Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.
Evolving standards in the world of data systems
bring another dimension to integration:
integration of the building systems to the data system.
Does the a chiller's efficiency keep the CEO up at nights worrying? Do plant operations preoccupy the CFO as he drives to work? Does the building automation system (BAS) make the COO nervous as she reads her morning paper? The answer should be yes.
The increasing technological sophistication of building systems means they can affect a business's bottom line - for better or worse. Creating a high performance building - an effective building that operates efficiently, and attracts and retains occupants with its amenities and benefits - is something owners want, and it can be achieved by integration. But effective integration is not just a matter of tying subsystems together.
Functional integration - the idea of different systems with different responsibilities working together as if part of a team - addresses the fundamental aspect of having an effective building. It involves applying technology to unseen portions of a facility in the interest of creating a better environment for those working there, and better processes. When done properly, successful integration shows up on the bottom line of financial reports by reducing the acquisition cost and the life cycle cost of facilities.
Potential for integration
The construction industry is seeing radical changes in today's market. Technology and processes that were considered part of the future are becoming real. Construction methods have shifted to accommodate owner needs and the interest in high performance facilities.
The integration of building systems is not a new concept. However, philosophies of integration vary. Not too long ago, it was a feat for more than one building system to be connected to relays, allowing on/off scheduling through the installation of a time clock. Integration took on a new meaning in the late '70s when computers became integral parts of businesses, and building systems, adding new dimensions to facility management.
In today's market, integration is not only seen as a tool that can improve the overall performance of the facility, but also improve the performance of the people and processes that affect an organization's livelihood. An enterprise-wide approach to integration can turn owners' heads, as something they weren't too concerned with takes on new implications. For that reason, interest in integration today is stronger than ever.
What are we integrating?
This interest in the integration of distinct building systems into a common, cohesive operating unit derives from a number of different perspectives. Before exploring those perspectives, a review the types of subsystems that can be integrated is helpful.
The most common subsystems are the automation and control subsystems, which manage specific domains that contain a number of components that regulate the overall environment including HVAC, electrical, energy, fire, and security. Traditionally this was done strictly from a supervisory perspective. The advent of the microprocessor has brought more sophistication to these components, along with the ability to communicate electronically. This communication lead to direct connection of the system via a data port, as opposed to the traditional supervisory approach via relays and sensors.
For example, chillers used to be strictly mechanical devices with self contained electric controls. Now they have a microprocessor-based controller on board. The processor has become the brain of the chiller and contains a wealth of information that can be valuable to those operating the physical plant. This expands the integration beyond just automation and control systems to the individual components themselves.
Evolving standards in the world of data systems bring another dimension to integration: integration of the building systems to the data system. The most frequent occurrence involves the use of a common data infrastructure for all systems in the enterprise. Whether it is the business information system, the voice system, the video system, or the BAS, each resides on a common, integrated information infrastructure. An important integration occurs when data from the building systems is integrated with data from the business process itself.
Information management = an effective facility
Integrating building systems and data systems will enable better management of information that can impact the facility performance. The building systems are there to serve occupants and they don't need to operate when no one is in the building. By integrating various subsystems with a BAS, building occupancy can be determined, for example, by a card access system or by occupancy sensors in the occupied areas
On a larger scale, integrating building systems with data systems bring another source of functional integration: merging important information from the building systems with information critical to the operation of the business.
Consider the example of a pacemaker manufacturing facility. In this facility, all data pertaining to the manufacture of the product is retained for historical purposes. If the details of a specific pacemaker's manufacturing process needs to be reviewed at some point in the future, the more data retained from the past, the better. To satisfy this requirement, a tremendous quantity of historical data gathered by the building systems is merged with information from the plant management system. A review of this information would show:
The integration of information into a common database is instrumental to the mission of the business in this situation.
Independence isn't always a good thing
Although it's frequently said that independence is a good thing, it doesn't hold water when applied to building systems. Applying advanced system features holistically rather than independently is key to capitalizing on this technology. If the discreet subsystems that exist in a facility are not integrated, many advanced features cannot be applied effectively or efficiently.
