February 2017

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The Future of BAS Manufacturers

I believe that analytics and artificial intelligence needs to trickle down into the firmware of DDC controllers to have the maximum impact. 

Ira Goldschmidt

Ira Goldschmidt, P.E., LEEDŽAP
Engineering Consultant,
Goldschmidt Engineering Solutions

Contributing Editor

As published
Engineered Systems 
February Issue - BAS Column

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I’d like to continue my exploration of the present/future BAS challenges by addressing….

Where Have All of the Manufacturers Gone?

Over the past 35yrs. or so we have seen two expansions and contractions in the number of commercial controls manufacturers.  Prior to the 1980’s dawn of DDC, there were the “Big 5“ manufacturers of pneumatic controls: Barber-Colman, Honeywell, Johnson Controls (“JCI”), MCC Powers (now Siemens) and Robertshaw.

Since then there’s been the:

  1. 1st Wave of DDC Manufacturers – Microprocessor technology in the late 1970’s led to the first DDC Controllers.  These products were introduced by a small group of startup companies.  While the “Big 5” were playing, catch-up others entered the market.  This led to an exponential growth of DDC manufacturers that lasted for about 10 years and the creation of dozens of “BAS” manufacturers.
  2. First Contraction – This growth began to reverse in the late 1980’s.  The “Big 5” had caught up with the DDC trend, and many of the start-ups failed due to the challenges of our industry. 
  3. “Open Protocol” Wave of DDC Manufacturers – The LonWorks ecosystem provided a relatively easy means of entry for this next wave of new manufacturers.
  4. 2nd Contraction – Growing acceptance of LonWorks and BACnet led to a commoditization and increased pricing pressure on DDC controllers. This added financial pressure on the smaller manufacturers opened the door for larger manufacturers to buy up smaller LonWorks and BACnet manufacturers as a simpler path to adopt these protocols.

The second contraction has seemingly led a return of the “Big 5”: Honeywell, JCI, Schneider, Siemens, and Tridium.  Is this ‘Back to the Future’? - yes and no.  Yes because, like the 1970’s days of pneumatics, the lack of a “market disruptor” has led to a stasis in technical advancement.  However, history never repeats itself perfectly, so there are some important differences:

contemporary What does this mean for the future?  One possibility is the market acceptance of the Tridium platform as a de facto standard.   This could lead to a further implosion of the manufacturer choices.  I doubt that this will happen given the strength of JCI/Siemens/Schneider whose main offerings are not Tridium-based.  But even without this Tridium “takeover” I only see further contraction in the market.  More of the non-“Big 5” manufacturers will continue to disappear unless they start offering some trend-setting technical advances.

Fortunately, a new market disruption cycle is underway which could lead to another expansion of BAS manufacturers.  There is an overwhelming need for the application of more intelligence to BAS’s (why are manually-tuned PID loops still the norm?).  Facility Analytics is already showing some promise of providing this “intelligence” and perhaps being this market disruptor.  However, this technology currently operates “above” the BAS level - will this continue and further the commoditization of DDC controls?  Hopefully not….

Instead, I believe that analytics and artificial intelligence needs to trickle down into the firmware of DDC controllers to have the maximum impact.  Who will be the market disrupters that make this happen and lead to the next expansion?


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