For decades, building owners and managers have relied on building automation systems (BAS) to control HVAC systems, lighting, etc., in order to keep occupants comfortable and reduce energy consumption. Today’s BAS can do so much more. They collect massive amounts of data as well as offer energy procurement and management, monitor equipment remotely, control performance, and more.
In order to take advantage of all these new features, building owners and managers may need to consider updating or replacing their BAS, especially if they have not been judicious in updating their software over the years.
There has been a significant evolution in BAS over the last 10-20 years, thanks primarily to advances in computer technology.
“As computer chips continue to get more powerful and have more processing speed and memory, BAS manufacturers are able to provide solutions that use more sophisticated control algorithms, support more communication protocols, and store more historical data such as trend logs,” said Gene Shedivy, BAS product leader, Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand. “As a result, BAS have evolved from automatic temperature control and scheduling systems to become productivity tools for the professionals who operate, service, and work in a building.”
This evolution has allowed the BAS market to move beyond the facilities that have always relied on a high level of automation, such as hospitals and other mission-critical facilities to big-box stores, supermarkets, and office buildings, said Jason Beke, commercial product manager, Johnson Controls Inc. “We now have systems to accommodate all of these environments and meet the needs of system intercommunication.”
Technological advances have also allowed BAS to develop in the fields of network speed, system integration, and enterprise management, said Shane Murphy, technical marketing specialist, Delta Controls Inc. “The development of Ethernet-enabled controllers gives us the pipeline to track more than what was ever possible. In fact, we can safely track every point in a BAS without causing bottlenecks. In addition to easier and less costly troubleshooting of systems, this gives us the ability to assess energy use anywhere in a building.”
BAS have also become easier to use, which is a huge benefit for building owners and managers who appreciate simpler user interfaces as well as mobility, said Mark Ziolkowski, director of BAS product management, Johnson Controls. “Facility operators are tasked with more responsibilities than in the past, which leaves them less time to learn complicated new systems and interact with the BAS. In addition, facility operators no longer sit behind their desks but are on the move, and they are becoming increasingly dependent on mobile technologies.”
In fact, the ability to remotely monitor and control BAS is one of its most overlooked features, said Drew Mire, vice president of operations, Computrols. “It’s something we take for granted. We can get all of the data from a facility back on our smartphones, tablets, and computers in a simple user interface that allows us to see how the building is operating. This enables building owners and managers to optimize building functions.”
The evolution continues as manufacturers embed higher-level algorithms in their controllers, which increases the capabilities of the BAS. “For example, the optimized recovery of zones from unoccupied to occupied can more tightly control the environment, which reduces energy use during these times, said Ziolkowski. “In addition, the integration of energy meters and utility costs into the control of a central plant can enable a building operator to optimize the energy use or costs to operate a plant. These integrations are becoming more prevalent and are enabling lighting and HVAC systems to work together to optimize the environment.”
These advances are good news for building managers, as today’s BAS allow them to have access to real-time monitoring of all energy-related data gathered in their buildings, energy analytics, and automated fault detection, said Shedivy. “These capabilities make it easier for building managers to gain insights into their buildings’ performance and usage in a way that drives efficiency and reduces energy.”
System integration is also a significant part of the continuing evolution of BAS. “Integration has allowed our vision to broaden,” said Murphy. “Information can come from anywhere in the building, which means the front end — where the most efficiency can be gained — can see more of the building and effect change where it wasn’t possible before. We’re integrating devices we weren’t previously able to, which has presented savings in unexpected ways, such as light harvesting, automatic scheduling of spaces, advanced occupancy detection, and virtual devices.”
Integration is definitely creating quite a buzz in the industry today, said Mire. “With the progression of the Internet of Things (IoT), integration will undoubtedly continue on a larger scale. The IoT will be a gateway to more interoperability and interaction between systems. And for those considering the cost associated with upgrading BAS, the integration route provides the most economical solution.”
Finally, BAS are becoming more adaptable and scalable. “This is important when considering a building’s life cycle,” said Beke. “Buildings change occupancy profiles over time, expand in size, or are repurposed. The ability to add mechanical or electrical systems or change system types and locations while maintaining the automation they require builds confidence in building owners when deciding whether a BAS is something they want.”
TOO LATE TO UPDATE?
There is no doubt that BAS will continue to evolve in order to take advantage of new technologies, and that means building owners and managers will need to keep their systems updated or risk falling behind. “Computer technology providers are changing electronics, software, and communications at a very fast pace,” said Shedivy. “It’s difficult to build a BAS product without constantly updating the internal technology to avoid obsolescence in computer technology and components.”
The end result is a combination of good and bad news, said Shedivy. “The good news is that updates to an existing BAS are readily available and can provide real benefits to building professionals who are looking for better efficiency, reliability, ease-of-use, and lower maintenance costs. The bad news is that if building managers fall behind, they can find themselves in a reactive mode when an old system becomes very difficult to service.”
Of course, one of the easiest ways to keep a BAS up to date is to utilize software upgrades, noted Ziolkowski. “A BAS system can last many years, but without proper maintenance (calibration, retrocommissioning, etc.) and upgrades, the system will become less effective when compared to newer offerings.”
Fortunately, most BAS manufactureers provide migration paths for their existing customers, which can vary from a gateway that integrates an existing system into a newer technology to systems with the ability to upgrade each controller or trunk individually, said Ziolkowski. “The ability to replace a controller or trunk [i.e., a piece at a time] provides a more gradual path than a major retrofit. The path chosen depends on what the building owner wants to accomplish with the upgrade and how quickly he or she expects to see results.”
Ultimately, it’s worth the time and effort to ensure the BAS is updated so that it can offer the full suite of benefits and features. “An intuitive BAS is the greatest tool available to building owners and managers because it provides insight into how a building is functioning. This enables owners and managers to get a holistic look at the building’s operations and make the appropriate adjustments,” said Mire. “There are cost-effective ways to upgrade a BAS over time through integration, which is much better than the alternative of ripping out the old controls and replacing them with new ones, which can be very costly.”
Publication date: 11/7/2016