January 2015


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EMAIL INTERVIEWRichard McElhinney and Ken Sinclair

Richard McElhinney is a founding member of the Project Haystack 501C corporation and a member of the board of directors. Richard is the Chief Software Architect with Airmaster Pty. Ltd and Conserve it and works on developing the Project Haystack standard as well as being involved in efforts to develop the various Project Haystack software toolkits.

Richard McElhinney has more than 15 years experience in commercial building automation product development.  Having started his career in Australia Richard worked for a number of years in the UK and has delivered products across Australia, Europe and North America.  Being formally trained in LonWorks and DALI product development and as a Niagara AX System Integrator and Developer, Richard is now the Chief Software Architect at Airmaster Australia and Conserve it.  As an early contributor to project-haystack.org Richard was the author of the first Niagara AX semantic modelling implementation which has served as the basis for the current NHaystack implementation.

A View on Project-Haystack From Down Under

We are hearing the need for raising more awareness within the BMS contractor community and trying to organise some general education on the topic.

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SinclairCan you tell us how you came to be involved in Project Haystack?

McElhinney:  Our organization implements advanced building automation and enterprise energy management systems for facility owners and operators. We regularly need to connect disparate systems to accomplish customer goals. Open and standard protocols help but leave a big gap. That gap is interpreting what the data means. In other words is this sensor a room temp or a return air temp. Historically the only way to do that was with human interaction – technicians or operators could look at the points in a BAS and could determine what they meant. But there was no way for that descriptive information to be captured and communicated between systems and applications. The result was that an inordinate amount of time and project cost was spent on this part of the project.

A group of like-minded people had the opportunity to communicate about this challenge and thought there was a way to address it. Project Haystack was born from those discussions. I joined the effort at the outset in early 2011.

In order to directly promote and deploy standards such as Project Haystack in our market I work with our own clients directly to educate them about Project Haystack and semantic modelling and I also work with a subsidiary organisation we have founded, BUENO Systems (www.buenosystems.com.au), to focus on driving the adoption of semantic modelling in building control systems.

SinclairProject Haystack is an open source community driven effort and appears to be continually developing. Can it be used today?

McElhinney:  That’s an important question to answer for the readers and the answer is absolutely. Haystack is being used in thousands of facilities today.  Some background may be helpful for readers to understand what Haystack does, and where it stands.

First of all Haystack defines a methodology for defining descriptive data for equipment systems and devices. That methodology – known as tagging -- is well proven and very complete and stable. The community is building on that methodology with a number of additional efforts. One is to use the methodology to define standard tags for typical equipment systems. That work is ongoing as experts in different systems voluntarily contribute their knowledge to define the tags that should be applied to various equipment systems. It should also be noted, however, that there is a huge amount of building systems that are already defined. Perhaps most import on this topic is that fact that you do not have to have an approved tagging model for a device to use Haystack techniques. The methodology is very flexible and can be extended. It allows people to define their own tags as needed while still adhering to the standard and making their data “self describing”.

Others in the community build tools and plug-ins to enable different products to implement Haystack. For example, along with a number of others including J2 Innovations (www.j2inn.com), I have been involved in the development of an add on for NiagaraAX® systems that allow them to natively “speak” the Haystack language. That add-on, known as NHaystack has been deployed in well over 1000 buildings but continues to be enhanced based on field feedback. By the way it’s available for download at no cost.   See www.project-haystack.org/downloads!

Others have built engineering tools to streamline the process of adding tags to legacy systems that do not allow for add-ons.

All of this work is available at no cost. You can learn about Project Haystack and all of the work developed by the community at www.project-haystack.org.

SinclairHow do you see Project Haystack being adopted in Australia and what sort of feedback are you getting from the market?

McElhinney:  The feedback we are getting is that once people understand the concept of tagging they immediately see the need for this sort of technology.  Sifting through thousands of data points is no simple task for just one building, let alone a portfolio of buildings.  So we are hearing the need for raising more awareness within the BMS contractor community and trying to organise some general education on the topic.  Hence why I’m here!

Having said that there is no better place to learn about Project Haystack than at Haystack Connect 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colorado!  See www.haystackconnect.org for more information.

In terms of adoption, first of all you need to remember Australia is a relatively small building controls market with respect to the USA or Europe, however we are pleased to say that we have two clients who are openly specifying Project Haystack directly for analytics, another very large property management company who are specifying Project Haystack as a requirements for all new BMS projects and a very large multi-building / multi-vendor systems integration at one of Australia’s most recognised universities.

Sorry Ken unfortunately I can’t reveal any names just yet, but hope to be able to in the future.

Reliable Controls SinclairYou mentioned downloads and add-ons that are available for Niagara AX, can folks from outside the Niagara AX Community use Project Haystack in their systems?

McElhinney:  Ken, this is one area we are constantly developing.  The answer is unequivocally YES!   However we haven’t got that message out there yet, but are starting to now.  The Project Haystack standard is Open Source, which means anyone can use it in their systems.  The tagging and communication standards are well documented and based on modern web systems that are increasingly pervasive in our world. 

The Project Haystack Corporation is already talking to a global building technology standards group with the hope of working with them to embed Project Haystack in their system.

There are also a number of individuals who have various implementations of the Project Haystack standard they have developed as well.

It’s all there in the forum (www.project-haystack.org/forum/topic) and if people are interested there is an active community willing to support individuals or companies who wish to get involved developing software.


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