October 2011

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Let's Get Small

That’s where the future potential of the building automation and control systems market is – small buildings automation. 

Frank Miraglia,
Vice President,
FMS2K Associates, Inc.

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In the August 2002 issue of automatedbuildings.com, I wrote an article titled “Does Size Really Matter”. One of the key aspects of the article was a focus on the overall size and  composition of the commercial buildings market here in the United States. That information, as it turned out, was not very difficult to come by at all. Starting in 1979, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration has been conducting a survey, the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey or CBECS, that provides us with very useful data. The CBECS collects information on the stock of U.S. commercial buildings, their energy-related building characteristics and their energy consumption and expenditures. Commercial buildings include all buildings in which at least half of the floorspace is used for a purpose that is not residential, industrial or agricultural, so they include building types that might not traditionally be considered "commercial," such as schools, correctional institutions and buildings used for religious worship. The target population of the survey consists of all commercial buildings in the United States with more than 1,000 square feet of floor space. Unfortunately, the results of the last CBECS, conducted in 2007, will not be made public. The following statement from the EIA addresses the reason for this:

“EIA regrets to report that the 2007 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) has not yielded valid statistical estimates of building counts, energy characteristics, consumption and expenditures. Because the data do not meet EIA standards for quality, credible energy information, neither data tables nor a public use file will be released.“

A review of the 2003 data will still provide a very relevant picture of the size and composition of the commercial buildings market for us. The numbers from that survey are fairly staggering. The survey results listed the number of commercial buildings present in the year 2003 at 4.86 million. Those buildings comprised a total of 71.6 billion square feet of floorspace. Approximately 2.6 million buildings were in the smallest size category (1,001 - 5,000 ft²) with another 948,000 buildings in the next larger category (5,001 - 10,000 ft²). Simple math tells us that 3.5 million of the 4.86 million total, or roughly 72% of the total, are less than 10,000 ft² in size. This is precisely the reason I say “Let’s Get Small”.  Make no mistake about it, that’s where the future potential of the building automation and control systems market is – small buildings automation. 

Armed with that specific knowledge, manufacturers should be focused on developing, if they haven’t already, products that can deliver today’s cutting edge technology to this segment of the commercial buildings market. These products should be priced to make their deployment economically feasible. It seems reasonable to assume a building owner isn’t going to invest $15,000 or more into a system for his 3,000 ft² building - no matter what the “bells & whistles” look and sound like. These products should also be fairly simple to set up and use and not require proprietary software and licenses in order to work. The end game is to give the building owner a simple, affordable and highly functional product which will allow him to maximize his use of the product and, subsequently, get the most return on his investment. Manufacturers who can deliver these types of products should be very successful in getting their fair share of this market. Fortunately, there are already manufacturers who have recognized the opportunity that the small buildings automation market presents, have started down this path and are providing these solutions. Here are just a few examples of products that are available right now:

MAMAC Systems: Maverick

MAMAC Systems: Maverick
The Maverick family of products are IP addressable network appliances available in a number of different configurations. Typical equipment control applications {which can be based on setpoint, time schedule or both} for the Maverick include heat pumps, PTACs, RTUs and split systems. The Maverick can also be used in monitoring only applications, like server rooms, “walk in” refrigerator/freezer boxes and building/tenant electrical consumption and demand. Launch any web browser, enter the default IP address and connect to the appliance. There is no proprietary software or license needed in order for the product to work. The Maverick serves up static web pages with dynamic data updates every second or two. The above example is an actual data logging page served up by a Maverick thermostat controller appliance. The product is specifically targeted to the small buildings market in price but not in performance. Every model of the Maverick presently available is less than $500.00. The building owner can harvest useful, real time data from the Maverick, be in total control of his environment and receive alarm notifications via e-mail when there is a problem. Fast food locations, retail stores, bank branches, “portable” classrooms in school districts, library branches and churches are just some of the typical small buildings that can benefit from the installation of this product. There are case studies available on the manufacturer’s website.

KMC Controls: FlexStat

KMC Controls: FlexStat The FlexStat is an intelligent, wall mounted thermostat/controller. It also happens to be a native BACnet Advanced Application Controller {B-AAC} as well. The FlexStat requires no proprietary software or license to setup and operate. The FlexStat comes with an on board library of programs for a variety of applications: heat pumps, fan coil units, rooftop units and air handling units. Menu screens allow for the user to easily configure the FlexStat using the buttons on the front of the FlexStat. There are humidity and motion sensing options available as well as inputs for adding an outside air temper-ature sensor and fan status sensor, for example. The FlexStat also provides the building owner with the future option of networking these products together {BACnet MS/TP} for integration into a “front end”, or graphical user interface. Any location where a commercial programmable thermostat would be considered for installation, like restaurants, small commercial office buildings and churches, would be a candidate for a FlexStat. A comparable FlexStat is more expensive than a high end commercial programmable thermostat but provides more features. Typical price range is $250.00 to $400.00 for a FlexStat, dependent on the model.

CatNet Systems: CatNet HMI CH-1
CatNet Systems: CatNet HMI CH-1 The CH-1 is a self contained, Adobe Flash® based server that provides a graphical user interface for products that use an assortment of communicaton protocols. The CH-1 comes equipped with BACnet/IP, BACnet MS/TP, Modbus I/P, Modbus RTU {RS485} and LON drivers. Animated graphic screens, scheduling, trending, alarm notification via e-mail and runtime accumulation are just some of the features available in the CH-1, as seen in the following screen captures.

Screen CapturesNo proprietary software or license, nor knowledge of HTML, XML, Flash, JavaScript or any other programming language, is required to set up and use the CH-1. With the CH-1 and some inexpensive input/output modules, a comprehensive system that can control HVAC equipment and lighting, for example, can be deployed by the building owner. Another example would be the addition of a CH-1 to a network of KMC FlexStat con-trollers initially installed to work in stand alone mode. The CH-1 would “web enable” the network of FlexStat controllers and provide the owner with all of the additional features that the CH-1 offers. Typical price range for the CH-1 is $900.00 to $1,000.00.

Hopefully, we will continue to see new, innovative products targeted for this market. As long as the products are made readily accessible, easy to setup and operate and provide real value for a reasonable price it should prove to be an interesting future for the small buildings automation market.

About the Author

Frank Miraglia, Vice President, FMS2K Associates, Inc.
Founder and principal consultant Frank Miraglia officially launched FMS2K Associates, Inc. in March of 2003 in order to provide the demanding, rapidly evolving controls market with the quality products and services needed to sustain and propel its seemingly limitless growth potential. As a multi-faceted company, offering a combination of state of the art products, consultative services and training seminars, FMS2K Associates, Inc. is uniquely qualified to provide your business with the solutions necessary to achieve both present and future success.


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