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Integration has to be the way forward
Published:  05 August, 2007

When the question, ‘Are integrated/open systems the smart move?’ was presented to a panel discussion at the recent conference of the Building Controls Industry Association David Kitching of Siemens Building Technologies was in his element in presenting a resounding ‘yes’.

Buildings, like motor cars, have become more complex, and systems need to be more interactive to operate simply — let alone function efficiently.

There are in buildings equipment for heating, ventilation, solar restriction, lighting, access control, intrusion, fire detection, public address, voice alarm, evacuation, elevation, audio visual, staff locators, PC connectivity, churn, hot desking, IT networks, CCTV, electrical switching, metering, demand control, monitoring, weather prediction, car parking, reception services, facility management, cost-centre allocation, standby systems, back-up systems and safety — to name but a few. Each service is increasing in its sophistication and needs not only to perform its allocated duty but also do so efficiently, reliably, interactively — and then usually at the lowest reasonable cost.

Highly flexible

A building is intended for the purpose for which it is required by the business and must be highly flexible to allow for continually changing needs. Systems must therefore be adjustable to suit the building use and not the original dream of the architect. Their operation could depend on occupancy, type of occupants, time of day, business demands and, potentially, anything that the space and/or adjacent space was not designed for. Other special requirements may be needed at the end of a month, the first day of term, half term, Sunday opening, the weather, holidays, sporting event and unusual spontaneous activity — so that systems operate when required and do not operate unnecessarily.

EXTRA PICTURE

Intelligent buildings are increasingly familiar sites on the landscape of Britain — and demonstrate the hard realities of the benefits of intelligent building.
Bridgewater Place in Leeds (top) is the tallest commercial building in Yorkshire at 33 storeys and has over a thousand KNX devices installed over 10 floors to control lighting.
Contractor NG Bailey has acknowledged the benefits of building intelligence by incorporating an intelligent building-management system into its new Thames Valley office at Reading (above).

The ModBus communications protocol combined with a Priva building-management system in new college buildings in Swindon (left) has reduced installation and hard-wring costs by around £6000.

To respond to all such demands effectively and efficiently, all systems must work in unison, intelligently and, if any one should fail, intuitively.

Complex systems cannot operate in isolation.

To be cost effective and minimise effort databases need only be entered once, with any change reflecting across all building systems. This can only be achieved with one homogeneous solution.

Human beings are designed with two arms, two legs, two eyes and two ears — but only one brain. Some parts operate independently, but it all works so much better if centralised and coordinated. Watch a Premier Division football match, then go to Division 1. The difference is immense. To succeed in this demanding world we cannot afford not to train, practice, operate and score as a team. Your building is no different.

Does building integration now work? Yes if engineered properly using the appropriate open protocols,(BACnet, LON, KNX etc.) advanced configuration and commissioning tools and accepted IT communicating techniques.

Cost effective

Is building integration cost effective? Yes, very — if the full benefits of interaction are implemented and valued.

Does integration mean one network? Probably not. But if that network is running your business it will be significantly better engineered than if each system was cobbled up by a plumber, lighting electrician, photo copier salesman or blind installer. If we all adopt accepted proven standards such as Ethernet, IP and web browser for the system management layer, interaction becomes much easier to achieve.

Is it a greater risk and does integration make the building more vulnerable with potentially one point of failure? No — if designed with proper redundancy and stand-alone intelligence that is standard today. Individual interactive systems each can act as a prop for the others giving increased reliability. Costs are also reduced by having only one dual redundant network, one critical UPS, (excluding life safety) one standby generator and of course one competent engineer with sufficient knowledge of mechanical, electrical and IT to know when to call in the expert.

Do we have the intelligence to put integrated systems together? Yes, if properly trained. It is highly motivating for engineers to get the best from each system. A breed of ‘super integrators’ is pushing forward these solutions rather than the single-minded one-system approach. Effective interactive systems require less-skilled operators because a properly integrated system makes the difficult decisions for you.

For example with CCTV you need no longer watch screens because the system is capable (once instructed) of recognising normal incidents for you. Motion, behaviour, colour of garment, stress in the voice and type of movement can be analysed and combined with access control, door information and intrusion detection to make that important decision whether or not to raise an alarm. An operator can then use their intelligence to solve problems rather than detect them.

A simple function such as lighting control can dramatically improve functionality when implemented as part of the overall intelligent-building strategy. It is not just a question of lights being on or off but making sure that the light level is exactly linked to the ambient solar conditions (blind control), the local and adjacent space and the needs of the user (access and occupancy) to achieve the lowest possible energy use, the highest comfort and the best ambience. Using the DALI protocol, for example, can dramatically reduce the maintenance cost by providing data on hours run, lamp status and degradation.

A Jumbo jet cannot even be landed by the pilot alone; likewise a building will not work effectively without integrated technology.

Business benefits

Such integration brings a whole range of immediate business benefits.

First, the installation of a common network for all building systems enables them to interact and make more use of that investment.

The common overview of building systems made possible by an integrated network makes possible safer operation — from just one seat.

Connecting the different disciplines seamlessly brings new flexibility and functionality.

Using the building’s IT infrastructure and centralised databases means that information has to be entered just once to be available to all systems.

The requirement for training is reduced and operational procedures are simplified.

Energy saving is achieved by using technology and teamwork. Integration also enables new technology and makes it work effectively for everybody.

Finally, a simple web browser enables any ‘empowered’ employee to check all the building conditions reducing calls to the facilities-management department.

David Kitching is with Siemens Building Technologies