September 2011

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Overview of open control language discussions

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A request for industry input resulted in the following assembly of information about open control languages.

The BACnet Linkedin Group resulted in over 30 comments with some great input.

I recommend that you read the complete discussion but here is a brief overview of the input I found interesting.

I invited the industry to interact and give me their take on the future of control languages with articles, emailed comments and interactions with our and other Linkedin groups and other on line blogs. We are an industry in transition and must all do our part to speed our evolution.

My purpose for this summary/overview is to peak your interest to join this great online discussion. You will need to read the complete discussion to make any sense of the snippets below.

David Fisher • Ken et al,
This is a great and very long overdue topic. Regrettably there is way too much emotion and religious fervor wrapped up in decades of vested interest for this to make the quick progress that it should.

developing a common programming methodology for BAS is, in my view, the single most important task for the industry for the next 20 years.  There are some really big obstacles though. As always, philosophical chasms separate the industry.

1. What kind of language is best?

Procedural programming, graphical programming, ladder logic, function block, etc. There are advocates on all sides. As George Thomas points out the IEC 1311 concept of having multiple creation styles and a common intermediate object code is a strong idea from an acceptance perspective. Probably that's a good place to start as otherwise it will be a bitter religious war with only losers in the end.

Winston HetheringtonKen, I believe David is right on with respect to assessing the industry. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is "change" itself. The one thing we need most to move forward is "change".

Should there be a movement to find a common language to express precise control logic. I say :yes". Are we prepared to change the industry? Is the industry prepared to change their way of doing business? Are owner/operators aware of the benefits and will to stand firm to get them? I would suggest that present the owner/operator decision makers are not fully appraised of the issues amd therefore would not be aware of the need to demand changes of this nature, therefore the challenge first of all is to reach the financial decision makers and sew the "seed for change".

I cannot think of a better way to start than to publish articles in . The potential is great, but the journey may be long.

Daryl ClasenI have to agree with Mr. Fisher, and not only about the metric system adoption in the US. We have had a nice acceptance of introducing IEC61131 programming in our products as it allows for some flexibility in programming. So you can choose and mix/match programming styles from ladder, functional block, structured text, sequential function, and C. So, it allows an individual to utilize what is most comfortable as not everyone has the same backround. I was rather skeptical of this in a practical environment but I'm finding better compatibility between vendors then I thought I would. The bacnet/LON differences are navigable and programming can be designed in such a way that you can present bacnet and LON data simultaneously.At any rate, IEC61311 is a standard that has been around awhile. But, this is already leading into IEC 61499. IEC 61499 is stated to be an "open architecture for the next generation of distributed control and automation" based on a concept of functional blocks. The idea is that it is interoperable, portable and configurable by multiple companies design tools.So, I would invite any interested to see our IEC61131 interface and our IEC61499 building automation products at the Loytec Buildings Under Control Symposium this October.

Bob Old I had to search long and hard to find a point, about which to differ with Dave: "...developing a common programming methodology for BAS is, in my view, the single most important task for the industry..." Even more important than this is a common commissioning tool. But one multi-decade, career-consuming hurdle at a time.

Daryl Clasen • What is "simple"?
"IEC 61131-3 is the first vendor independent standardized programming language for industrial automation. Established by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) a worldwide standard organization founded in 1906 and recognized worldwide for standards in the controls industry by over 50 countries. The standard is already well established in Europe and is rapidly gaining popularity in North America and Asia as the programming standard for industrial and process control."

Winston HetheringtonKen,
This subject has generated considerable interest and If I am not mistaken the discussions are being covered in part, in three separate discussion groups (all of which have valid offerings). Would it not be better to forward all discussion into one group so as to not miss someone's input?

(This review is my take at that. Ken)

In my earlier input I had suggested that there are two industry groups that are the major stakeholders of this discussion, Real Estate owner/operators and control system manufacturers (in which I include integrators and installing contractors). Of these two there is only one which has the true hope for long term benefits and should be the ones voicing their desire for change. True owner/operators to this point have not joined the discussion, that I have observed. I would truly like to see that group join this discussion so as to put credibility to entire subject. Many in the industry are still trying to grasp the benefits "BACnet" has to offer. Could it be that many owner operators are not fully aware of the potential benefits of a "common programming language for buildings"? I think that this is a distinct possibility and that those readers from the owner/operator community are wondering just what this discussion group is getting excited about ( no put-down intended).

Feddel WhiteWinston,
You have had owner/operater input. I am just that. I have represented owners and been and still am an operator of BAS from JCI,Siemens to Andover to Reliable and Automated Logic. I work for The University Of Houston and drive the direction that building automation is deployed on the main campus. 

I am here hoping you guys will really want to hear our concerns,because simplifying and standardizing programming and being able to quickly learn it is of serious concern to us users.

So, could you all get on with it

John BroughOk. This is going to be contentious but I think is important to add a heavy dose of realism to this conversation.

