EMAIL INTERVIEW – George Thomas & Ken Sinclair
George Thomas is president of Contemporary Controls with headquarters
in Downers Grove, Illinois. The company designs and manufactures
networking products used in various automation industries and has been
an OEM supplier to major BAS companies for the last 25 years. The
company has three subsidiaries in Suzhou, PRC, Leipzig, Germany and
Coventry, United Kingdom. Manufacturing is accomplished in both
China and the USA. George Thomas received his BSEE and MSEE
degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Building on BACnet©
Connecting BAS Devices to an IP Infrastructure
Sinclair: “Building on BACnet” is a nice play on words, but what does it mean?
Thomas: It means that having a BACnet system is not enough.
Modern building automation systems are utilizing the Internet Protocol
(IP) and Ethernet communication over structured wiring requiring BAS
professionals to learn more about these IT technologies.
They cannot be experts in all disciplines so we help out by providing
the tools and the equipment necessary in order to connect BAS products
to an IP infrastructure consisting of unmanaged and managed switches,
media converters, and IP routers utilizing twisted-pair and fiber optic
Sinclair: Doesn’t the IT department specify what is to be used in an installation?
Thomas: That assumes there is an IT department on-site.
Some BAS contractors indicated to us that they are the IT staff for
smaller buildings and school districts when they receive maintenance
contracts from the building owner. Even if an IT department is
involved, it is best to be able to communicate to them in their
language. They are not going to understand building controls and
protocols like BACnet, but you need to be able to explain to them why
you need fixed IP addresses and remote access. If you use their
terminology, you may gain an ally.
Sinclair: Does this only apply to BACnet?
Thomas: Not really. We suggest using BACnet/IP at the
highest level but not all equipment in a building is BACnet
compliant. Modbus serial is commonly found as well as Modbus TCP
which also runs over an IP network. Sedona Framework is also
IP-based. The movement is to “put everything up onto IP.”
One day that may happen but for now there is plenty of fieldbus wiring
that needs to be accommodated.
Sinclair: How do your products “put up everything onto IP?”
Thomas: For Ethernet connectivity we have the CTRLink© line
consisting of wired and wireless IP routers, unmanaged and managed
Ethernet switches, media converters and Power Over Ethernet (PoE)
injectors and splitters. Our IP routers will gain access to the
Internet using either Ethernet-to-Ethernet routing using an external
cable or DSL modem or via the cellular network using our wireless
routers. For UL 864 Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm
Systems, we worked with several OEMs who incorporated one of our
switches into this special application.
For those devices without an Ethernet connection, our BASautomation™
line of BACnet routers and gateways can help getting fieldbus equipment
up onto IP. The BASrouter and Portable BASrouter convert BACnet
MS/TP or BACnet Ethernet to BACnet/IP. The BASgateway and the
BASremote can interface Modbus serial to either BACnet/IP or Modbus TCP.
Sinclair: How do your Ethernet products differ from those that can be purchased at a computer store?
Thomas: Our CTRLink products utilize metal enclosures and are
intended to be mounted into control cabinets for a professional
look. Having a small office-home office (SOHO) Ethernet switch
tie-wrapped onto the side of a control panel is not professional
looking. Using Velcro© is worse. We have models that can be
either DIN-rail or bulkhead mounted. They can share power with
other BAS devices using a common 24 VAC or VDC supply eliminating the
need for installing a convenience outlet to accommodate a “wall-wart”
just for the store-bought switch. We also supply responsive
technical support on our products from our subsidiaries and the
factory. As for our BASautomation products, you will not find a
BACnet router or Modbus to BACnet gateway at a computer store.
Sinclair: You mentioned helping the BAS professional learn more about IT technologies. How do you do that?
Thomas: They can go to www.industrialEthernetU.com which is a
website we sponsor. The Industrial Ethernet University has
on-line training material and courses that can be completed in order to
earn a certificate of accomplishment. About 500 individuals
around the world have completed our courses and earned a
certificate. This non-commercial site is free representing our
effort in assisting people in learning the technology.
The other opportunity is to just visit our website at www.ccontrols.com
and visit our Learning Center. This is where we deposit our white
papers, articles, application notes and videos that we have developed
over the years. We divide the material based upon topics to
assist the visitor in finding what they want. We have received
praise for providing this material so we know that there are BAS
professionals out there who want to increase their understanding of IT
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