January 2016

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Web Control History

Automated Logic Corporation attracted industry interest as they took the industry from BACnet to web-based controls in the early 1980s'.

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Steve Tom's article this month reminded me of the impact pioneers like Gerry Hull, Eric Craton, Dave Robin and Steve Tom had on our industry in the early days of DDC and web control.

Gerry Hull was the original President/CEO of Automated Logic Corporation, Kennesaw, GA, a company which developed and manufactures electronic hardware/software control systems for buildings. Gerry, Eric Craton and Dave Robin were the architects of the ALC systems.  They were with the company almost from the start, in the early 1980's whereas Steve Tom didn't join until 1996. It's been more than 40 years since I got my engineering degree, and I started working with HVAC before that as a high school intern for Robertshaw pneumatic controls in the 1960's

ALC was one of the pioneers taking their early DDC systems  proprietary controls to BACnet.  They were one of the first to offer a native BACnet system.  But they attracted much interest as they took the industry from BACnet to web-based controls.

During the early 1980s a similar evolution was occuring creating the Direct Digital Control industry in British Columbia. It was the best of time with the best of folks. It was a revolutionary time when the building automation industry was just starting to evolve from pneumatics to the newly rapidly evolving microprocessors and the concepts of DDC.

This piece talks to the 40 years of evolution in Building Automation and the development of BACnet  The first computer dedicated to monitoring building systems was installed in 1974 or 1975.

ALC helped lead in BACnet revolution but more significantly the were the early adopters and users of web services / XML.

I first heard about web services / XML at the AHR Expo in Atlanta 2001 in a brief meeting with Eric Craton and Steve Tom of Automated Logic, held in the hallway of the convention centre. Eric explained his vision of how web services would change everything. I can still see the excitement in his eyes. As I grasped what he was talking about my excitement also started to build. Eric warned me that all this stuff was pretty bleeding edge and many conventions needed to be established by the IT industry to make it really useful. Automated Logic's early entry into web-based control with a full java platform allowed them to provide a strong lead in how web services might unfold. 

To set the stage for the early days of web this interview with Gerry and Tom is a classic.

Industry Restructuring. Is it happening? an interview July 2001

July 2001 Tom wrote this article


Clearly all web-based control systems are not created equal!

In 2002 Eric and Dave wrote The Informational Model the Key to Integration.  Eric Craton was the head of Product Development and Dave Robin head of Software Development at Automated Logic Corporation. Dave had been active in both the BACnet and LON communities since 1995. Automated Logic's WebCTRL BAS offered integration capability between BACnet, LON, and the World Wide Web, as well as other enterprise-class interfaces like XML and SOAP.

There has been much attention paid to the relative merits of various protocols in the Building Automation industry. The key to successful integration lies not in the protocol, but in the information model that it represents.

This article became an classic defining the industries entry into web based everything

Information Model

In April 23, 2004 - Carrier Corporation, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX), has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Automated Logic Corporation, a technology leader in building automation systems

In November 2004 Steve wrote this interview again helping shape the industry

CtrlSpecBuilder - Answers from the developers

Sinclair:  Why did Automated Logic create this site?

Tom:  We realized there was a need for this service in our industry.  Building owners and design engineers frequently asked our dealers to help prepare specifications on building automation systems.  This technology has changed dramatically within the past few years, and there are even more changes coming.  Open protocols, web-based systems, cell phone access, XML, Web services – it’s tough enough for those of us who work with this every day to keep up with the new buzz words.  End users and design engineers have thousands of other things to worry about, and staying on top of the latest BAS technology may not be at the top of their list.  Most vendors will gladly give you a sample specification, but this spec will lock you into their product and won’t provide any sequences, point lists, or other information on the control algorithms to be used.  One of our dealers, DVL Automation, realized there was a need for a tool to help engineers create a non-proprietary specification that included these details.  They brought the idea to us, and we created CtrlSpecBuilder

New in 2006―BACnet International

The introduction of BACnet International sparked the interest of attendees at the BACnet Conference & Expo 2005. Eric Craton, President of the BACnet Manufacturers Association (BMA), spoke to attendees about the goals of the newly formed organization and what it means to the BACnet community.

