March 2014

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
(Click Message to Learn More)

Crystal Clear

The Automation Technology in one of the world’s Greenest Buildings.

Chris Topham

Chris Topham
Abtec Building Technologies Ltd

New Products
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Site Search
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Past Issues
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Covering over 6,300 square metres, The Crystal, a sustainable cities initiative by Siemens, is a unique, all electric building in the heart of London’s Green Enterprise District.  It represents Siemens’ expertise in building the technology for sustainable cities and communities for the future.  Using solar power and ground source heat pumps to generate its own energy, it has set the benchmark for sustainability.  The building is the first to achieve the highest sustainable building accolades from the world’s two leading accreditation bodies, LEED and BREEAM.

Abtec Building Technologies were commissioned to install and manage the KNX infrastructure in February 2012.

The Crystal

The Crystal is situated at the Royal Docks, London

Building management and control technologies play a vital part in reducing the building’s energy consumption.  The Crystal has over 2,500 individual building control devices including; window and blind actuators; HVAC controls; and lighting devices.  Dave Watkins, Commercial Director, Abtec Building Technologies, explains “The Crystal project was a very ambitious build.  There are few projects with this volume of connected building control devices.”  These devices create the highest levels of energy efficiency when connected and working together. 

The Challenges

Dave Watkins“We had three main challenges,” explains Watkins, “first, managing the deployment of KNX devices; second, converging the KNX and corporate IP network, and third, device interoperability”.  The database of connected devices included:

•    DALI lighting controllers
•    HVAC controllers
       -   VAV
       -   CHB
       -   FCU
•     Actuators
         -   Blinds
       -   Windows
       -   Roof vents
       -   Trend heating
•    Wall switches
•    Setpoint adjusters
•    Exhibition lighting
•    AV system interfaces
•    Fire alarm interfaces
•    Occupancy detectors
•    Weather station
•    Comfort sensors

These devices needed to integrate with a Building Management System (BMS).  Devices would need to broadcast their state to, and receive commands from, the BMS.

Challenge One: Controlling the Controllers

As with most large build projects there were many Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) subcontractors working on individual elements of the project.  Watkins quickly realised that the traditional way of working, each contractor installing their devices and then leaving the project, would cause problems.  “The building controls and KNX infrastructure were at the centre of the M&E elements of the project.  We needed to co-ordinate and manage how contractors connected to the KNX database, otherwise major delays could have occurred.”  Watkins explains.

Watkins and his team worked closely with the individual subcontractors.  He got them to send their devices to Abtec’s laboratories in Leicestershire, before installation.  Liaising with the subcontractors, the team pre-configured each device and allocated a KNX address.  These devices were then sent to The Crystal, ready for installation.

“There was a bit of reticence from the contractors to start with, but once we’d explained that this method would save time and repeat visits to The Crystal they quickly bought into the idea”, Watkins continues.

Abtec’s project management skills ensured that there was an industrious production line of activity.  Phil Peer, Project Manager, Abtec Building Technologies, comments “We used KNX ETS 4 to configure and download the application program into each device.  It was a huge task, by the launch we were on the 25th iteration of the project plan.”

This plan was executed effectively, and the devices were installed and commissioned on time.  Andy Chandler, Technology Manager Siemens UK, notes “I was impressed with the way the team put the KNX database at the heart of the project.  This saved precious time and resource”.

Challenge Two: Networking Success

Another unusual aspect of the project was the connection between the KNX devices and the BMS.  In this project the KNX infrastructure would share Siemens’ corporate IP network.  It’s a configuration that is becoming increasingly popular.  Watkins explains “We are seeing more KNX projects utilise the client’s IP network.  It’s definitely the way forward as it cuts costs for both the contractor and end user.” 

Converging those networks could create considerable challenges for many KNX integrators, but not Abtec.  It has a unique advantage.  The company’s sister organisation, Abtec Network Systems, is an IP networking specialist and often works with KNX integrators.  Its recent projects include deploying the IT infrastructure for National Grid’s new offices.

“The biggest risk in using the corporate network was KNX itself.  We didn’t want it multicasting telegrams over the IP network as this would clog up the IP network, causing chaos” says Watkins.  Abtec Network Systems had the answer.  Using its Cisco expertise the team devised a way of partitioning Siemens’ corporate LAN.  Segmenting the LAN, using the Cisco VLAN Trunking Protocol, would mean that both sets of data, KNX and corporate, would travel over the network without interference.  It’s as if the virtual LANs (VLANs) were physically separate networks.  “Creating VLANs was the most secure way to tackle this issue,” says Watkins “we are fortunate to have Abtec Network Systems’ Cisco expertise at hand.”

Challenge Three: Device and Network Interoperability

[an error occurred while processing this directive] The final challenge was the large amount of data that needed to flow from one protocol to another.  This device interoperability challenge is best exemplified with The Crystal’s boardroom.  The 150m2 room contains 117 DALI LED and fluorescent light fittings, and five floor ascending blinds.  The challenge came when Abtec learnt how the client wanted to control the room’s lighting and blinds.  Siemens wanted control in two ways.  First, an IP touchscreen situated in the boardroom, second, a smartphone compatible website accessible wirelessly from the corporate network.

