arriving on the scene” about 35 years ago. Sophisticated for their time, first-generation systems ran on dedicated mainframe microcomputers and used pneumatics to control heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. The BAS could perform a few basic functions, such as controlling temperatures by turning the HVAC system on and off.

The development of microprocessors, direct digital control (DDC), personal computers, and other technologies have changed the face of BAS over the past three decades. Current generation systems do much more than flipping the switch on the HVAC system. These are knowledge tools that give facility managers (fms) the power to manage building performance and impact the bottom line.

Today’s BAS technology enables high performance buildings that are more energy efficient, cost less to operate, provide a better indoor environment for occupants, and have a smaller environmental footprint. Driven by customer requirements, the next generation of systems will be even more powerful, intelligent, and easy to use.

Enterprise Wide Control

Current generation BAS are significantly more capable than previous generations, thanks to a wide range of enabling technologies. For example, today’s systems operate on web-based platforms and use reliable, high-speed Internet connections. As a result, fms and their service partners can access HVAC and other building systems from any location and at any time of day. The BAS can control systems in one building or multiple buildings from a remote location.

Industry wide adoption of the building automation and control network (BACnet) protocol in 1995 enabled another step change improvement in automated control systems. In concert with factory mounted digital controls, BACnet allows the BAS to communicate directly with disparate systems including HVAC, lighting, access control, and fire detection, creating the opportunity for fms to integrate the operation of formerly independent systems.

With all these capabilities, the BAS has become the cornerstone of the high performance building concept, which links performance to an organization’s mission and critical financial and operational objectives. It also is the centerpiece of leading-edge intelligent service platforms, which are enabled by technology and the availability of unprecedented levels of system information.

Smart services offerings use sophisticated analytics to collect, interpret, and act upon data from building systems and the BAS, giving fms the tools they need to manage energy consumption, reduce operating costs, minimize environmental impact, improve system reliability and uptime, and resolve problems sooner and more effectively. One study found that fms using an active monitoring intelligent services option are able to resolve as many as 40% of building system problems in 30 minutes or less, with many problems resolved remotely, eliminating the need for service calls.

Demands Drive Innovations

A variety of factors are driving the need for even more advanced BAS. For example, fms are being pressured to do more with less—less budget, less staff, and less energy. Better BAS technology will enable facility teams to meet these challenges while also contributing to the comfort, health, productivity, and efficiency of their organizations and occupants.

Meanwhile, the rate of technological change continues to accelerate. Microprocessor costs continue to decline, mobile devices are everywhere, and the Internet is faster and more reliable than ever before. These factors also are setting the stage for BAS innovations in the coming years that are just as dramatic as those in the last three decades.

For example, the new generation of tech natives, born in the Internet age, expects to interact with building systems using smart phones, tablets, and other devices. Thanks to open systems architecture, high-speed connectivity, and cloud computing, fms can already access their BAS from anywhere using a mobile device.

Facility occupants are next. In fact, some organizations already let occupants change their personal settings (adjusting office temperatures, for example) using a smart device. More sophisticated electronic sensors and BAS will make it easier to personalize comfort settings and avoid conditioning air in vacant spaces.

While original equipment manufacturers will continue to improve the performance of individual building systems, the biggest leap forward in efficiency will come from enabling all building systems to work in harmony. Improvements in wireless communication, common operating systems, and, of course, BAS technology will enable unprecedented interoperability of key systems and allow facility teams to adopt more sophisticated building control strategies.

Finally, simplicity and ease of use will be a priority as BAS capabilities move forward. While first-generation BAS ran on lines of code, today’s systems use the Microsoft Windows platform and intuitive dashboards.

Advanced dashboards, diagnostics, and analytics let facility team members view, monitor, track, trend, and report conditions in one area, one building, or across multiple facilities. And many manufacturers and service providers have developed apps that make it just as easy for fms to access their BAS from a mobile device.

