October 2021

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70’s-Era City Plaza Transforms from the Inside Out

“50+ floors, 60,000+ points, 6 different protocols, and a multitude of control lines.
Therese SullivanTherese Sullivan
Customer Marketing Leader,
Tridium Inc.

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50+ floors, 60,000+ points, 6 different protocols, and a multitude of control lines. We need to put this jigsaw together in a way that is unified and useful to building operators.”

Owners and operators of large metropolitan buildings have many reasons to keep their building automation and controls infrastructure up to date. When you are managing a portfolio with assets that are typically 50 to 100 years old, deploying the latest tech is one thing you can do to modernize. Buildings in large cities in the Midwest USA, for example, are estimated to be responsible for nearly two-thirds of regional greenhouse gas emissions, and building owners there have been aggressive in their use of technology to cut carbon use, ease demands on the local power grid and save money. Now, in the 2020s, big-metro property owners are pioneering solutions to additional challenges like: 

Building controls and data strategy are core to the success of all this, which has led to strong, trust-based relationships between large building owners and those MEP (Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing) contractors that have risen to the call to expand their practices into OT networking, open protocol building automation and digitalization. Conti Corporation is one such multi-trade firm who is working to deliver on on-going contracts for IT/OT services to large-building owners in the Midwest. 


Mitchell Reed, a Division Manager with Conti, had this to say about a retrofit project involving a skyscraper property and adjoining buildings in a Detroit downtown plaza: “The customer asked us to standardize their Building Management System (BMS) deployment across their campus portfolio, allowing the operators to have a single pane of consistent glass to operate the facilities. The overarching challenge for this project was the sheer size of the integration. We needed to accommodate data from all the equipment and devices serving more than 50 floors of diverse space utilization − including open office space, restaurants, and plant & operations. 50+ floors, 60,000+ points, 6 different protocols, and a multitude of control lines. We needed to put this jigsaw together in a way that is unified and useful to building operators” 

This Conti project involved integration to Siemens, Honeywell, Distech, Trane, Circon and Johnson Controls controller lines. The building services within the project’s scope included HVAC, energy metering, steam monitoring, gas detection and envelope pressurization.  along with a migration from legacy Niagara AX to N4 JACE controllers. Conti also replaced out-of-date proprietary-protocol controllers with open-protocol JACE controllers. In addition to all this integration work, the job of standardizing tags for data inter-operability and developing the graphical user interface was a primary focus.

“Integrating so much existing equipment inevitably leads to the discovery of mechanical issues present in such a large system,” Reed continues, “Half the battle of improving existing systems is in finding and replacing the equipment that has likely not worked properly for a long time. We assist our customers in addressing these issues and we get their buildings back to a stable state. Doing this work requires the continuous building of relationships with customer stakeholders, other contractors and equipment vendors—all while helping our customers reach their goals from an operational perspective.”


High-Performance “Future Ready Total Building Solutions” 
High-Performance “Future Ready Total Building Solutions” 


Both the Conti team and the customer recognized that one of the first issues that needed addressing was moving to a supported N4 version of Niagara Framework® software and off legacy hardware. Reed challenged his Lead Programmer, Jonathan Bowes, to find a way to complete an AX-to-N4 JACE 8000 migration in under one hour. Bowes not only met that challenge but exceeded it, bringing the time needed to replace a legacy JACE down to less than 20 minutes. Conti has successfully migrated 28 JACEs in seven buildings for this customer. From the owner’s perspective, the value of this innovation can be measured both in the energy costs saved by completing the retrofit sooner and less downtime and potential for occupant inconvenience. 


Completion of this controls retrofit and upgrade to N4 across the portfolio sets this customer up for a regular cadence of software updating going forward, so that these properties always have the advantage of Niagara’s newest features and cyber-defenses. Another outcome of the project is that databases originating from more than eight different temperature controls contractors have been standardized—meaning common naming conventions and metadata tagging.  

Conti set forth a standardized system that all contractors adhere to.  Mitchell Reed explains it this way: “We wanted to support a data presentation layer that flows like other modern-day applications, providing data with understandable names and not acronyms. When an operator navigates the buildings through our GUI, we aim to provide a simple top-down approach, where campus buildings and equipment are rendered consistently. Whether the downstream device is a Siemens, Honeywell, Distech, Trane, Circon or Johnson Controls brand, the look, feel and operation of the Building Management System is unified and consistent.”

Conti could count on standardized data interoperability because all these brands support Niagara. And it had great flexibility to customize the user interface down to equipment-level details. Conti needed both to deliver on this customer’s project goals. One additional bankable advantage to Conti’s open-protocol and standardized data management approach: for future maintenance work, this customer will be well positioned to have jobs competitively bid by multiple temperature controls contractors.  The pool of Niagara-certified technicians is so much bigger than that of any individual brand. It has been simply good business all around for anyone that wants to thrive in this era of IT/OT convergence to add Niagara to their skillset.


Conti is a nationally respected multi-trade contractor with an impressive history of quality and service. Since 1969, Conti has led the industry in the development of design and construction solutions that address job requirements while surpassing performance expectations. Today, Conti performs the complete lifecycle of construction services from design/build to field installation, training and maintenance for an array of services. To learn more, visit: www.conticorporation.com.


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