With the emergence of Ethernet technologies and open communication protocols, systems integration has become a popular specification item. However, many times, the decision is based on what is technologically viable rather than what is cost effective. When deciding on the integration of your building systems, a few questions you may want to consider include:
- What are the positive short- and long-term effects possible through integration?
- What problems could integration create?
- What resources are required to cover this new form of control?
- What other options are available?
- Are there going to be huge technology gaps once the system is integrated (i.e. How long will it take to learn the software and train people to use it)?
- And, of course, how much is this going to cost (maintenance, training, software, hardware, etc.)?
Consider the following example of system integration: A building owner wishes to integrate a lighting control system with an access control system - a very common specification item. The integration requires the lighting control system to recognize cardholders and energize the lights for each particular employee’s office and, possibly, the walking route to it. The intent is obviously energy savings, but is this integration between systems the right choice? Each individual office or travel space would require a separate relay or electrical circuit so that individual office lighting control can be accomplished. The investment required in labor and material for this integration is substantial. The same result could be accomplished by using motion-activated light switches in each office and pathway - a much lower cost solution that does not require any systems integration.
Now consider this: A building owner wishes to integrate an automatic temperature control system with an access control system. By integrating these two systems, the owner has a significant increase in energy-saving options. The access control system not only controls the doors in the building, but can also function as part of the scheduling mechanism for the HVAC systems. By implementing anti-pass-back on the outside and inside doors, the access control system knows exactly how many people are in the building, and even their specific location. As the number of building occupants changes, the HVAC systems can be commanded on and off as needed. When the access control system “counts” individuals entering areas of the building, such as large meeting areas or auditoriums, the HVAC system can adjust the temperature set-points and CFM requirements as occupants in a space change. These automatic adjustments significantly increase the energy savings of a building, and save the owner money, while also performing basic security functions. This integration requires far less labor and material than the first example, because it is done primarily by passing information between systems via the building network.
Each individual situation and building requirements will be different. These examples and questions should be considered as only part of the decision-making process. Engineers and owners should carefully reflect on the reasons they wish to integrate different building systems. Is there a real energy savings to be realized? Are there manpower savings to be realized? Or is the reason for integrating your systems simply because you can?
Steve Gavlak is director of marketing and technical services at Export, PA-based American Auto-Matrix (www.aamatrix.com).