April 2015


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Bill EastEMAIL INTERVIEWBill East and Ken Sinclair

Bill East, PhD, PE, F.ASCE, Prairie Sky Consulting

Dr. Bill East is the inventor of the US National BIM standard called COBie (Construction-Operations Building information exchange) and served as the Technical Subcommittee Chair of the most recent US National BIM Standard.  The goals of the US National BIM Standard are to bring together complex planning, design, construction, and O&M processes through shared, structured information.  In the first of several installments on AutomatedBuildings, Bill will discuss the NBIMS effort and its potential impacts.

“Stop the Ride I Want to Get Off!

KISSing Complexity Goodbye. Part 1”

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SinclairBill, you mentioned that reducing complexity is the central motivation for much of your work. Would you explain why you approached the problem from this angle?

East:  Our facilities are complex, and only getting more so.   The question I would like to pose is, "How much more complex do buildings become before management of the closed loop control systems in even our most basic buildings become untenable? -- Before our built environments simply don't work for those who operate and use them?"   Today facility managers are unable to find the workers needed to operate their buildings; and buildings identified as having the highest efficiency ratings do not perform as intended.  For me, the answer is that we have already crossed this threshold.

The paradox is that our attempts to make things easier are making things so complex that people are working harder and increasing faster than they can keep up.  In operations research, such a situation would be called a Non-Polynomial (NP) problem – that term is shorthand to say that realistically sized problems are exponentially more difficult to solve, which is exactly where we are today. Things look good in small examples, but do not work when we scale those solutions.

Sinclair There has certainly been a lot of work related to design guides and building simulations, haven’t these simplified the requirements?

East:  The "design by checklist" approaches used around the world have certainly raised expectations about a "greener" built environment, unfortunately the typical implementation of such approaches has led to lawsuits and some owners beginning to defund the use of such tools.

Regarding the energy simulation tools, I do not claim to be an expert.  All I can do is to quote one of the leading researchers in that field who has publically stated that if the exact same building design is given to four different energy modellers, then you would get four very different results.  He has even stated that modellers have been known to configure models to produce desired outcomes.  If that happened in the field of structural engineering, the entire building would fall down.  This does not mean that well-meaning people are not working hard, it’s just that the tools that are being used do not, yet, reliably predict a buildings' actual behavior.  We have thousands of years of experience with structural responses – we’re just getting started in modeling how real buildings actually perform when put into use.

SinclairWith these raised expectations, there has to be something that can be done, before those outside the industry recognized that “the emperor has no clothes.”

East:  Yes there is. What we can reliably and consistently deliver on every project (ultimately without additional cost or difficulty -- compared to how we do it today) is to measure the differences between what a facility was meant to do, based on the owners planned use of that facility, and how that building is actually performing. 

Comparing plan to actual is the basis for every control system in a building. The problem is that we are trying to control against the specification of an internally facing closed loop control system.  A system design based on only one expectation of activity taking place in one building.  What is needed is to understand the actual behavior of a building based on its real usage.  Nest, etc..., may work for some situations but these results are far from applicable on complex, mixed use buildings with multiple control systems.

Having something that we can know to be true is better, at least to me, than trying to promote something that might be inconsistently, and incorrectly, applied.

SinclairSo what you are suggesting is another level of complexity, isn’t it?  Someone has to create that meta-control system don’t they?

East:  No.  Not if all the information required to initialize that controller could be delivered by designers and builders as they complete a facility, as part of those contracts and at less cost.  The standards and projects that lead to the US National BIM Standard provide what is needed to achieve this vision.  By structuring the information flows through the facility acquisition process, we capture the information content of each of our efforts and allow others to update that information as they perform their work. 

For example, planning information describing the expected activities in the facility and resulting space and equipment program define the end user expectation of building use.  Today, this information is discarded.

Feedback from the equipment, assemblies, and connections (for HVAC, Electrical, and Water Systems) that deliver needed resources are monitored and consistently reported through a standard definition of a control system.   Liberating control system telemetry from discreet closed loop systems and comparing that feedback with the originally specified space and equipment properties can be done.  Before my retirement from the Corps of Engineers my colleague at the Engineer R&D Center and I created a common platform for the integration of all building systems using well established big-data mathematics.

Knowing what is actually happening in real buildings creates the opportunity for adaptive buildings and for improvement in the underlying science.

Reliable ControlsSinclairCan you given an example of how such a framework might reduce complexity?

East:  Yes, thanks. My favorite example is when several senior citizens got through the barriers and sensor systems at the Oak Ridge National Lab and spray-painted protest messages on a sensitive building (look it up on the Washington Post…).  When the guards watching the bank of monitors and sensors that reported the trespassing were ignored, the guard said they ignore them - the deer and the squirrels set off the alarms.  No different than if I put electrical tape over the car warning signal on the dashboard of my beater car…

The common framework being proposed allows data from multiple systems to be merged and signals evaluated to determine if the pattern of several senior citizens do, or do not, match the patterns coming from deer and squirrels.  Given a common framework and standard algorithms the information can be delivered along with the keys to your new (or renovated) building. 

--- in Bill’s next installment he’ll outline the content of the US National BIM Standard, and related projects, work through the planning, design and construction process to deliver real-time as-built information ready for use during facility operations. In the third installment, he’ll talk about results obtained when this unified approach was tested.  In the fourth installment, he’ll talk about what first steps could be taken to capture critical information about every as-operated building asset in the world in two years or less. ---


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