Controlling the Future
Founded in 1999, the BACnet Manufacturers Association (BMA) encourages the
successful and widespread use of BACnet in building automation and control systems
through interoperability testing, educational programming, and ongoing promotional
activities. Association President Jim Lee took a few minutes to chat with BUILDINGS
about BACnet and the association's role in supporting this important building
BUILDINGS: How has building automation technology evolved over the past
10 to 15 years?
JL: At one time, only components from a single manufacturer's automation
systems could be used within a building. When building managers went to expand
or retrofit, products by that single manufacturer had to be used, as there was
no interoperability between different manufacturers' components.
This soon led to the dominance of a single contractor in a facility and prevented
building managers from using competitive and more cost-effective systems simply
because these other systems did not fit into the original manufacturer's technology.
As a result, many buildings owners were locked into products from a single
manufacturer and were not able to take advantage of innovative new technologies
or cost-saving opportunities.
This tangle of different proprietary systems and customers' inability to choose
or switch BAS suppliers led to a market full of dissatisfied customers - many
of them large users, such as the government, universities, and large corporations.
In 1987, these users banded together under the auspices of the American Society
of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and sought
to develop a standard whereby interoperability could be achieved. The standard,
called BACnet (Building Automation and Control network), underwent extensive
industry debate and was approved as an ASHRAE/ANSI standard in 1995.
No single company owns BACnet. It is an open, consensus-based standard developed
by a committee comprised of end-users, consulting engineers, manufacturers,
the government, and the academic community.
Development of the standard means that no matter whose building automation
components are used, it is quite possible that many other vendors' products
could be compatible with the existing system.
BUILDINGS: What are the advantages of seamless open-system building
controls when compared to the old-style, piecemeal approach?
JL: More and more manufacturers are choosing BACnet when developing
their building automation systems. This offers advantages, such as choice to
the building owners. It also opens the market to competitive bidding from BAS
manufacturers and vendors.
Nearly all BACnet-compliant products should be interoperable with each other
- because they use a common set of rules for data structure and transmission,
allowing them to easily exchange data and execute commands. This interoperability
permits building owners to purchase numerous BAS components from different manufacturers
in order to get the best product, delivery, or any other features they are seeking
and still have a system in which all components integrate and work seamlessly
BUILDINGS: How does the issue of BACnet compatibility and interoperability
figure in with a retrofit situation? For example, a facility might have an automation
component, such as HVAC, which is in excellent working order. Management, however,
wants to upgrade other components to BACnet-tested equipment. How will the older
equipment tie in to the new system? Will it affect overall interoperability,
or is there some way to connect these existing components into the loop?
JL: Building owners should specify BACnet for all retrofit projects.
Most manufacturers now supply BACnet gateways that allow connection to their
legacy equipment. A gateway bi-directionally translates the messages of the
existing proprietary system to and from the BACnet protocol, allowing them to
BACnet is well on its way to becoming a mature protocol. It is finding favor
with increasingly more building owners, facility managers, consulting and specifying
engineers, architects, and others involved in new or retrofit construction in
such markets as commercial and industrial, educational, hospital, office buildings,
BUILDINGS: What is the BACnet Manufacturers Association doing to educate
both manufacturers and end-users about the standard and its benefits? Has use
of the standard increased since it was first introduced in 1995?
JL: The BMA has a solid education program in place. As part of this
program, it has had three large "advertorials" in trade publications.
These inserts include the history of BACnet, the current status, the testing
program, and the future for BACnet.
Many BMA members speak at other allied associations, presenting information
and case histories in sessions covering the BACnet standard.
The association also maintains its own website (www.bacnetassociation.org),
which is devoted to educating and updating members and visitors alike to the
benefits of BACnet.
In cooperation with the BACnet Interest Group-North America (BIG-NA), BMA holds
an annual conference. This year, BACnet members and other interested parties
will gather on September 24 and 25 at the Penn Stater Conference Center and
hotel in State College, PA. The program - themed "BACnet - It Works!"
- will include two days of speakers representing both BIG-NA and BMA topics
BUILDINGS: What are the requirements for membership in the BMA?
JL: At the moment, we have about 25 member companies. The requirements
for corporate membership are that a company be involved in BACnet development
and manufacturing. Our membership roster includes various manufacturers of BACnet
products, all of which are committed to ensuring that their BACnet products
BUILDINGS: What role does the BMA play in the move toward total interoperability
in building automation?
JL: The association has helped promote BACnet products, helped educate
building owners and specifying engineers to the merits and advantages of BACnet
products. Now, with the start up of the BACnet Testing Laboratories, the association
also will help potential buyers of BACnet products identify those products that
have conformed with various aspects of the BACnet standard.
BUILDINGS: As a standard, the BACnet protocol is recommended but not
required, correct? Are there manufacturers of building control systems who are
not employing this standard in new system components? Can you predict what will
happen to those who do not adopt the protocol in their manufacturing processes?
JL: The use of BACnet has increased since being introduced in 1995.
Increasingly, more manufacturers are leaning toward using the standard. With
the new testing and listing program, usage is expected to continue to increase.
A survey of manufacturers as of the early part of 2001 indicated that there
were BACnet installations in place in approximately 17,500 buildings.
We foresee that as the use of BACnet products grows, and as testing and listing
programs help potential users identify BACnet products, consulting and specifying
engineers, architects, and other specifiers will favor BACnet-compliant products
over products that use proprietary communication methods.
Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is a frequent contributing editor to Buildings