When there are barely enough good tenants to go around, every building/campus owner and manager has to prioritize competition. But if your building was constructed 10 years ago—or a hundred years ago—how can a manager hope to provide the level of physical and data security, lighting, vertical transportation, energy cost reduction, sustainability and ease of use offered in new, greenfield structures without busting the budget and shutting down the building?
Similarly, how can older, small projects ever hope to catch up in the building automation race?
The answer lies in rethinking building automation. Rather than approaching automation as a huge, monolithic, campus-wide or even whole-building project, many building managers are focusing on solving their most immediate challenges first and then gradually and affordably scaling the project up as budget and demand allow. This is made possible by turning to the time-honored solutions used so successfully in industrial buildings and critical applications like hospitals and data centers—solutions like HMI/SCADA-based software and programmable logic controller (PLC) hardware but with all the newest advances introduced into these ubiquitous, proven, affordable and open-standard technologies.
For example, the security system at a major art gallery protects a wide array of invaluable artworks requiring constant 24-hour surveillance. The security system installed in the old building had become outmoded and was awkward and difficult for staff to manage. When an alarm sounded, security was often unable to find the source of the alarm quickly and false alarms frequently occurred. The facility required a system that was more reliable, flexible and responsive, as well as easy to use by a range of staff.
The museum decided to opt for a modern HMI/SCADA software system as an anti-intrusion and video surveillance system for monitoring the various halls where paintings, statues and works of art are located. The development of the system was performed entirely offsite and required less than a month.
Installation was implemented without requiring downtime. During operation, the information collected by the sensors and cameras is sent to the SCADA platform through a gateway that manages the conversion of the Vanderbilt encrypted protocol used by the monitoring control room into the standard Modbus TCP/IP protocol.
Alarm accuracy and notification dispatching are also critical elements of the system. When the control unit detects an alarm, a notification is sent and an interactive map of the area in which the alarm is detected comes up. The system immediately activates the display of the video stream coming from the surveillance systems installed at the facility, making the status of the various sensors visible to security on the control screens using different colors depending on the priority degree of the generated alarm. Security can view the video stream from the relevant hall so they can immediately evaluate the situation and determine if and how to intervene to secure the premises. In addition, the system has the capability to provide alarms and notifications via remote access for staff.
The video surveillance system is installed throughout the building so that security can view the video footage in real time. In the control room, security has the visualization of both the general map of the museum and the individual maps of the main floors in a single graphical interface. The security team particularly values the ease of use and accuracy of the system, which has improved the overall safety and security of the museum and reduced management time for staff.
The museum had a single, pressing problem and solved it cost-effectively and without downtime. In the future, the museum can choose to add on improvements to its lighting, air-conditioning, energy management and more in the same incremental but integrated way because the systems employed use open standards and protocols and software that operates independently of the hardware and yet can be easily integrated into a functional whole. The museum maintained its operations, calmed the concerns of supporters and constituents, and made its building more secure and efficient in one easy step. The museum rethought building automation.
These flexible automation platforms can be used to solve many types of building challenges from simple control of illumination to integration of alternative energy with systems like photovoltaic and cogeneration to critical applications requiring high availability and redundancy. Among the key capabilities prompting building managers to opt for a discrete automation approach are reduction of energy costs and sustainability.
Most managers are under pressure to reduce energy consumption, both to improve the bottom line for owners and tenants and to meet the requirements of a wide range of federal, state, local and corporate regulations and initiatives. Today’s SCADA-based software can be acquired with complementary energy efficiency modules, which monitor consumption of each energy vector. These simple-to-use software extensions can guide the manager and tenants on increasing efficiency and sustainability. Simple software upgrades like this can make an older building or campus a star in contributing to sustainable development goals (SDGs), including affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) and SDG 9, 11, 12 and 13.
Another key rationale for upgrading older buildings is the addition of data security, which is generally missing in older building management systems, as well as capabilities for high availability and reliability. Today’s SCADA-based software and controller systems offer levels of cybersecurity to mitigate threats and protect against intrusion with a complete defense-in-depth strategy. Controllers should include advanced security features to verify the integrity of vital system components and help prevent unauthorized access, while software platforms should meet industry cybersecurity standards, require user authentication, and offer superior data protection. To help ensure reliability, controllers can also include built-in double redundancy to provide high-availability control and minimize the potential for mechanical failure of critical subsystems.
When selecting discrete automation software solutions, users also have the option of upgrading hardware incrementally, adding new PLCs that can bring better cybersecurity, edge capabilities, and higher memory and compute power. This added power allows more tags per PLC leading to a reduction in panels used, which in turn assures less maintenance and spare parts and requires reduced space as compared to that used to house older PLCs or DDC controllers.
New PLCs offer open programming, open communications and enhanced cybersecurity not available on older generations, improving ease of use and the safety of data. To really add a leading-edge capability, managers can even select edge control analytics and communication features for their systems to feed to corporate offices and into IT systems. Additionally, it is important to consider futureproofing when selecting control systems, so that controllers allow easy upgrade in the future and backward compatibility to avoid obsolescence, as well as a single configuration tool for ease of use even when new hardware is added.
While the chance to upgrade building systems one issue or challenge at a time appeals to many managers of existing buildings, the same discrete automation technology can provide extensive automation control of multiple systems when required. A building owner/operator in Dubai chose discrete technology because they could select software and hardware that was compatible and interoperable with multiple protocols and could be used with all their existing systems. Their primary focus was on energy management, and they added automated reporting and monitoring of utility usage, storage of that data in a database, and data analysis functions among other capabilities, all ultimately displayed on a single platform. They also employed an energy monitoring software module that made reducing energy costs easy.
In fact, whether a facilities or building manager starts with solving a single issue using discrete automation technology or multiple systems, they can eventually replace all of their existing building management systems with new technology using this incremental approach and have an entirely new system that is extremely flexible and futureproof.
As the examples above illustrate, one of the main characteristics of the discrete software/hardware systems that prompts selection by many owner/managers is the powerful and versatile graphical interfaces provided. New platforms use vector-based graphics, animation options, customizable objects and scalable design, all allowing an immediate, comprehensive view of the entire building/campus with all its elements on a single platform. This reduces training time and makes operation easy for even new hires and non-technical workers. The clarity of the graphics also allows rapid decision making, which is so critical in building and campus security and systems operation. Even when all other system capabilities meet the manager’s requirements, lots of decision-makers will opt to add new HMI visualization.
It is not difficult to see how, through the intelligent use of discrete automation tools, managers and owners can take advantage of building management functions as they need them and add them to their competitive arsenal affordably and conveniently. This kind of scalable solution enables facilities to solve each problem and incorporate new capabilities individually as needed until eventually all subsystems are fully integrated and updated. It is easy to offer real-time data collection from all existing building automation systems, meters, controllers and PLCs that may be in use; advanced data security, alarm management and event historian capabilities; HTML5 web client and app for integration with web-based devices; energy management and OEE; and even the addition of leading-edge functions like augmented reality.
It is time to stop thinking of building automation as a huge, costly, monolithic system only really practical for greenfield projects. Discrete automation solutions let managers choose exactly the functionality they need as they need it. With controlled cost and minimal interruption, structures and campuses can be transformed into leading-edge building automation showcases, satisfying tenants, occupants, operators and managers alike. Rethink building automation.