1 July 2002
The heat is on
By Ellen Fussell
Internet, integration, and interoperability are three words echoing through the halls of the once perceived as antiquated building automation systems (BASs) industry. Integrating BASs can result in systems that have the ability to sense changes in the air temperature through a building's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and contribute to the overall reliability of a process. Taking advantage of the Internet, using remote monitoring, and building interoperability through open protocol systems are some of the mantras users discuss throughout the BAS/HVAC community.
"The BAS market is finally embracing Internet and IT technologies . . . and must be capable of reinventing themselves to gain control of newly expanded . . . networks," the ARC Advisory Group (www.ARCweb.com) said in its five-year market analysis and technology forecast through 2006. The forecast asserted direct digital controls (DDCs) and HVAC reflect 55.1% of the BAS revenue, with security access coming in second at 21.4%. Yet it said suppliers have a ways to go, with a need to "redefine their system offerings more quickly than ever before to keep up with changes in technology." So what will it take to reach the top floor in the HVAC industry?
INTERNET PLAYS MAJOR ROLE
Web-based software suites and systems are a growing part of the HVAC integration industry. By putting the information over the Internet, facility managers get real-time data on energy usage and performance issues. Remote monitoring enables facility managers and their service providers to see mechanical failures as they happen. If an operator could pull out a palm pilot to check the status of a security system, he'd get a page way before an HVAC system failed.
The advantage of using the Internet is becoming more of an economic equation as the cost of telecommunications drops, said Karl Mahoney, trade channel leader for building control solutions at Honeywell in Minneapolis. "Historically, remote monitoring was done with dial-up or a leased line to maintain a permanent connection," Mahoney said. "But now with the Internet and the changes in the telecommunications industry, the cost of having a permanent connection is economically feasible. So if you have multiple sites and you want to continuously monitor them, you can do that."
Web-based controls "add a layer of complexity that people need to figure out so they can add accessibility to DDCs more easily," said Jay Santos, president and principal of Facility Dynamics Engineering Corp., a controls consulting firm in Columbia, Md. With Web-based controls, "there's opportunity for a consultant and commissioning providers to easily access a customer's control systems to give advice without having to be there," he said. Santos acknowledged this also brings up the whole security issue-"worrying about hackers."
Facility Dynamics has developed a diagnostic control, an autodiagnosis system that will look at historical data to tell what's wrong with the system automatically. "That's all possible because of the data these systems are capable of storing," Santos said. "The system can store and archive DDC data; embedded in that data is really the fact that a valve may be leaking and a damper may be stuck, wasting energy," he said.
Santos said there's a burgeoning industry on diagnostics tools, which "may replace the need for remote monitoring because remote monitoring requires an individual. Yet critical facilities will always need 24/7 monitoring," he said.
Other technologies allow users to put facility information over the Internet so a manager can access it through a computer, Palm Pilot, or Web-enabled wireless phone. The monitoring and control occurs through a PC in the facility, or the manager can get off-site updates from a Web-enabled cell phone or Palm Pilot to check the status of his systems. Through an Internet device placed in an HVAC unit, the facility manager can access information remotely from hard-to-reach locations.
Integrating the HVAC controls with business processes is critical in pharmaceuticals because "they need to make the products under certain conditions, and it's important to have the humidity and temperature in a defined space that matches whatever the batch needs," said Simon James, marketing leader for building automation at Honeywell in Minneapolis.
"No one's allowed to change the temperature set point without the right authorization," he said. "If there's a change, the system needs to track why and provide a lot of information so if there's a bad batch, they can go back and look at why it occurred."
The building management system, which sits on top of the equipment, provides a lot of checks, James said. "It tracks operators and what they do. We can set it up so critical points of control with the building need a second person to verify whether its OK to execute the control," he said.
The normal way to issue a control would be for someone on a computer screen to select a graphical element on a page and hit a key to make the temperature raise or lower 1°—or less—because the system has better granularity over the control than just a degree. "But with a pharmaceutical system, you'd need authorization to do that," James said. "You'd also need to track who made the change and why."
The building management system is the bridge between the individual HVAC controller and operators in that plant. Rather than having a generic HVAC system, which is fairly open, the building management system enforces the rules, he said. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration in this case mandates integration.
INTEROPERABILITY IS KEY
Because manufacturers of BASs initially developed their own protocol used by their own devices and systems, protocols became incompatible. Devices from different manufacturers could not talk with one another. Communication among devices required a gateway, or translator, to convert one protocol to another.
By controlling the areas of heating and cooling and communicating with a single main computer, buildings can be more energy efficient, controlling disparate systems from lighting to HVAC on a common graphical user interface. Systems integration plays a huge role in constructing smart buildings because many of a building's core systems-HVAC, lighting, security, fire alarm, and energy management-are involved, increasing demand for integration using open (interoperable) protocols and smart controls.
Two dominant open protocols in the building automation industry are BACnet and LonMark. BACnet (building automation and control network) is an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air- Conditioning Engineers/ANSI standard protocol. LonMark is an industry organization that develops rules for applying LonTalk technology to automation systems.
Echelon Corp. developed LonTalk, which provides a proprietary network management scheme called LNS to help customers configure and maintain LonMark networks. Echelon embeds the LonTalk protocol in the chip so it enforces rigid communication rules through a neuron chip in every piece of equipment connected to the network. IT
Behind the Byline
Ellen Fussell is Assistant Editor for InTech.
|Consultants and controls design|
|Consultants don't design the details of controls—they specify the performance, and then the contractors design and build them.
"I think part of the answer is knowledge and training," said Jay Santos of Facility Dynamics in Columbia, Md. "We tend to think of the consultant, installer, and owner as the people who need to know controls. I think project managers need better education on controls so they can make better decisions," such as when "a decision maker may insist on using BACnet or LonMark," Santos said.
"In many instances, the people who make those decisions aren't always qualified. There's not a one-size-fits-all answer for each customer or situation. The right solution depends on how much they've installed and their capabilities of operations," he said. "Large institutions and sites need a master plan for controls. Many have plans for facilities, roads, infrastructure, even landscaping. But with controls, they're running with someone's best idea or who made the best presentation, which isn't always the best way to go."