Let's use digital pagers as an example. Pagers can be a big help in responding to critical events if the system that detects the critical condition has the ability to send the information to a pager. But imagine the problem if the facility manager needs a different pager for the BAS, fire alarm and security systems. The ability to apply paging loses some of its appeal, or may become completely impractical, when applied individually to each subsystem in the facility. If all the systems are integrated through the BAS system, paging can be applied once and it will cover all of the events from the independent subsystems. This is a much easier to apply and delivers a significant benefit to the facility manager.
The need for standards
Effective integration is built upon standards. There is not one standard in use today that is employed by all system manufacturers. Even those that use the same standard may do so in different ways. Thus, when choosing an integrated system it is essential to consider not only which operating standards are needed but more importantly, how many.
There are cases in the world of building automation where facility planners pick a single standard first, and then move forward on the premise that all building systems employed in the facility must adhere to that standard. This is especially true in the area of communication protocols. The building system must be chosen on its ability to perform its primary function, and then integrated with other systems using whatever standards its developers chose to build it upon.
By selecting a system that has the ability to integrate multiple standards, the designers and end users of the facility have far greater flexibility in choosing the subsystems, and more attention can be dedicated to making sure those subsystems deliver on their primary role.
User-friendliness creates efficiency
As modern businesses have become more complex, so have their facilities. This has led to more sophisticated systems being applied to operate these facilities. Most systems today are computer based. Furthermore, most are built on the Windows™ operating system. Although it's easy to think that there will be some similarity between these systems because of a common hardware and software foundation, the fact is that details of how each system is used are beyond common elements, such as the operating system. The specific operating procedures and information presentation techniques are unique to the individual system.
Many of us have visited control centers containing a row of monitors - one for each subsystem used in operating the facility. Having the ability to oversee all of these monitors requires far more training than would be required for a single one. Dealing with multiple passwords and operating procedures is an even greater drawback. It increases the possibility of error while responding to a major critical event in the facility.
Integrating all systems means that operators are trained once, on one system so each person can see the information and handle all facility management tasks via one consistent user interface. This allows the operators to better focus on how well the building is performing instead of worrying about how to operate distinct systems. This in turn reduces training requirements and enhances how operators respond to critical information about the facility. Savings from this type of integration will continue to accrue for the life of the building.
Business process improvements
"Business process" is a term that applies to various industries and means multiple things to different businesses. Manufacturing is one of the first that comes to mind, as there are exorbitant costs associated with stopping the manufacturing line. Manufacturing is not unique in suffering financial impact from less than optimum facility conditions. This impact can be felt in all industries, in all types of facilities. Effective integration of systems can help ensure that the business process doesn't get interrupted.
For example, if the critical event reported is loss of heating capabilities in a school, the disrupted "business process" is the education process itself. This could range from a temporary distraction to those learning, to a complete shut down requiring the students be sent home. The impact to the bottom line ranges from less than optimum learning to days to be made up at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
In the health care environment, a critical event signals potential delays in the healing process, meaning extended stays for patients or a reduction in the effectiveness of the delivery of care. This directly impacts the revenue stream to the health care organization. If a surgical suite is unfit for an operation, both the process of delivering health care and the revenue to the hospital suffer tremendous impact.
Similar examples can be made for any other industry, from extremely critical physical environments such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, to broader operating tolerances such as the space in commercial office buildings.
In closing, the integration of building subsystems is not just a matter of connecting them together to make a few things happen. It is an effort to make all subsystems perform as a cohesive unit that provides the highest environmental quality for the facility. That facility is not just a building; an assembly of construction materials if you will. It is the container of the commercial enterprise. Facility performance is directly related to the performance of that commercial enterprise, and everyone involved in that enterprise is performing tasks with the objective of making it successful.
Effective integration is a key tool that can contribute to that success, and it can be done in a manner that shows up on the bottom line. These savings will continue to be present far beyond the initial investment in the facility.
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