Access to data, embedded intelligence, wireless, and component integration will no doubt be the major game changers as BAS technology continues to advance and fms look for ways to improve energy efficiency, reduce operating costs, shrink their environmental footprint, and contribute to their organization’s success.



Maldeis is energy solutions engineering leader for Trane, a provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. He is responsible for the technical development, support, and review of performance-based contracting solutions and activities on a national basis. A Professional Engineer and Association of Energy Engineers Certified Energy Manager, Maldeis has more than 30 years of experience as a mechanical/project engineer in the building construction and energy conservation fields.

Meters. Another less visible, but important, trend is taking place in the field of meters. With energy costs continuing to go up (combined with the drive toward facility usage and performance), there can be little doubt that measuring energy will continue to be a very important piece of FM.

Data. Fms hear a lot about it, and they will continue to do so. The demand for data has never been higher. The advances of the last decade have enabled industry stakeholders to obtain data, and the continued challenge is extracting actionable insights from that data.

Perhaps one of the most important developments for the future is the increased stance of facility owners that data from BAS should be treated as business critical information. Large amounts of information now being exported and visualized are set to provide fms with in-depth knowledge about building performance and the power to optimize it.

Going forward, facilities will operate with one data pool with the various applications and individuals drawing from it instead of from individual data silos. New enhancements to data will continue evolving, but the issue of data ownership will still be debated and have to be figured out.

One area that fms should pay attention to with BAS data is that it needs to be given “context” so stakeholders know exactly how each piece of data fits into the overall system. In order to do this there will more adoption of unified naming conventions and taxonomies for facility equipment and operational data. This will further enable maximizing data and the value it brings.

Actionable analytics. It is not about whether or not to make use of them; that’s a given. It is more about how to use them in real time. Today’s control systems and smart devices provide access to tremendous amounts of data—environmental conditions, energy use, equipment health and performance, and many other facets of facility operations. This data, when used as intelligence, is the key to better operation and management.

The cloud. Cloud technology and its acceptance into FM are here. While the day-to-day operation of a building will continue to be managed at the edge, fms will have access to applications and all their data residing in the cloud.

Cyber threats and protection. Cyber threats within the facility environment are becoming more frequent and increasingly sophisticated. The industry is now at a point where there are legitimate and reasonable concerns.

Cyber threats are not just about being able to turn lights on or off, or raising or lowering the temperature a degree or two. It is much more than that. Characterizing possible disruptions to lighting or HVAC controls as harmless mischief dramatically underestimates the value of these systems to productivity, safety, and the business. Threats and breaches to facility systems can also be entry points into an organization’s network and become a pivot point that can bypass many existing network defenses. Proven IT cyber security authentication and encryption technologies will be incorporated into systems and become a critical part of a building automation network.

Looking Ahead

Today’s BAS offer a strong foundation for the future. The next generation of building systems is being designed with applications and analytics in mind. BAS are becoming operating platforms that support a wide variety of applications. Fms will continue to see streamlining integration with enterprise applications, increases in synergies available from using data from all business units, and continued migration from proprietary systems to open environments.

Advancements in technology have long been considered great disruptors. Combine the advancements with the changes taking place at the business level, and industry stakeholders are transforming yet again the way facilities are managed and operated.

This will continue to be driven by financial and performance demands. It’s also being driven to a new level of connectivity that stretches the reach of BAS from devices out on the edge through to cloud applications and data analysis. Building automation innovations will be fueled by ecosystems of non-traditional partnerships and allies that lead to radical ways to work together to extend the value of facility systems.



Petock is vice president of marketing for Lynxspring, Inc., a building automation company based in Lee’s Summit, MO. Having earned a spot on Realcomm’s “Top 35 People to Watch” for the past six years, he is also is a recipient of the Niagara Community Spirit Award and most recently received the Control Trends CTA “Petock Award,” an annual industry award named in his honor. Petock serves on the board of directors of Connexx Energy and as an advisor to Realcomm. Prior to Lynxspring, he was vice president, global marketing and communications leader at Tridium.

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