The dialogue is very interesting to read and there is a huge amount of knowledge and experience talking here, however I am not sure that we have any input from the people that can actually make a unified control language for BMS/BAS happen.

A posting on the CABA group resultied in 10 comments. Please read the complete thread as this is just a sampling of discussion.

Simon KnightKen,
At what level do you envisage this open control language or do you think it should be generic across all levels (field, automation or management and now enterprise). One of the theories today is that systems are built up of fixed function controllers which includes packaged plant (FCU's, AHU's, chillers, pump sets etc) and also now packaged plantrooms and the mangement layer will be responsible for the cause and effect strategies between these controllers and provides the reporting and alarming. Are you suggesting for example that chillers should come with an open protocol and control language. And as we move more and more towards integrated/intelligent buildings, then should this be extended to include lighting control, cctv, access control, fire systems.

Open architectures such as oBIX and TOGAF are a starting point for standardisation but at the very top of the pyramid. It is going to need a gigantic push to move downwards.

I think this paper when complete will be a very interesting read.

Simon Knight
is a good starting point, but there is always Wiki :)

John Stocker There is no question that coding and protocols should be standardized for multiple reasons. Some that come to mind is Training which is hard to come by and expensive most lack training in multiple languages. Second Interoperability is paramount in today’s business world. The language must be flexible for interoperability, efficiency and productivity as well as user friendly. Without such standards we have all seen the chaos in this business

Roger Pena "Chaos in this business" My question to add to this topic is: Where is the incentive to standardize for Buildng Automation? Who is the incentive for, to make a standard type happen? Will there be profit for all involved who go to the standardization means? This is my general understanding why there is no standardization for Automative buildiings and my guess reasoning for the proprietary nature to this particular sector of business. The incentives are different verses a customer's home from my perspective. This is just my guess from my understanding of Building Automated sector. Show me the incentive for all involved and that should help out the effort for standardization.

J. Larry The incentive is in the volume of products which go to market. Right now the industry is fragmented. We have multiple vendors and customers partner with them individually and works for a while but once the customer service fails, the owner needs to rip it out and start new. Or often the vendor only does a part of the solution. Our industry is being held back.

Look at the IPhone and Adroid market and the apps available. That is a standard and in 2 years it is a billion dollar market. Its growth way exceeds the BAS market growth.

From emails across my desk

You were talking about a common control language.  Well CatNet uses Python which will run on a Windows or Linux machine.  The name comes from the Monty Python series.  It is open source and you are encouraged to contribute documentation that uses references from their shows. 

Python is a programming language that lets you work more quickly and integrate your systems more effectively. You can learn to use Python and see almost immediate gains in productivity and lower maintenance costs.

I don't see who will take the baton on the language thing. I see a couple if issues. Its esoteric -- very few of the end customers understand the issue or potential benefits so they can't push the mfg.

There isn't a strong second tier of independents in the market anymore. They almost all got acquired.

A standard requires participation of multiple organizations to make progress and where this effects the code in the controllers (programming) it will require involvement from the mfg. I am not too hopeful they will get involved.

Sedona really is the best example and could cause a groundswell but it will take a number of additional companies bringing Sedona devices to the market to create the critical mass. I am aware of a number of efforts to bring more companies into the Sedona camp that could potentially have a huge effect. And a universal programming tool can be developed for products that run the Sedona kernel. People are already talking about it but the necessary investment hasn't come together yet. I have hope their will be some announcements in this area in the coming 12 months.

I don't have an answer of how to move this forward. Some thoughts: ASHRAE could take it on, to develop the language and offer it to the world with their weight. Doesn't mean anyone would accept it (in our lifetime).

My sense is that Sedona is best positioned (it will take time though).

John Petze

Hi Ken,

Just came on your new article and frankly believe that the controls industry needs to go well beyond "evolving to an open protocol for control languages."  I make this bold statement as architect of the Logic One building automation system which I developed over thirty years ago and assume you are aware that the company that I founded (Novar Controls) is now a division of Honeywell.  The Logic One architecture was way ahead of the curve and the lessons learned have been quietly extended through years of applied research into architecture for a trusted computing infrastructure.  We are now in transition to form a national program to revolutionize computing where the Smart Grid is just one solution space.

In order to make the goals for this program more concrete, I attached a whitepaper that discusses the manner in which Cubicon will support the Smart Grid.  The attached presentation provides a picture of the larger scope of the program taking a national security focus.  I will be giving this talk at the upcoming Suits and Spooks Anti-Conference.  We are in discussion with several federal agencies to stand-up the Cubicon program.

We are interested in discussing ways in which thought leaders like yourself could participate.  Its time to move from evolutionary gains to engineering a revolution!


Sandy Klausner  Founder & CEO CoreTalk Corporation

As you can see by the above input there is a lot of opinions and good advice on how we should move forward.  Please join in our discussion on one of the groups or via email directly to me.  Your input is important.




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