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Choosing a bas protocol: hardly automatic

April 3, 2000
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DALLAS, TX — As expected, this year’s IAHR Expo revealed that the BACnet®-LonMark® struggle for the hearts and minds of building automation users is far from over. If anything, we’re just getting to the good part.

One side attempted to strengthen its position by marshalling the troops. Flying the flag of the brand-new BACnet® Manufacturers Association (BMA), several founding manufacturers announced their new coalition at a press conference. Its stated mission is to develop a conformance testing and listing program for building automation equipment that uses ASHRAE’s BACnet communication protocol.

Although BMA expected others to follow suit quickly, the founding members were Alerton Technologies (Redmond, WA), Automated Logic Corp. (Kennesaw, GA), Cimetrics (Boston), and Delta Controls (Surrey, BC, Canada).

“Customers want the assurance that the BACnet product they purchase will be able to interoperate with BACnet products produced by other vendors. A testing program is a step in that direction,” said Gerry Hull, Automated Logic’s president.

BMA says that testing standards developed by ASHRAE’s BACnet committee will be the basis for its conformance-testing program. Products that pass the tests will then be able to display the BMA logo, and they will be listed on the association’s Web site (www.bacnetassociation.org).

The BACnet story

Of course, another BMA goal is to publicize BACnet’s successes in hopes of increasing support for the open protocol. Jim Lee, president of Cimetrics, said “several thousand” projects are already completed.

“We want to get out the word, and make a case for why consulting engineers and building owners should specify BACnet in their projects,” said Lee.

Lee stated that testing should begin in June, citing January 2001 as the desired target for the first wave of product approvals. Product categories will include operator workstation, building controller, application-specific controller, router, and gateway. A product may fall into multiple categories. Lee also affirmed that an appeals process will be in place should a manufacturer disagree with the results.

The chairman of ASHRAE BACnet committee SSPC 135, H. Michael Newman, also said that he expects BMA will complement the work of his group and of other existing organizations such as the BACnet Interoperability Testing Consortium, BIG-NA, BIG-AA, and BIG-Europe. In particular, BMA expects its status as a private corporation to permit a range of activities outside the scope of the BACnet Interoperability Testing Consortium, which was formed under a cooperative R&D agreement by NIST.

The BACnet community exhibited a cohesive effort on the floor of the convention center as well, enlisting 30 companies to showcase “BACnet® In Action,” a live demonstration of the protocol at work. Participants included manufacturers of building automation and lighting controls, fire alarm systems, laboratory controls, vav controllers, air-handling units, chillers, and variable speed drives.

LonWorks' side

Not to be outdone, those on the LonWorks® side of the fence had news and events of their own to illustrate recent successes and plans for the future. The biggest announcement at the Echelon (Palo Alto, CA) press conference was that the company has entered into a three-year International Purchase Agreement with Honeywell. In the agreement, Honeywell intends to establish LonWorks networks and Echelon LNS™ network operating system as a worldwide standard for the control infrastructure in Honeywell’s building control systems.

In addition, the agreement establishes Echelon as the primary supplier of LonWorks infrastructure products, such as installation tools, routers, and network interfaces.

“This is a watershed event for the building controls industry,” said Tom Lohner, vice president of Teng & Associates, a leading North American design engineering firm. “This agreement marks the first time that a major building controls company has positioned itself as a provider of value-added applications built on top of a truly open infrastructure. By doing so, Honeywell is confirming LonWorks networks as the open industry standard for controls and driving growth in our industry.”

In other news, Echelon announced that the protocol underlying LonWorks has been approved as an open industry standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The manufacturer is thus offering a free-of-charge reference implementation at www.echelon.com/protocol.

The protocol won another battle across the Atlantic, reporting that LonWorks has been chosen as the preferred home networking standard in Finland by three agencies: the Finnish Association of Building Owners and Construction Clients (RAKLI), the Finnish National Technology Agency (TEKES), and the Finnish Association of Consulting Firms (SKOL). Echelon quoted a recent article in Fortune Magazine that said, “the real country of the future, it now seems clear, is Finland, the most wired — and wireless — nation on earth.”

Not to be outdone back at the booths, the LonMark Interoper-ability Association hosted an interactive, integrated network of LonMark products containing contributions from 15 different LonMark member control contractors. The network addressed lighting, security, hvac, and weather monitoring.

May the best protocol win

Thus, the thrust-and-parry process continues for the two protocols as they vie for dominance in the industry. BACnet shows increased organization and enjoys a closer relationship with ASHRAE, while LonMark continues to score victories in the field.

Both are recruiting allies. Pro-spective users have little choice but to try to keep up with both fronts, keeping an eye on future possibilities while taking predictions from the two sides with a grain of salt.

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