Remember the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon, “The Jetsons?”
The man of the house, George Jetson, worked for Spacely Sprockets, housed in a space-age office building run on the 1960s vision of high-tech controls. The humans working in the building didn’t have to do much, other than zip around on motorized walkways and push a few buttons here or there. Robots and control systems made life pretty comfortable for them.
We might not be living in outer space like George, Jane – his wife – and the kids, but the concept of building systems, as envisioned 40 years ago, isn’t as far off base as you might think.
Today’s “intelligent building systems” support and operate various aspects of a building and its infrastructure, including lighting; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC); energy management; security; elevators; life-safety systems; communications; and building condition monitoring.
The technologies used in these “wired” buildings seek to improve the building environment and functionality for the occupants while controlling costs. Improving end-user security, comfort, and accessibility all help productivity and user comfort levels.
While no example of a wholly integrated building exists, as far as building systems experts know, integration is becoming more pervasive. “Technologies are becoming more prevalent and less expensive,” explains Kirk McElwain, technical director for the Ottawa, ON-based Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA).
CABA is a North American industry association dedicated to providing information, education, and networking opportunities relating to development, promotion, pursuit, and understanding of integrated building automation systems. Next month, the association holds its Intelligent & Integrated Buildings Conference (see next page) in hopes of bringing together related “large building” stakeholder groups that have a vested interest in the technology driving integrated systems and intelligent buildings.
The conference will be held December 2 and 3 in Toronto, in conjunction with the 13th Annual Property Management Expo Show. “CABA will ensure that critical issues are presented and discussed among key industry stakeholders,” says Richard Buzun, CABA’s chairman of the board and president and CEO of Siemens Energy & Automation. “It is CABA’s intention to attract industry leaders who encourage the development and promotion of integrated systems and automation in large buildings.”
Increased Value, Decreased Energy
Intelligent building technologies can offer significant opportunities for increased revenue, but before building owners race to integrate the latest control systems into their facilities, they need to understand the benefit they want to achieve from the integration.
“Integration for integration’s sake is not beneficial. Integration to improve the productivity for building operations or to reduce the energy consumption for the facility is usually the desired outcome,” notes Simon James, marketing leader for Building Automation at Honeywell ACS – Service, and chairman of CABA’s Intelligent & Integrated Buildings Conference Advisory Committee and a member of CABA’s board of directors.
The challenge is to demonstrate the construction of intelligent buildings with low financial risk and high financial return. The long-term goal is to create a property that is more valuable to the developer/owner/operator and is occupied by satisfied occupants.
The current view is that a building and its infrastructure typically have a lifespan of 25 years or more between major retrofits. Noting the pace of technological evolution, intelligent building systems offer the ability to upgrade functional capability more often and more economically through upgrading components and equipment items without the need to touch physical components, such as the cabling infrastructure.
Financial decisions based on the comparison of alternative plans of action that consider only initial cost will inevitably be wrong, McElwain says. “The increase for intelligent building technology is a very small piece of the construction,” he adds. “Over the lifetime of a building, the construction is only 25 percent of the total. Maintenance is 75 percent. It might cost an extra five percent in construction costs, but you can save 35 percent in maintenance. It’s the lifetime cost you need to look at, rather than the upfront cost.”
James agrees. He says typically there is a clear benefit in terms of the improved operational productivity or energy reduction that can be quantified in dollar terms and justified on a return-on-investment (ROI) basis.
There is a growing need for an effective, ubiquitous, and reliable communications infrastructure if all building systems are to be integrated and to exchange information effectively and deliver a positive ROI for both owners and occupants.
Communications Simply Process
A heavy communications emphasis is required when an intelligent building is developed. Each of the independent building systems is managed by a personal computer using conventional data processing communication techniques, backed by an infrastructure that is redundant, reliable, and secure.
Integration considerations can be challenging and may be addressed to some extent through standards and conventions – protocols – developed by the manufacturers. “It’s taken the different companies time to adopt some of the open communications standards like LonWorks® and BACnet® that facilitates the integration you need to have an intelligent building,” James says. “Now, pretty much all controls companies, as well as many equipment manufacturers, are providing BACnet, LonWorks, or Modbus interface capabilities in their products/devices to simplify the process of integrating them.”
Even these available systems do not fulfill the requirements for complete interoperability. Despite the move to more standardization between systems, many proprietary solutions still permeate the industry, making total “interworking” unattainable.
Within the traditional building domain, fire and security are probably the areas where the promise of open systems has had the least impact, James says. Security is still a proprietary offering within a building, and there has been no progress towards open systems. Fire-safety systems have had limited progress with a fire object being added to BACnet and some vendors supporting a BACnet gateway.
“HVAC will continue to make incremental progress but given the slowdown in standards committees and the self interest of manufacturers, I don’t see any time soon where full interoperability of systems will be a reality,” James says.
Mix-and-match interoperability isn’t there, but there are ways to get systems up and running, thanks to software programs McElwain refers to as “middleware.”
“You can always have a middleware system built that will integrate your legacy system with current technology. Sometimes it just may not be worth it because your legacy system doesn’t have the capability to do what you want it to do,” he notes. “If you wanted to integrate existing lighting control with a new HVAC or security system, I’m confident you can do that. Someone can write the middleware for you to do that. It’s not impossible; it’s just that some are harder than others.”Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.