April 2010


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The next big things:
how building automation will change complex installations and commissioning

  Ken Sinclair, AutomatedBuildings.com

as published
Energy Management Canada

A dynamic duo of automated building tools is set to eliminate complex installations and provide self set-up, connection, and commissioning while self-populating the needed information for Web deployment. To understand this best, I’d like you to consider the history of automated building technology.

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In 1975, I worked on a Direct Digital Control (DDC) project that introduced the first buildings that operated without physical controls. That was the first big thing I saw in the Building Automation Industry. The problem was the cost was too high and the system too complex to be rolled out on a large scale.

The next big thing I saw was the rapid evolution of those DDC concepts into low cost stand-alone panels (SAP) with simple operator control languages (OCL). These concepts were pioneered by the likes of Delta Controls and Reliable Controls in my area of the world. This SAP concept was then deployed at a card level as microprocessor costs radically dropped. This was the early 1980s and the rest of the world was still installing pneumatic devices while we had moved to virtual devices controlled by powerful OCL. This was truly the next big thing that redefined our industry. By the early 1990s, DDC became a way of life as the major control companies were forced to abandon their costly pneumatic controls. DDC allowed many new players into the industry, which forced the big players to change their game.

Early DDC system communication protocols were a proprietary Babel and in the early ‘90s the concept of open protocols such as Lon and BACnet started to gain traction, truly the next big thing. The new DDC companies quickly adopted open protocols. That finally provided enough market pressure to force major control companies to embrace these same open protocols.

The next big thing in the late 1990s in building automation was the Internet, and early adopters such as AutomatedLogic Controls, Andover, and Enflex blazed a trail in demonstrating how the Internet would become an integral part of the automation mix.

How the Internet would become an integral part of our industry was of great interest to me, and in May of 1999 we started AutomatedBuildings.com to provide an online saga of this evolution.

Working with the web and its pioneers allowed me insight into this next big thing, and it was huge. Even in the early years, there was much talk about the eventual arrival of powerful Web services.

But more evolution was required by the web and the building automation industry to unleash effective Web deployment. From Andover grew a new company, Tridium, that more than any at that time provided close coupling of building automation to the Web. This was very significant because it allowed the building automation industry and the Information Technology (IT) industry to combine their know-how in powerful new configurations.

All of this scene setting is necessary so that I can tell you that the next big thing is "Web Deployment" and have you believe me.

Although my peers cringe at my loose definition of Web deployment, in which I have chosen to include any services provided by the web automatically or even using manual intervention, Web deployment of all building automation services is redefining that industry. Because building automation is now part of the IT industry and is just viewed as a data stream, we are being swept at an unbelievable rate into Web standards defined not so much by our industry but by the incredible daily evolution of the Web by the IT industry.

Control Solutions, Inc My January editorial on the Automated Buildings website included this quote;

The past decade has been an extraordinary adventure in discovering new social models on the Web — ways to work, create and organize outside of the traditional institutions of companies, governments and academia. But the next decade will be all about applying these models to the real world.

The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is now about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into entrepreneurship, no tooling required. Web was just the proof of concept. Now the revolution gets real. These are words from Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine.

Understand, we are part of this web revolution and this is the next big thing.

So can my old mind grasp what might be the next big thing after Web deployment? I am betting that rapidly evolving low cost wireless building automation system (BAS) devices that actually work well with open protocols with self-discovery, self-healing, and cell phone like networks will be closely coupled with Web deployment to completely redefine the building automation industry.

This dynamic duo will eliminate complex installations and provide self set-up, connection, and commissioning, while self-populating the information necessary for Web deployment. As equipment such as chillers, boilers, air handlers, etc. are moved into place and powered up they will wirelessly connect to their vendors, and powerful Web services will take over complex commissioning. Their identity, an IP address, will be a part of the manufacturer’s, owner’s, designer’s, and operator’s web deployment. It is a new world and these are the next big things.


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