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The Heart and Soul of Smart Buildings

Steve Jones
Steve Jones,
Managing Partner
The S4 Group, Inc

  Originally published Feb 28, 2019


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Seeing the barrage of IoT-themed messages that cross my desk on a daily basis might lead one to believe that we are in the middle of a technology revolution and Smart Buildings are something completely new and different. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Don’t get me wrong; Smart Buildings are a very important concept in building operation and management. However, we have been on that journey for many years. Incremental improvements in building automation technology, algorithms, and applications started many years ago and will continue into the future.

Buildings became “smarter” on the day that the first pneumatic controlled thermostats were installed. This innovation made it possible to telegraph demands for heat to the central plant and dramatically improved occupant comfort in buildings. This certainly wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was a step forward, and with proper maintenance it got the rudimentary job done. The next incremental change came as building automation companies began replacing pneumatic controls with proprietary DDC systems. These distributed networks of small computers and supporting electronic sensors, valves, and actuators ushered in an era of rapid improvement as each manufacturer improved their algorithms with each new release. At this point, the focus was still on heating and air conditioning control. At the same time, user interfaces evolved into graphical representations of the building, making operations more intuitive and efficient. Trending and alarming capabilities utilized the power of the computer to provide tools for the building operator.

BACnetThen Came BACnet

Why is the use of BACnet important? First of all, the BACnet standard is maintained under the auspices of ASHRAE SSPC 135. The standard is continually evolving to meet the changing needs of buildings, as previously stove-piped subsystems now become a part of the managed and monitored enterprise. The BACnet committee includes representation of all stakeholders who have an interest in making buildings smarter. BACnet has its roots in standard IT and networking technologies. That continues as BACnet SC embraces Cybersecurity technologies developed by the IT community. At the same time, other initiatives within the BACnet committee continue to define new BACnet services to support additional building subsystems, enabling them to work together to make buildings smarter incrementally.

Gateway Technology

Our flagship S4 Open: BACnet-N2 Router is a unique example of the versatility of BACnet. As mentioned earlier, the BACnet standard does not dictate the algorithms inside of your device. It focuses on the protocol interface and the services offered. This flexibility allowed us to offer a gateway to legacy building automation system that goes way beyond the traditional protocol converter. S4 followed this addendum to the BACnet standard that provides best practices for gateway implementation. S4 products automate much of the integration process itself and offer powerful management and monitoring capabilities. S4 innovations provide the enabling technology to make legacy buildings smarter with leading-edge BACnet value-added applications while setting the stage to transition legacy equipment to current technology being offered by the BACnet community. In 2019, you will see us utilize our integration framework to bring traditional IoT products into the B-IoT ecosystem.

Gateway Engine 

BACnet, by its nature, provides local control of a building. That removes any dependencies and risks of relying on external networks and services to maintain a comfortable and productive environment for building occupants. If employees are not comfortable, their productivity goes down. If customers in a retail or service environment are not comfortable, they likely will take their business elsewhere. BACnet technology and the innovative algorithms manufacturers have developed in their devices, keep these things from happening and protects the revenue stream for the building owner / operator / tenant.

BACnet Adoption By Year

BACnet Adoption by Year 

Simultaneously, these BACnet systems optimize the use of the HVAC systems resulting in significant savings in utility costs. What is missing in many cases is adequate instrumentation to monitor current conditions. Typically, this was to save costs during the initial construction process. The cost of adding instrumentation has gone way down as technology has advanced. We’ve heard it over and over again - you can’t manage what you don’t monitor. This is relevant to all control systems, not just building automation. Adding instrumentation is a major step forward. But, this has to be done strategically and carefully. These sensors should be connected directly to the local BACnet infrastructure so that you can leverage the current investment in BACnet technology and associated control algorithms. Then, any and all data in the BACnet system should be published to cloud-based value-added services. With BACnet holding the dominant position as the protocol of choice for building automation systems worldwide, the existing investments should be protected and leveraged. Local first. This strategy gives you the best of all worlds: local control to keep your building humming at top efficiency, BACnet, and the power of cloud-based value-added services and universal secure access via your smartphone or tablet, IoT. This is exactly what B-IoT delivers!

Editor's Note: For more information read this LinkedIn discussion


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