September 2005

BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
BACnet Testing Laboratories

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A View From The Outside Looking In
Building low voltage sub-systems and the future

John C. Greenwell,
IBS Sales Engineer
Continental Electrical Construction Company, LLC

For purposes of this discussion, I am going to make the assumption that everyone has accepted that open systems are the future. Furthermore, I will not discuss the merits of BACnet or LON, as the future will most likely not include these two. In my opinion, IP utilizing XML / SOAP will become the standard for all systems. The driving force to the IP enabled terminal devices will be the utilization of PoE (Power of Ethernet). Electrical installation costs drop significantly using a single cable approach. These new breed of controllers will not require any proprietary set up tools, just a web browser. Their set up shouldn’t look much different than setting up a Linksys wireless router.

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Wireless mesh networking will have an impact on the sensor to controller cabling but not controller to controller. If a controller requires power it probably doesn’t make sense to enable it for wireless. Keep in mind that the technology must make economic sense; this will be accomplished by reducing the installed cost.

These assumptions, lead me to the next questions.

Who is going to make sure that the BAS and Card Access systems are programmed to share data for interoperability? Could it be the systems integrator? But who is the systems integrator? Is it the controls contractor, the security contractor or maybe the IT contractor? If you browse the web sites for BAS, Security, Card Access or even Fire Alarm systems, they all claim to be a systems integrator. Non-traditional players say they are in the building integration market also; HP and Cisco come to mind. Who is best equipped to tackle the communication infrastructure, the distribution of data, and the interoperability between systems? Who is going to accomplish a specified sequence of operation involving disparate systems? This integration may be as simple as sharing an outside air sensor or as complex as a hospital baby monitoring system. The baby monitoring system must be integrated with the security system for annunciation and alerting the appropriate personnel, with the elevator controls to deny egress from that floor, with the access control system to lock down the unit and finally the fire alarm system to override everything in case of fire. This is but one example of the type of integration that is possible, let your own creativity be the limiting factor once systems are truly integrated.

My definition of a systems integrator is probably different than most. Just because you can make a chiller communicate with a BAS system doesn’t make you a systems integrator. The systems integrator is the entity responsible for the distribution of data from disparate systems to their intended users through a shared IP network. They would also be responsible for a much higher level of data integration; this integration happens at the enterprise level and provides valuable data for the purposes of building operations and cost reduction. The systems integrator will have less to do with controls and more to do with building operations. They will have the knowledge of how to derive value from the integration of systems. They could be an ESCO or a building management company. Whoever they are, their knowledge of building operations will only be one part of the equation. They must have an in depth understanding of IT systems and be able to work closely with the IT departments. It could be that the IT professionals currently managing business applications will become the systems integrator. It is easier to train an IT professional about building operations than a building engineer about IT systems.

Roadblocks to Integration

Industry resistance; the major controls groups will not change until market pressures force them to. The pressure could be from end users or from new technologies applied by IT companies.

Today, the construction model has building systems specified under several different sections and each with different contractors responsible for their installation. Until the construction model is modified to create a specific division for the integration of these systems we are left with the “it’s not my fault mentality”. CSI changed the master spec back in 2004 but it is rarely seen in use today. Although the master spec says what to do, the who and how is left undefined.

contemporary Traditionally the IT network design is not addressed until after the construction process is underway. This must change. The design of an integrated system must be done at the planning phase. Systems will need to be robust enough to carry data not normally associated with the IT infrastructure. Security systems incorporating IP cameras and Access Controls sharing data with BAS all create potential bottlenecks for data. It will take IT systems designers to do this work; you can’t simply specify that all systems will use the IT network. Careful thought must given early in the design process. IDF closets may need to be expanded to incorporate building controllers normally located elsewhere in the building. Access to the IDF closets by non-IT personnel will need to be addressed. Standards for cable colors, virtual network address schemes and fault tolerance will need to be addressed. An under designed system will be expensive to fix if problems arise later.

There is no doubt that TCP/IP and IT technology is the only way for true building integration to occur. In the near future, manufacturers of IT based building systems will lead the way. Once these mavericks capture market share the majors will follow suite.

So what is the future?

DDC controls and security systems will become a commodity not unlike cell phones, inexpensive highly functioning devices sold on the open market. OEM markets will expand far beyond what we see today. Engineers will be able to specify the best boiler management system and have it arrive pre-programmed for a specific job. The same with be true for air handling systems; simply specify the best controller for this application and have it factory installed, programmed and tested before being delivered to the job site. You need only look at the flurry of M&A activity to see the market strategies forming. JCI is buying mechanical contractors, a building management company and now York International. Schneider Electric bought TAC, Andover and Power Measurement. The independent HVAC / BAS contractor should be looking for a new business.

Key market trends that support this:

Since in the future, systems will be sharing data across the IT network, ultimate care must be taken in the design process to insure fault tolerance. This can be difficult in the design stages because of cost constraints; the idea is to save installation cost. Where and when does it become necessary to duplicate sensor information across systems? Do you really want someone working on the access control system to inadvertently shut down the BAS equipment because of occupancy data being shared? This is why one source of responsibility is the key to the successful installation and management of the integrated system.

The future remains to be seen but the next few years should make for an entertaining ride. With so many companies fighting for the top spot on the integration pyramid the ultimate winner should be the consumer.


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