Make time for integration
Published:  06 February, 2014
BMS, BEMS, Controls, BCIA, integration, protocols

Steve Harrison of the Building Controls Industry Association argues for planning and costing of integration in building controls so that clients can see more of the benefits of open protocols.

Open protocols have been an important development in building controls and building energy management systems (BEMS). They allow equipment from different manufacturers to communicate more readily than in the days of ‘closed’ proprietary software.

The integration of HVAC equipment into the building controls network gives clients the option to automate functions much more easily. Whether a project is large or small, an holistic approach to heating, ventilating, cooling, lighting, hot water or any other element of building services, is vital for good performance.

But as with all technologies, the application of open protocols requires planning and good execution to gain all the benefits, while avoiding potential problems. Richard Bush, technical support manager for Priva UK and chairman of the BCIA’s technical working group, says: ‘By clarifying who is responsible for what, and ensuring that allowance is made for the process of integration, the client can ensure that the equipment they invest in is operating in the most effective and efficient manner.’

BCIA members regularly come together at ConnectFest events to test interoperability of systems and share knowledge on important issues such as integration, web-enabled controls and other technical issues.

Investment is an important point here. Open protocols do not simply join-up equipment into a single system. They also increase the lifetime of that equipment because open protocols mean that any new technologies can be more easily added to the building management system in the future. For example, should a building require upgrades of its controls, then a step-by-step approach can be taken by adding to the open-protocol based BEMS rather than replacement of an entire system at one go, which could be costly and disruptive.

The BCIA’s own market information service shows that it is the systems houses in our industry that are at the forefront of controls installation. As more clients see the benefits of open protocols, they turn to installers to help them make the best choice of systems for their requirements.

Clients can also help this process by regarding the building controls and BEMS in the same way that they would think about a new IT system. It is important to think about issues such as exact requirements for the system, compatibility with existing equipment and future-proofing. These points are as relevant for a BEMS as they are for any other form of IT.

In the same way that IT moves ever-forward, it is because of advances in building services equipment, which is now highly likely to be compatible with a protocol such as BACnet, that it is important to decide at the earliest stage who is responsible for making the integration happen.

For example, a chiller may have the capability to communicate using BACnet or Modbus. Once the chiller is installed, who is responsible for integrating it with the building management system? Unless this planning is complete, then the building owner cannot benefit from features such as easy energy monitoring or alarm notifications sent to a common front-end. It may seem an obvious point, but unless integration has been very specifically considered as part of the overall installation, then it is likely to be done under time- and cost-pressure — or not at all.

As technology continues to develop, the controls industry is seeing a gradual move towards the use of Internet protocols such as TCP/IP or XML. These are not currently entirely suited to the needs of building automation, but as we all know developments in this area can be very fast, so in a few years they may well be the standards we all follow. However, as Richard Bush points out: ‘Whatever open protocols are used, the same points apply: that good planning and a co-operative approach will make for better results in the long-term.’

Steve Harrison is part of Belimo Global Product Management and is president of the Building Controls Industry Association.



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