Building automation generally begins with control of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems. For instance, the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is almost always controlled, including control of its various pieces of equipment such as: Chillers, Boilers, Air Handling Units, Roof-top Units (RTUs), Fan Coil Units (FCUs), Heat Pump Units (HPUs), Variable Air Volume boxes (VAVs). Lighting control is likewise, low-hanging fruit for optimizing building performance.
Other systems that are often controlled or brought under a complete automation system include: Power monitoring, Security, Close circuit video (CCTV), Card and keypad access, Fire alarm system, elevators or escalators and plumbing and water monitoring.
Building automation has come a long way since the 1960s when pneumatic control systems were being installed in buildings. Today most modern building automation systems depend on wireless connectivity to ease installation and allow fast modifications or expansion. However, there are a few trends influencing this sector.
The wireless technology is beginning to replace traditionally wired BAS infrastructure. Thus far, however, the wireless technology is limited to sensor-type devices and suffers from issues including a lack of clear wireless standard, short battery life, and communication challenges through various types of building structures and materials. Other than that, the enterprise-level initiatives are making the communication protocol of the Building Automation less important and while it is quite common to replace a pneumatic control system with a direct digital control (DDC) system, pneumatic-to-DDC bridging strategies also exist.
Another trend suggested by Andreas Schneider, Chief Marketing Officer, EnOcean GmbH in Germany is, those sustainable wireless building automation systems which do not require maintenance or changing batteries will become state of the art for modern buildings, even for retrofit projects. These solutions offer the needed price/ performance ratio, flexibility, reliability and system sustainability that are required to meet governments’ ambitious goals of significantly reduced energy consumption in buildings (newly constructed and existing ones).
Rick Schuett, Chief Commercial Officer at Autani Corporation also suggests that the costs will continue to drop for hardware. More and more emphasis will be placed on the value of the software within the building controls and monitoring space. Those firms that have their own in-house software developers (such as Autani) will be able to move faster and stay ahead of client needs and expectations than companies that choose to outsource most of their software and hardware development.
There are many trends that are especially important to the building automation market. Melinda Corley from indusoft in the US says that energy monitoring and metering is growing in importance, as the push toward sustainable buildings increases. Building automation systems will need to be able to incorporate cost-saving measures such as predicting and monitoring energy consumption, and predictive maintenance of equipment. Smart technologies will also become very important. Smart technologies can be used to measure facility occupancy and temperatures to better regulate cooling and heating, or can be used for building security and tracking the flow of people throughout a building. The Internet of things will allow smaller systems within a building, such as elevators and thermostats, to communicate with the building automation system for better efficiency.
Also emerging markets will see the huge benefits of implementing wireless technologies in buildings. Cornelius Berns from a German company, Thermokon Sensortechnik GmbH says that in a digital world, it is inalienable to disregard the technological shift from standard wired automation towards a digital automation based on RF-technology. Consumers want to have a “one-control-all” solution from anywhere they are. Integration into smart devices (smart phone, tablets, PC’s) will be the consumer preferences. Questionable if this will also hold for commercial buildings (offices, hotels, shopping malls), but a decentralized control of building automation functions has to be maintained somehow.
BUS-Systems will prevail, as sometimes there is no way around for budgetary or efficiency reasons. But then, it is about to find hybrid-solutions between RF and conventional wired technologies, which can even increase current building efficiencies. One example therefore is their EnOcean-Gateway to all common BUS-Systems in building automation.