Today’s take on building automation

Building automation itself is nothing new. However, what is new about modern-day systems is the sheer range of things they can do. The latest stage in this evolution is the connected building – and data plays the central role in it. But how can you tell which data is relevant? And what is the best way to use it? Together, we will look at all the use cases and explore the possibilities currently available.

Building automation evolves in stages much like industrial revolutions. We are currently in the fourth industrial revolution. How has it manifested itself? The market requires us to develop solutions quickly, nimbly and agilely.

Industry 4.0 drivers in building automation:

  1. Comfort
  2. Energy savings
  3. Transparency
  4. Visibility
  5. Clarity
  6. Environment
  7. Interplay between different buildings

The evolution of building automation

Building automation has evolved at breakneck speed and is used in areas as wide-ranging as energy management or security systems. Experts agree that building automation is essential for efficient and sustainable buildings.

Buildings have to be interconnected since measurements often have to be observed and assessed from a single control center. Systems for controlling heating, lighting, solar panels or similar equipment are implemented by different companies and may even be site-specific in many cases.

The challenge is to integrate different systems at a control center and create a dashboard portal populated with data from different manufacturers. Enter manufacturer-independent system integration: It can migrate various manufacturers to a single management level, which dramatically streamlines the monitoring and reporting steps in the optimization process.

What modern building automation can do

Components communicate more and integrate better than ever before. Also, data storage capacity has mushroomed, which lowers data storage costs. These trends may have broadened the scope of what building automation can do, but they present a problem, too: You have to figure out what information you really need. Otherwise, you run a real risk of information overload.

Who needs what information, and where, when and how do they need it?

Efforts to streamline buildings and systems often bring forth new building automation technologies. However, new tech has to prove its value first. With a business case, it is easy to work out whether a novel technology is truly worth adopting.

Once the right equipment is installed, it can be used to analyze energy consumption in detail and use that data to control heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems in the most efficient way possible. The information can also be used to automate lighting and shading systems, for example.

How to implement modern-day smart building automation

The first step is not to begin with the entire building but focus instead on subprocesses and subsections within the building. The idea is to take a smart approach and obtain the maximum benefit at the smallest possible cost and effort.

What often happens is that a thorough analysis finds that old devices are real power guzzlers. Power consumption can be easily measured over a two- to four-week period with a versatile portable measurement kit. Once that is done, power costs can be slashed by taking small steps such as replacing outdated blowers or motors, which eliminates daily peaks in power consumption.

This approach will ultimately cut energy costs, freeing up funds to be spent on solutions to tomorrow’s challenges such as intelligent buildings, integrated connectivity and energy management.

What should you consider when starting a building automation initiative? For the answer to this and many other questions, see our blog post, “ Smart solutions instead of panaceas ”.

Practical solutions: fast, agile and versatile

One of the biggest challenges for smart buildings is the sheer variety of systems from different manufacturers. They all have to interact with one another and be aggregated at a control center. The data displayed on control system displays should be chosen for its relevance to users and not merely based on the manufacturer’s decisions.

The primary question is this: Who needs what information, and when, where and how do they need it? And what specifically does that mean?

These questions can best be presented using an example:

1. Who? Each department needs different data. Facility managers would be very interested in all the building equipment data but have no use for recorded lab values.

2. Where? A building automation initiative does not necessarily have to culminate in the construction of a control center. Often, the collected data is only relevant for certain employees. The data should thus always be evaluated in context and be accessible where it is actually needed.

3. When? 24/7 surveillance is appropriate for critical processes. Alarms and summary reports on out-of-limit values offer the surest route to reliable production processes and energy efficiency.

4. How? The approach should be adapted to the user’s needs and preferences. Facility managers, for example, are often out and about and so need to be able to monitor data on a smartphone or tablet. The cockpit should be clearly structured and provide information across multiple manufacturers. Remember that most people only use about 20 percent of their smartphone’s functionality.

That subset of captured data is what matters for monitoring and reporting. The challenge is to identify the relevant 20 percent of data.

Factsheet: “Fast track to a smart building”

To see what modern-day building automation can accomplish, see our free guide, “Fast track to a smart building”. It explains how a four-phase process can make your energy management processes more efficient.