Facility Automation 101 – Learn How to Save Money Every Year

Installing smart facilities operations systems is no longer enough; seamless interoperability is the key to efficiency and savings.

Getting widely disparate HVAC, lighting, security and other systems to understand each other and work together requires a common language. Although several standard protocols exist, BACnet (Building Automation Control Network) has arguably become the dominant player. Dating back to 1987, BACnet was conceived primarily as an HVAC standard but now allows different types of systems to intercommunicate, including HVAC, lighting, access control, fire detection and others. BACnet is supported by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers.

From large chiller units sitting on an office building’s roof to thermostats, occupancy sensors and room lighting, BACnet has it covered, says to Grant Wichenko, president of Appin Associates, a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based engineering consultancy. “Major infrastructure systems from Johnson Controls, commercial lighting systems from Lutron, and just about everything in between either run natively on BACnet or are easily integrated with protocol translators.”

Wichenko makes a good point. Devices report different kinds of function-specific information. A light fixture has its own way of reporting that a lamp needs replacement, vastly different than an air handler reporting that a filter needs to be changed. Even though they probably both are sending those alerts using the BACnet protocol, they need to be interpreted.

“From our perspective, our job, along with other manufacturers, is to bridge these barriers,” says Doug Hall, senior product manager at AMX. “It’s up to us to interface to many different kinds of systems. We shield the integrator and end user from that.”

Start Early, Get Educated

If there’s one piece of universal advice to implementing a successful and cost-effective building automation project, whether in a new structure or an existing one, it is to start early.

“The biggest mistake is not including integration as a critical part of the design process from the earliest stages. It’s hard to have a successful project when a building’s technology silos are designed and exist in a vacuum,” says Doug
Jacobson, senior R&D engineer at Crestron. At a minimum, the team needs to include architects, mechanical engineers and subcontractors from each discipline, facilities managers and possibly an executive sponsor.

Facilities management would seem to be the sort of career that one can learn only through on-the-job training; while that may have been true in the past, that’s changing.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy doesn’t exactly come to mind as a seat of learning for facilities automation. Though it still concentrates on preparing students for careers as managers and engineers on the high seas, the school’s Master of Science in Facilities Management (MSFM) is well-regarded.

Manufacturers also offer a variety of training and certification curricula. The Trane College of Building Automation offers technical courses to help facilities personnel to monitor and coordinate HVAC equipment and systems using the company’s Trane building automation system. Nearly every other vendor has similar offerings.

Joel Shore has covered the technology industry for 25 years.

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