Manufacturers Meet Demand for More Intelligent Building Controls
Products spot problems before they grow
Companies want more data about and more control of their buildings than ever before. A 2018 survey by 451 Research found that 35 percent of companies said they are currently gathering or have plans to gather data on their building about lighting, HVAC, and system controls. In response to this kind of demand, HVAC manufacturers are introducing numerous new products to provide this data.
Smart products enable service providers to take a more proactive approach to addressing HVAC system and equipment issues, said Susie Gornick, Trane’s director of intelligent services. Trane’s Intelligent Services division has developed cloud-based analytics that allow building operators to minimize disruptive downtime and unplanned service expenses, Gornick said.
“Technology is evolving in the HVAC building automation and building management industry with increased connectivity alternatives, optimized user experience, and optimization through artificial intelligence,” Gornick said. “Communications technologies are evolving to enable increased performance, flexibility, and reliability for networked devices — eliminating the failure modes of traditional hardwired systems.”
AVOIDING UNNECESSARY DOWNTIME
Web-enabled smart devices allow users to perform tasks anywhere/anytime with at-a-glance dashboards and graphical representations of building systems. For example, Trane Tracer Building Automation Systems (BAS) has developed Air-Fi wireless communications that allow for mesh-networked devices and sensors as well as web-enabled interfaces.
“Unnecessary downtime can be avoided with predictive analytics and informational warnings that alert operators of unexpected system issues,” Gornick said. “Corrective measures can be planned and delivered without interrupting normal building events.”
Joseph Noworatzky, executive director of engineering for Carrier Commercial Systems, said problems may not yet be obvious to building occupants, but intelligent products see them. One such example is a smart economizer fault detection. While failed economizers are sometimes hard to identify as occupants don’t notice a hot/cold difference, Noworatzky said software can now analyze airflows and air temperatures and intelligently detect stuck or failed economizers. While the system might be generating air supply at an appropriate temperature, the air being supplied might be mechanically cooled rather than being supplied from an operating economizer at a lower cost.
Another area where intelligent products help building owners is in managing their energy costs. Artificial intelligence elevates energy management solutions by proactively optimizing systems to reduce energy use and operational costs, Gornick pointed out.
Those are the demands of the building owners and managers. The occupants have their own expectations when it comes to the intelligence of HVAC systems. Gornick said connected building trends tend to follow the same trends that are seen in the connected home space.
“Consumers demand the convenience of remote accessibility, voice control, and seamless user experiences, regardless of the IoT devices they choose to purchase,” she said. “For buildings, new technologies are also evolving with connectivity, user experience, and intelligent products and services. Enhancing occupant experiences drives tenant satisfaction and retention, boosts productivity of employees, and drives awareness around how occupant behaviors affect the sustainability metrics of the building.”
All this data, of course, means the increased risk of data breaches. Gornick said that with a growing number of web-enabled and internet accessible systems, cybersecurity and privacy are an increasing demand of building owners and operators. Trane Intelligent Services maintains a cloud-based secure remote access service that allows building operators to access their systems in a safe, secure, and private manner.
“With HVAC building automation and building management systems, operators expect to perform remote building management tasks with the anywhere/anytime convenience and no risk of malicious intrusion,” Gornick said. “Additionally, keeping a safe, secure system layer requires ongoing maintenance and updates to remain current with latest cyber trends.”
Manufacturers say they are committed to meeting that demand. Noworatzky said the personal data Carrier stores is limited to what is critical for gaining access to and operating the systems. Carrier offers security measures such as strong passwords, integration with IT standards such as LDAP/Active Directory, and technology such as whitelisting, which helps ensure outside devices do not gain access to a system.
Noworatzky sees BACnet Secure Connect, an ASHRAE standard that provides a framework on secure infrastructure for intelligent buildings, as the emerging benchmark for all manufacturers. Looking ahead, Noworatzky sees considerable growth in native IP controllers. Evolving use cases and technology are driving this change, as controllers are smarter and more connected than ever before. He anticipates native IPv4 and IPv6 Protocol support will become more and more relevant in the future for intelligent buildings as more devices join the IoT space.
CONNECTED BECOMES COMMON
Overall, Noworatzky expects connected buildings and advisory service offerings will become more common. Cloud-based analytics platforms will aggregate and analyze data from multiple devices, systems, and buildings to spot trends, identify areas of improvement, and predict equipment maintenance, he said. These platforms will be used by building experts and include artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and software analytics to model and drive positive change in the areas of improved energy efficiency, enhanced occupant comfort, and reduced equipment downtime.
“Carrier remains focused on anticipating our customers’ future needs,” Noworatzky said. “As such, we are embedding new technologies that will facilitate easy adaption to the new connectivity needs of modern infrastructure.”
Gornick said new technologies will continue to evolve with the growth of connectivity and IoT. “Additional cloud-based offerings will accompany the growth of connected equipment, and data will drive our insights and actions rather than past performance,” she said. “As intelligence extends to lower levels of the building controls and equipment architecture, new features, security enhancements, and optimization updates will be constantly available — and more automatic, without disrupting the daily building operations.”
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