Article - September 2001
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So while these initiatives to create standard communication protocols in new control devices have created opportunities for constructing open system environments, the problem of integration and interoperability still exist because of the economics of inherited systems. 

Leo Quinn, President, 
Europe, Middle East and Africa 

contemporary As energy costs continue to rise worldwide, more and more companies are searching for better ways to control energy expenditures and improve energy conservation efforts. According to the Association for Energy Conservation, the United Kingdom spends more than £50 billion on fuel each year. Government officials estimate that investment in more energy conservation efforts could reduce that cost by 20 per cent annually.

In an effort to reduce one of their largest capital expenditures - energy - companies are seeking inexpensive solutions to control their utility costs. Many companies have begun investing in powerful Internet-enabled building automation and energy management software systems that allow them to access and control their energy-intensive building devices and systems in real-time via a standard Web browser. These products are giving companies the power to extract critical energy data from existing building systems and analyse that information to make intelligent procurement decisions. For instance, building managers can better determine where energy is being wasted, such as consistently lighting, heating or cooling an area of a building or an entire building when it is not being used.

The life cycle cost benefits of such systems are many. First, companies are able to protect their initial investments in existing building devices and avoid the enormous capital costs of replacing existing systems. Second, they optimise manpower by allowing companies to manage all of their systems in one building or across multiple buildings from a Web browser. Finally, these systems reduce maintenance costs. Many of today's systems feature alarm capabilities that allow companies to set limits or events on energy use. If a building device breaks down or is not performing at a preset limit, the system will notify the building manager via page, e-mail or fax to correct the problem.

Challenges of Today's Software Systems
In order for businesses to truly understand their company's energy use and costs, their energy management software system must be able to integrate multi-vendor building control systems, diverse energy meters and information databases from multiple locations to achieve real-time energy usage and cost management. In the world of building control products, there are thousands of these systems that have been built with their own protocol/language. This makes integration between products from different vendors a complicated and expensive task. As a result, building managers have been unable to fully operate these proprietary systems from their software systems.

To support these technologies, the energy systems and building controls industries in the UK and Europe have moved to establish professional standards in building control devices and systems. One of their top initiatives with this movement has been to promote the use of open standard communication protocols, such as BACnet, ModBus and LonWorks, to the leading building control manufacturers.

Open standard protocols allow products, or systems, from one supplier to communicate to products or systems from another supplier. If adopted and integrated by all OEMs, open system technologies in building control devices would permit the interlinking of different building services such as lighting, chillers and air handling units, with today's Internet-enabled building automation and energy management software applications. Businesses would be able to seamlessly access and control all of their building systems and devices - regardless of make, model or manufacturer - throughout an entire facility or group of facilities.

Inherited Systems
Two relating issues are slowing the progress of this professional standard movement. One is the presence of thousands of inherited building devices that exist and were not built with open standard communication protocols. The other is the absence of truly interoperable Web-enabled software.

It is a fact that the use of open or 'standard' communication protocols (such as in the building, industrial and home automation industries) are becoming more widely accepted and adopted by the leading manufacturing companies in Europe. Many newly constructed commercial and industrial buildings are being equipped with these systems and their chosen protocols, making it easier for building managers to integrate and capture critical energy data from all of their systems.

However, new buildings and systems account for a fraction of the total market. Existing buildings with older devices and systems were not built on such open, standard protocols. Consequently, administrators choose to maintain their inherited systems rather than replace them and thus are unable to fully integrate all of their systems. Replacing inherited systems involves enormous re-engineering and installation costs. Though the new systems may be better and more energy efficient, their costs do not support an upgrade for many building owners.

So while these initiatives to create standard communication protocols in new control devices have created opportunities for constructing open system environments, the problem of integration and interoperability still exist because of the economics of inherited systems. Until now.

The Solution - Tridium Inc.
One company, which has been leading the effort to develop Internet-enabled software applications that integrate new and inherited building systems, is Tridium Inc.

Tridium's Vykon software suite solves the challenge of managing multiple communication standards and multi-vendor control devices used in today's building facilities by allowing companies to access and control both new and inherited building systems - regardless of manufacturer, platform or communication standard - via a Web browser.

The foundation of the company's technology is its universal Niagara Frameworkô infrastructure. The Niagara Framework's open Java-based platform converts devices and their proprietary protocols into what is known as software 'objects'. With this object modelling, Vykon can 'talk' to new and inherited systems using their 'native' protocol and respective networks, regardless of make, model or manufacturer. As a result, end-users can now access and control their diverse building systems while protecting their investments in inherited systems.

In addition, Niagara utilises enterprise-level software standards such as TCP/IP, HTTP and XML to allow access to any control system via the Internet. The end result: users can seamlessly integrate their systems in order to read real-time energy data and send commands to and from different devices. They can take immediate action to help manage energy consumption and costs, correct comfort problems, or do whatever else is necessary for smooth and concise building operations - from anywhere around the world via the Internet.

Vykon in Use
Since its launch, Tridium has enjoyed rapid success in North America. For example, a successful application of Vykon by Enron involved a 'lights out' facility that provided metered cooling and compressed air to a manufacturing plant that specialises in a variety of woven fibre products, such as the fabric sheets used in everyday clothes dryers to soften fabrics. Enron's challenge was to integrate and control the company's air compressing system that used ModBus protocols, the chillers that used BACnet, and the meters that monitor power usage, which used LonMark technology.

Tridium's Web-enabled Vykon software integrated these systems seamlessly allowing Enron to monitor and manage the production of the utilities, in this case cooling and compressed air, and to actually bill the customer for consumption without ever having to set foot in the plant. As a result, Enron was able to bring added value service to its customers and the end-user received a guaranteed supply of the utilities needed to keep production going without the headaches of managing multiple control systems and fear of interruptible power.

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