“This presented some interesting issues,” explains Watkins “the touchscreen and smartphones are IP devices, the blinds KNX and the lighting DALI over KNX.  I had to make sure that they could communicate with each other.  The second issue was that the boardroom is one room in a sophisticated infrastructure.  I needed absolute control of the network as I didn’t want to unnecessarily overload the KNX bus.”  To add to this complexity the touchscreen would display outdoor temperature and humidity levels.  This information would be supplied to the device through a BACnet network.  The potential security risk here is that both the corporate and BMS network could be open to abuse, if configured incorrectly. 

Watkins instigated a workshop with Andreas Schirm, Siemens Switzerland Ltd, and BAS Ltd.  Together they could test the interoperability between Schirm’s touchscreen, BAS’ BACnet IP network and Abtec’s KNX IP network.  At Abtec’s laboratories Watkins built a series of VLAN networks, replicating the infrastructure at The Crystal.  After rigorously testing several ideas, he was satisfied that he had found an acceptable solution.

“The start of this solution was installing two virtual network interface points into the touchscreen,” says Watkins.  Creating several VLANs for KNX and BACnet, using Cisco routers, would enable traffic to connect with the touchscreen securely.  The touchscreen could interact with each protocol independently, mitigating some of the security risks.  “I tested the networks, checking for penetration opportunities and points of failure, paying close attention to wireless access points.  With appropriate network security measures I managed to harden the networks, locking them down with no detrimental effects to the traffic on the networks.  Siemens employees now have full control over the environment in the boardroom, which should lead to more productive meetings.


The building has since gone on to win numerous awards, including the prized British Council of Offices National Innovation Award.  It has also achieved the highest international sustainability credentials for a building, LEED Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding.  This makes The Crystal one of the most sustainable buildings in the world.  At the heart of that efficiency is Abtec’s KNX integration.  As Andy Chandler, Technology Manager Siemens UK, comments, “Abtec's KNX, DALI and IT skills made the deployment much smoother.  The team demonstrated great leadership qualities, overcoming a number of difficult challenges throughout the project.  Working with Abtec has been a pleasure.  The team's project management skills, significant KNX, DALI and IP networking expertise make Abtec easy to recommend for other projects."

Equipment List:

Push Button Platinum 2g (1-fold) 7172
Push Button Platinum 4g (2-fold) 7174
Push Button Platinum 6g (3-fold) 7176

Power supply unit N 125/21 (230V/640mA)
Line backbone coupler N 140/03
KNX / DALI Gateway N 141/02
IP-Router N 146/02
Push button interface UP 220/21
Push button 1-fold UP 221 DELTA i-system
Motion Detector AP 251
Weather Station GPS AP 257/22
Presence detector – brightness sensor UP 258/E11
Presence detector - constant light UP258/E21
Motion Detector UP 258 Delta i-system
Scenes- / Event Controller N 305
Combi Sunblind Actuator N 501
Venetian blind actuator N 523/04
Switching Actuator UP 562/31
Switching actuator N 567/01, (8 Amp)
Text display UP 587/01

Siemens HVAC:
AQR2570N Flush Mount Sensor
PX KNX (S-Mode)
RMS705B Switching and
Monitoring Unit

WindowMaster A/S:

About Abtec Building Technologies Ltd

Based in Market Harborough Abtec Building Technologies Ltd provides technologies that enable organisations to reduce the running costs of their buildings.  Those technologies include the intelligent, automated control of a building’s lighting, heating and ventilation.  These help an organisation monitor, manage and reduce the amount of energy used by a building.
Recent projects include:
•    Providing the lighting and environmental controls for Damien Hirst’s new gallery in  London
•    Audi City London – providing the lighting controls for the world’s first digital car showroom.

About Abtec Network Systems Ltd

From its head office in Market Harborough Abtec Network Systems Ltd helps UK businesses get more from their IT budget.  The company has 22 years of experience in helping businesses cut their operating costs.  It is one of a handful of Authorised Partners of BT, one of two Strategic Partners of Virgin Media Business and recently became the only O2 wholesale partner in the East Midlands.  Recent projects include:
•    Installing the communications infrastructure for Nation Grid’s new office in Derby.  This included providing a new telephone communications system, video conferencing services data network.
•    Building a comprehensive ‘disaster recovery certified’ IT data centre for the Darlington Building Society
•    Installing and maintaining Market Harborough Building Society’s data network, IT and telephony.  This enables the society to focus more resource on its customers.

About the Author

Spending 15 years at BT gave Chris Topham a useful foundation in IP networking security.  He is currently sharing his IP and network skills with BMS, M&E and system integrators to help contractors address network security issues.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[Click Banner To Learn More]

[Home Page]  [The Automator]  [About]  [Subscribe ]  [Contact Us]


Want Ads

Our Sponsors