February 2012
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AutomatedBuildings.com

Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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AHR Expo is Back in Town
My kind of town, Chicago is…

Steven R Calabrese
Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Edito


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Well, that time has come again! Every three years or so, the AHR Expo makes its way to the Windy City, Chicago, that is. My home town. Well, not really, seeing as I’m a suburbanite, tried and true. However, that doesn’t preclude me from calling myself a Chicagoan, for I am, if nothing else, a true Chicago Bears football fan. No, I’m not looking for any sympathy, even given that a seemingly good start to our season ended in injury and despair. That aside, I do look forward to the Expo being held in Chicago, of course to wander up and down the Building Automation and Control Showcase, but also to stand in line and meet Chicago Bears legends from better days. The last two shows that I attended, I got the chance to see “in person” a couple of the “heroes of my youth”, and I look forward to finding out who we have in store for us this year!

Getting back to business here, I thought that I’d go back and review the columns I wrote about the Expo the last time it was held in Chicago. For reference, I direct you to my March and April columns of 2009. Boy how time flies! Anyway, in preparation for this year’s show, I’m working on getting in the right “mindset”, as far as what I’m after and what I expect to take away from it. As daunting as this exposition can be, you need to come prepared, lest ye be blown away by the sheer magnitude of this event. And that doesn’t even include the multitudes of seminars that one can attend. Yep, it’s gonna be crazy.

Of course by the time this column “goes to press”, the Expo will have come and gone, so my thoughts and prose herein are pre-Expo, even though you’re reading this post-Expo. That said, I’m checking my notes from last time, and anticipating this year’s show, my intentions are the same as before: to walk around and ask “What’s new?” Buzzwords from the last Chicago show included the following: Green, IAQ, BACnet, Demand Response, and Wireless. In retrospect, I can tell you that all of those have played an important role in my business over the last three years, albeit some more so than others. For instance, Demand Response, or DR, hasn’t had the impact on my business that I would have expected it to have. Maybe I’m missing out, or maybe it’s just a slow growth market, but I haven’t directly been involved in any projects that put an emphasis on this concept. I could be all wet, and if I am please let me know, because I would like to believe that it has become a viable concept, as I’d like to get an actual opportunity to be involved in such a project.

On the other hand, IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) has been making a huge impact in my marketplace. I’m seeing a requirement for space humidity and CO2 sensors, now more than ever, especially at the zone level, i.e., VAV box level, where the requirement might be for each and every VAV zone to have, in addition to the requisite zone temperature sensor, a CO2 sensor as well, and even a humidity sensor in certain situations. And as technology now allows for all three of these sensing elements to be “under the hood” of a single decorative enclosure, we’ve almost come to expect this as a spec item, and question it when it is not. Especially if the project is bucking for LEED status, which of course is all about being “Green” (aah, another buzzword).

A lot going on in my world with BACnet. As a controls contractor repping a line of native BACnet controls, we see our share of installations, from new construction projects in which we design and install a native BACnet control system from the ground up, to integration projects in which we are challenged with tying in new controls to an existing control system, to anything in between. As for integration to major equipment and third party products, now more than ever before these products and equipment are offered with a communications option, namely BACnet. Not to say that the other communication protocols aren’t represented as well, and maybe it’s just because I’m looking for that all-too-familiar BACnet trademark, but it seems as though most of the larger equipment (chillers, boilers, packaged rooftop units) as well as the third party products (variable frequency dirves, airflow measuring stations, refrigerant leak detectors) not only are offered with a BACnet comm option, oftentimes it’s not just an option, but a standard feature! Yes, BACnet has surely arrived, and none too soon I might add.

Finally, some ponderings on wireless. Twenty years ago, forget it! Ten years ago, well, maybe. Even five years ago, the concept of wireless in our industry met with some difficult obstacles, both real and perceived. There were the technological limitations that have largely been eradicated (mesh networks). And there were what I call the “reluctance to accept new concepts” limitations, which have also been all but eliminated. Full speed ahead, I say, for wireless is upon us, and there’s no turning back!

Control Solutions, Inc I wrote about wireless BACnet in the wake of the last Chicago show, as there was a clever device that caught my interest: a wireless BACnet router. Simply put, you can “bridge a gap” so to speak, by using a pair of these devices to connect BACnet networks wirelessly. Well guess what? My company actually had the opportunity to implement this in a very real situation. The application was/is a large college campus in Chicago, of which we very recently completed a large metering project using BACnet communications as the backbone of the metering network. Turns out we had some physical limitations that prohibited us from hardwiring the network in a certain building. Solution? Wireless BACnet! From concept to practical application in just the short amount of time since the last Chicago AHR Expo. Now that’s progress!

Wrapping up this month’s column, I move on from reminiscing about the last Chicago show, and close with my plans for this year’s extravaganza. As I did last time, I plan on visiting the Expo on two consecutive days, the first on which I intend on taking in a couple of seminars, maybe one in the morning, grab some chow, and one again in the afternoon, hopefully managing to leave the city behind me before rush hour (2 P.M…!). The next day is when I’ll spend the bulk of my time walking up and down the Building Automation and Control Showcase, stopping whenever something piques my interest, and asking anyone who’ll answer “So what’s new?” All of this of course provided there’s no blizzard in the forecast!

Tip of the Month: Show tips (for the next one)…dress “business casual” (whatever that means to you), ditch the overcoat (leave it in the car if you’re parking in the garage), and be prepared to gather a boatload of literature on new products. The AHR folks will provide you with an “eco-friendly” bag, but you may want to bring your own bag, one that can more suitably hold your gatherings. On second thought, scratch that last bit of advice. Let’s not overthink this, right!?


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