Future trends in BMS – changing expectations

Future trends in BMS – changing expectations

By Chris Irwin, VP of Sales Europe and Africa at Distech Controls

The building automation market is currently in the early stages of a revolution, as various megatrends combine to dramatically change the landscape for both suppliers and buyers.

Revolutions do not always happen overnight. In fact, it is sometimes not even obvious that they are happening at all. It often becomes clearer after the revolution just how profound the change has been.

Back in the 1980s, there was the direct digital control (DDC) revolution as networked micro-processor-based controls became the new norm for the control of commercial buildings. At that time, there were dozens of new manufacturers entering the market to compete with the established controls suppliers. Since then, the controls industry has been largely one of technical evolution, with various milestones along the way: the adoption of Windows-based supervisory software, the emergence of various open protocol standards, the migration to IP for the network backbone, and the use of the Internet rather than dial-up modems for the connectivity to sites.

Commercially, there has been much consolidation, with the major control manufacturers buying up the newer smaller companies, even if the individual brand names have been preserved.

Five major shifts

The revolution we are now experiencing in building automation is due to a confluence of five major shifts in the way in which building services are delivered:

  1. Package controls: Instead of the controls being fitted to HVAC and other equipment on site, and/or configured specifically for each project, controls are, increasingly, now factory fitted and standardised by the equipment manufacturer. This is primarily a commercial change, shifting responsibility from the controls specialist installer to the equipment manufacturer.
  2. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF): Instead of centralised chillers and boilers with either water or air distribution around the building, refrigerant-based modular systems are typically used to provide the A/C. They are viewed as simpler to deploy and come with built-in controls.
  3. LED lighting: The change from fluorescent and halogen lighting to LEDs is dramatically changing the way lighting can be managed and introduces new possibilities for indoor positioning and Li-Fi.
  4. Integration: The widespread adoption of open protocols has led to the emergence of multi-protocol integration platforms, most notably the Niagara Framework. This enables various systems to be managed in an integrated way, using a single supervisory software application (single pane of glass).
  5. The Internet of things (IoT): The impact of the IoT in relation to building services is a combination of several technology developments and a change in the way organisations are thinking about management of their buildings. Big data, automated analytics, pervasive wireless sensing, and cloud services are together radically changing the quality of information that can be collected, processed, and analysed in real-time to enable better services provision. This is combining with an increased priority being given to space utilisation and employee well-being, which is reshaping the way building automation systems are designed and deployed. The BMS is no longer just about basic comfort control and energy management, but is being incorporated into a more holistic way of thinking about the building operation, which has different priorities than before.

This changed agenda, and the range of new technologies, are altering the way that controls specialists deliver projects, and require them to develop higher skill levels to meet growing client expectations. Previously, each system (HVAC, lighting, security, and so on) was separate and delivered by different subcontractors. The trend today is for clients and specifiers to require a systems integrator to provide an integrated solution. This creates contractual issues since the various controls packages have historically been split between the mechanical and electrical services contractors, who are typically different companies on each project.

As more of the controls are factory fitted and supplied by the equipment manufacturers with an open protocol interface, the requirement to develop a custom controls strategy and integration is reduced. In the case of VRF systems, there is even less conventional controls content on a project. These systems typically also come with a manufacturer-supplied supervisory control option and, on smaller projects, a specialist controls contractor may not be required at all.

This changed agenda, and the range of new technologies, are altering the way that controls specialists deliver projects, and require them to develop higher skill levels to meet growing client expectations.

On the other hand, there is a desire from clients to collect more and higher-quality data on the building’s performance, so that it can be better managed and optimised. This is leading to the specification of more sensors and meters, with a corresponding increase in the sophistication of the monitoring and tracking software required to deliver usable information to the end user. Previously separate applications for energy meter monitoring, facilities maintenance, and asset tracking are now becoming linked and fed with real-time data for the building sensors and meters.

The future

So, what of the future?

The pervasiveness of wired and wireless IP technology means that all controllers, and many sensing devices will, in the future, be required to connect to the building’s IP network, either by CAT5/6 cable or by Wi-Fi. This shift is beginning to happen already as innovative controls manufacturers now supply IP-based terminal unit controllers. Devices no longer need to use a separate serial network bridged to the IP backbone via a gateway. This change will happen rapidly over the next few years, due to clients’ desire for future-proofed buildings (which standardise on IP networking for everything), and the simplification of the system engineering and installation that result from using a flat IP architecture.

Dis001


As more of the controls are factory fitted and supplied with an open protocol interface, the requirement for a custom controls strategy and integration is reduced.
Image credit: Distech Controls

Even more equipment will come with factory-fitted controls; typically, with a built-in web server for easy configuration and integration with the BMS. Currently, many such factory-fitted controllers are not on IP and are not capable of web serving, but falling processor costs and the need to reduce engineering time will lead to the use of IP-connected equipment controllers that are much ‘smarter’ and easier to deploy.

Lighting and HVAC control will become more integrated, sharing sensors and adding extra functionality. This will improve the building occupants’ experience, as they will be able to interact with all their local environmental controls via a single interface, either on the wall or on their smartphone.

This is already happening on some large projects (especially, in the Paris commercial market, which is more progressive than London). Manufacturers are now offering direct Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) interaction with the HVAC, lighting, and sunblind controls, and app developers are creating customised smartphone apps for a specific building with a host of additional functions such as wayfinding, meeting room booking and status, car park booking, restaurant menus, transport information, and so on. Ultimately, all the floor/room-based systems will migrate to a unified architecture on IP, so instead of separate systems for lighting control, fan-coil variable air volume (VAV) control and shading (blinds), these will all be managed by a single system, as has already become standard for new office tower projects in Paris.

Since buildings last a long time, the ‘revolution’ will occur over years, not days, but it will be one nevertheless.

The systems’ integrators role will change, becoming much more about ‘bolting together’ pre-designed controls strategies and graphics to make a fully integrated system. Control logic will standardise, and controller hardware will be supplied pre-loaded with applications, reducing on-site time significantly. Web wizard configuration, rather than a complex engineering tool, will become much more the norm.

New requirements, such as the incorporation of renewable energy sources, including PV panels and battery storage, will make the overall building control requirement more complex, and may well lead to the deployment of artificial intelligence technologies to avoid the need to manually create control strategies that will successfully optimise such a complicated situation. This trend will become more apparent as the demand-response market develops, bringing with it an inevitable need for dynamic switching of electrical loads based on short-term tariff price fluctuations.

So, to sum up, when we arrive at ‘tomorrow’, it will look very different from ‘yesterday’ and even ‘today’, but since buildings last a long time, the ‘revolution’ will occur over years, not days, but it will be one nevertheless.


Click below to read the April 2018 issue of RACA Journal

RACA APR 2018

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Yes, 2

<credit> Images by Distech Controls

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<Dis002> The pervasiveness of wired and wireless IP technology means that all controllers and many sensing devices will, in the future, be required to connect to the building’s IP network.

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Not required – contributed

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