The BMA has partnered with the BACnet Interest Group - North America (BIG–NA) to form this organization. Craton feels it was beneficial to join forces. “At the end of the day, end-users must realize some benefit from open systems. Manufacturers tend to focus on technical benefits, while end-users look for net results. Combining end-users with manufacturers in one organization will help keep everyone focused on adding value for the end-user.” Craton continues by saying that the bringing of these groups together will allow the acceleration of the development of tools and test processes that facilitate interoperable products and systems. “Testing and interoperability are important to everyone up and down the value chain. The creation of a larger organization will allow more resources to be brought to bear in this area.  The involvement of end-users in the process will also help us focus on testing in the areas that are the most important to them.”

contemporary In April 2009 Steve Tom provides this interview

Energy Efficiency and Comfort We have developed our Environmental Index, or EI, which uses the existing data from the building automation system. The EI can help owners prioritize upgrade projects, as it lets owners see which buildings are failing to provide a suitable work environment.

In March 2014 the ground work set by these pioneers is still having effect on industry

oBIX's new life in the OASIS

A quick history lesson and a new direction for oBIX (Open Building Information Xchange) and OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).

In October 2014 Steve Toms thoughts are part of this book

Automated Diagnostics & Analytics for Buildings - a Book Review

The industry owes a heart felt thanks to these pioneers

Gerry Hull, Eric Craton, Dave Robin and Steve Tom.

They all have my greatest respect.

So where is this all heading today?

I have extracted this from the pdf that is linked as the last word of Steve's article.


ALC Initiatives:

 We’ve talked about intrinsic analytics features that are built into the current WebCTRL package.

What can you expect in the future? ALC is incorporating FDD Alarming into its Equipment Builder

standard control program library. The leaking hot water valve that was responsible for the trend graph

shown in Figure 6 was identified using an experimental version of this logic which is shown in Figure 7 below.


Figure 7: FDD Alarm Logic

FDD alarms for VAV AHU’s and VAV terminal units are currently in development and should be released soon. FDD alarms will then be incorporated into other types of equipment.  By definition analytics involve the processing of data, which makes the storage and handling of data a key part of any analytics process. With its high bandwidth IP and ARC156 networks, distributed trending, and support for multiple industry standard databases, WebCTRL already provides a data friendly environment. Future releases of WebCTRL will include significant improvements in trendprocessing that will provide a 12x speed improvement in trend retrieval and a 120x improvement in trend storage. Whether this data is needed for a trend graph, a dashboard which summarizes data from the trend database, or an external analytics software package, the data will be there when it’s needed.

While dashboards are not often thought of as an analytics tool, they are a data visualization tool to communicate insight. ALC technicians and knowledgeable end users have created custom graphics pages to display data the customer wanted to see in a dashboard format, but the tools they used to create these pages were not designed with dashboards in mind. Future versions of WebCTRL will include an improved dashboard toolset that makes it easier to create the gauges, graphs, and other visuals needed to summarize building data in a compact dashboard. WebCTRL 6.0 already supports tablets and other mobile devices, and a goal of the dashboarding effort is to make it easy for users to view just the dashboards on their smart phones and tablets if that’s all they need to see, or to take advantage of the full WebCTRL graphical user interface (including dashboards) if they need to probe deeper.

Looking further into the future, ALC will roll out a new generation of control modules with dramatically improved memory, processing speed, and networking capabilities. This will significantly enhance support for existing analytics features, and it will provide the capability to write “companion programs” for analytics. Companion programs are designed to link to a graphic control program, read data from and write data to the control program, and perform analytical calculations without compromising the power and understandability of the underlying graphic control program. ALC will also implement Semantic Tagging in its control logic, utilizing standards being developed by the ASHRAE BACnet committee and Project Haystack to make it easier for third party analytics packages to locate and correctly interpret data in a WebCTRL system.

To summarize, WebCTRL is an analytics package. Its user friendly graphics, extensive trend support,intrinsic FDD alarm capabilities, and similar features provide the data visualization users need to guide their decision making. Existing add-on programs enhance this capability with graphic reports. ALC’s R&D team is working today to bring even better intrinsic analytics to future releases of WebCTRL and to enhance WebCTRL’s support for external analytics packages.


1. http://www.a2se.org.au/files/2013_Wall_A2SESummerStudy-AFDD.pdf

2. http://rtf.nwcouncil.org/NWPCC_SmallHVAC_Report(R3)Final.pdf


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