Today’s Leading Building Automation Systems (BAS)
A building automation system (BAS) uses interlinked networks of software and hardware to monitor and control a building’s mechanical and electrical systems, including heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), lighting, security and fire systems. This centralized computer-based control system enables these systems to communicate on a single platform to deliver the information building operators need to make smart, savvy decisions while enhancing occupant comfort, safety and productivity. At the same time, the automation system helps reduce building energy and maintenance costs.
For today’s building operators, a well-designed BAS works the way they do – quickly and remotely. In many organizations, the facility department is staffed with fewer people than the departments of 10 years ago, and it is not unusual for those who work in the department to come to their positions with less experience in building systems. Budgets, too, are limited. In short, building operators are expected to do more with less.
BAS Should Work the Way Building Operators Work
Many of these people are accustomed to using technology to accomplish personal tasks, like communicating through email and a variety of social media platforms, watching videos and setting their home thermostats, wherever they are, using personal mobile devices. So, they come to their positions expecting to perform work functions using an easy-to-understand interface, wherever their work takes them. Additionally, more departments within an organization have access to the BAS. No longer is access limited to the facility management department.
As a result, the best BAS on the market today must support remote interaction between building systems and mobile phones, tablets and laptops for fully mobile building management. At the same time, they need to be intuitive. Building operators do not have time to attend training classes on how to use the system. They want to be up and running on day one, with the ability to quickly find information pertinent to their job and take action to correct situations that impact building operations.
Space- and Equipment-Based Navigation Ensure Ease of Use
This means today’s BAS should be easily accessible, eliminating the need to download apps or software, and feature space- and equipment-based navigation for reduced time on task and faster troubleshooting. A navigation system like this allows an operator to search a commercial, healthcare or education campus by building name, room number, hallway, floor, etc. to gain information about the equipment serving those particular spaces and the controllers assigned to the equipment. It requires familiarity with the building floor plan rather than the building automation system and automatically updates as space and equipment change.
Additionally, the use of customized widgets provides operators with the information that is most critical for them to perform their jobs. Most leading BASs sort through and organize the huge amounts of data they collect – the result of a growing number of microprocessors found in mechanical and electrical systems – and help facility managers use that data effectively. For example, fault detection and diagnostics tools gather data from sensors and equipment, then apply complex algorithms to uncover potential problems before they’re detectable through traditional alarms. Such applications not only alert staff to an impending issue, but also identify the issue’s cause and use easy-to-understand visual displays that help technicians quickly zero in on a preventative solution.
Cleaner Visualization Thanks to Improved Graphics
These visual displays often include photo-realistic graphics for cleaner visualization and faster troubleshooting. The graphics might display floor plans unique to a specific building or visual representations that closely resemble various pieces of mechanical equipment, providing operators with a familiar experience. They easily recognize real-time views of equipment on their screen and monitor its operation. What’s more, building operators have the ability to create, edit and manage graphics natively within the BAS interface without requiring any additional software or tools, significantly reducing time on task.
Security Best Practices are Critical
As system connectivity increases, so does the very real threat of data breaches and hacking attacks. As a result, a modern BAS must follow IT best practices for keeping occupants safe and protecting building systems and data. This means better management of user password processes and hashing schemes, dormant user account reporting and securing and encrypting communication, like HTTPS communication.
The system should also be able to easily integrate with devices and other systems via a commitment to support it with industry-preferred communications protocols. This means, for example, occupancy information can be shared with lighting and HVAC systems to ensure appropriate lighting and comfort levels in specific areas of a building.
While the BAS is providing operators with these benefits, it continues to help facility managers find energy and operational savings. Some systems even help prioritize events by cost-saving potential, so staff can tackle those problems with the greatest impact on the bottom line.
IP-Enabled Field Controllers on the Horizon
It is good to remember that the platforms and operating systems underlying a BAS can become quickly outdated as technology advances. Looking ahead at some of those advances, building operators can expect to see things like IP-enabled field controllers capable of gathering more information and enabling easy integrations and increased network performance and bandwidth. The goal is to download information faster and quickly present that data to building operators. These controllers will also help future-proof companies’ investments in network cabling.
Other advances in BAS will include the ability to customize dashboards so the user experience mimics operators’ natural operational style. System integrators will be able to design dashboards to meet the specific preferences of an operator on a given project, with unique looks possible for different projects. Operators can also look forward to systems capable of managing a building network without the need for configuration.
IoT-Ready from Day One
Looking even further ahead, a future BAS will most likely be internet of things (IoT)-ready during the new construction process. Today, the building construction process makes it difficult to harness the IoT. Cloud-hosted, software as a service (SaaS)-based solutions that provide energy management and optimization are often layered on to the BAS post-installation. Because controls are installed as a bid through the mechanical contractor, it is difficult to pass a monthly subscription through the contractor. In the future, winning BAS providers will find a way to avoid problems associated with layering cloud-hosted offerings post-installation and instead provide them on day one of construction.
Look for open communications protocols to be available in a BAS of the future. Current protocols limit the exchange of information to the point level, which is too low a level for extraction. The future BAS will need to embrace open protocols with standards elevated to a higher level.
Cyber Security Will Remain a Priority
Finally, cyber security will continue to be a major priority and evolve to meet increasing and changing security threats. As a result, future systems will be driven by IT standards, including BACnet’s in-progress standard, instead of BAS-driven standards.
The BAS industry has made dramatic improvements in both the amount of information available and the ease with which that information can be accessed. So, the importance of upgrading a BAS to new features and capabilities should not be overlooked. A 2015 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory survey of more than 100 buildings over eight years showed almost all buildings could reduce energy use 5 to 30 percent with simple changes to their controls.
Understanding the newest BAS benefits is the first step in evaluating a current BAS and determining when it is time to update it. Upgrading to the newest BAS can provide greater flexibility and control and the opportunity to take full advantage of potential savings, while gaining better control over maintenance costs, reducing risk and promoting peak system performance.
Dennis Kelsey is the Director of Product Management, Advanced BAS, for Johnson Controls, and is responsible for developing the next generation of building automation systems for global markets. Dennis joined Johnson Controls in 1975 and has a long and distinguished career spanning all aspects of the Controls business, including installation, operations, sales, marketing and product development. He is considered as one of the founding fathers of the Metasys® product line. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Lane is a Senior Product Manager, Building Automation Systems, and joined Johnson Controls in 1992. He has held several positions in application engineering, sales and product management. In his current role, Chris leads a team of product managers responsible for the next generation of Johnson Controls’ building automation system product lines, including Metasys® and Facility Explorer®. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Dana Petersen is a Global Product Manager at Johnson Controls. He leads product strategy for the next generation of integrated building solutions. This includes a focus on IT convergence, building wide systems optimization, building analytics and Internet of Things. He has 12 years’ experience with software development in building automation platforms. He has previously served as a committee member on the ASHRAE BACnet SSPC committee for Johnson Controls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.