Article - January 2003
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An Introduction to Smart, Open Property Automation
This article will explore property automation from a "device-up" perspective beginning with characteristics of a good device network to establishing the benefits of an open system and finally presenting a case for advanced facility management based on open, interoperable device networks.

Kevin Lynch, Director of Channel Marketing, Echelon Corporation
Kevin Lynch
Director of Channel Marketing, 
Echelon Corporation

A building or facility is often the last place anyone would look to find advanced, intelligent network-based applications. Yet, all of us that work or travel routinely interact with electronic devices that sense, monitor or control our immediate environment to make our lives easier, safer, and more comfortable. These networks of everyday devices perform such key functions as controlling elevators and escalators, security and access control and monitoring, lighting, heating venting and air conditioning, and virtually everything else in between that involves electronic devices.

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In the past, such systems were driven by large, proprietary, expensive central controllers and control stations to accomplish their tasks. This lead to high cost, exclusive maintenance contracts that held building owners in thrall to their controls suppliers. The result has been high costs, low customer satisfaction, and closed markets.

Today, however, new technologies have gained market penetration and are freeing owners and property developers from exclusive maintenance contracts and are driving down costs while increasing value. These new systems feature open technologies supported by thousands of manufacturers and integrators, and the best of them feature peer-to-peer open communications models that eliminate expensive gateways and leverage the Internet to allow service providers to create new value-added services, manufacturers to cut costs, and customers to reap benefits that range from lower life-cycle costs to better on-site service to greater choices in vendors.

Intelligent networks of everyday devices are key for facility and property management companies in providing better, more cost effective service to customers. They enable the creation of new, service based revenue opportunities and new business opportunities.

This article will explore property automation from a "device-up" perspective beginning with characteristics of a good device network to establishing the benefits of an open system and finally presenting a case for advanced facility management based on open, interoperable device networks. For purposes of this paper, device network, automation network, and control network will be used interchangeable and mean the same thing.

Characteristics of Good Device Networks
There are many ways to create automation systems, from pneumatics to custom, proprietary hardware and software solutions, to open interoperable, standards-based control networks. Today's automation market clearly calls for the latter.

These open device networks have common traits including an open protocol; flat peer-to-peer architectures; device level interoperability; and a network operating system for easy management, installation and remote services. Automation networks have evolved similarly to PC networks. 

In aggregate, networks built with these traits can deliver lower cost at integration and commissioning, have significantly lower life-cycle costs, allow for easier changes and enhancements, are more flexible, and finally are more adaptable to the end users.

EIA/ANSI 709.1 - An Open Control Protocol 
An open, device networking communications protocol, such as EIA/ANSI 709.1, assures manufacturers and end-users that they have made a technology decision that will be supported today and tomorrow. Thousands of companies today support the use of the protocol. Chip suppliers Toshiba and Cypress Semiconductor have competing families of microprocessors optimized for executing the protocol in cost imperative or performance imperative applications.

Flat Architectures 
While there are many ways to architect networks and control networks, for automated controls flat, peer-to-peer (P2P) architectures are best. P2P architectures lack single points of failures inherent in any hierarchical architecture. In such architectures, messages from one device must go first to a controlling master or gateway BEFORE the signal can get to the target device. Therefore, every communication between two non-master devices includes an extra step, or fault possibility. P2P designs, by contrast, allow direct communication between two devices eliminating the fault possibility of the master controller and removing a potential performance bottleneck. Further, device failures in a P2P design are much more likely to affect just the one device, not the potentially many as one finds in non-flat, not peer-to-peer architectures.

contemporary Device Level Interoperability 
Any discussion of interoperability should begin with a definition of what it means. Simply, interoperability in an automation network is defined as the ability of devices from one manufacturer to understand and use data from another manufacturer's device regardless of sub-system types or original purpose without the intervention of very costly gateways or protocol converters.

The benefits made possible by interoperability are many. Automation systems get simple (re: more reliable) since one sensor or device can be shared among many different sub-systems. They also get cheaper as fewer sensors/controllers are needed in the system and costs drop appreciably as parts are reduced and installation time and complexity decrease. Lastly, more can be done with an automation network when the devices are interoperable. For example, in response to access control reader data and daylight illumination sensors, the HVAC and lighting systems can automatically adjust the comfort and illumination levels in pertinent work areas based on individual preferences and energy costs. Lighting can be adjusted on a cubicle-by-cubicle basis for computer operators and occupants near windows- either automatically or through commands entered from a user's PC via the corporate LAN. Heating and air conditioning can by similarly tailored.

Network Operating Systems 
One way to look at a network operating system (NOS) is to look at the benefits derived from having one. In the case of automation systems for facilities, these can be many. At the installation stage, an NOS allows multiple sub-system installers to work simultaneously rather than sequentially. For instance, a lighting system could be commissioned at the same time as an HVAC system. An NOS also gives manufacturers a software architecture for creating simple plug-ins that allow integrators to easily see and configure various aspects of a device or system such as temperature set points or schedules.

After commissioning has been completed and the facility is operational, the NOS plays a vital role in providing network information including device health, operating characteristics, maintenance information and energy demand. The data is available for presentation through a variety of Human/Machine Interfaces (HMI) that can disseminate this information through client-server based architectures (e.g., Wonderware's Intouch). The pervasiveness of the Internet now enables this information to be shared through any web aware client, driving down costs and greatly increasing value. Time critical actions can now be affected as the NOS allows remote access to the automation network to such an extent as to allow facility managers or integrators to perform the exact same tasks that they could if they were locally plugged into the network.

Open Systems - Delivering Tangible Benefits from Open Interoperable Device Networks

Automation networks for commercial or residential applications merely begin with open interoperable device networks. The next thing that is necessary is what known as an open system. Open systems are created using products from multiple vendors that conform to uniform industry standards, enabling full interoperability across a unified network. They are supported by unaffiliated manufacturers, integrators, distributors and technology providers and are based on open networking and automation standards. 

The benefits of a truly open system include:

Open systems are really about a platform choice - one that supports all the sub-systems in a facility including lighting, HVAC, access, security, elevator, blinds, emergency systems, environment monitoring, water supply, energy and others. Like any network, as an open system increases the number of devices, the power of the network, and therefore the benefits derived by the end-user, increase dramatically.

Leveraging Open Systems for Advanced Facility Management

contemporary As more and more people, devices, computers, businesses, factories, services, and utilities join the rush to the Internet, the value of connecting it all grows exponentially. This is as true for light switches, machine tools, heating and air conditioning systems as it is for computers and browser-based appliances.

The euphoria of the Internet created a sort of fools rush to put IP (Internet Protocol) everywhere from toasters to light switches to motion sensors. Such an architecture, from an automation perspective, suffers from all the shortcomings of any hierarchical architecture as discussed earlier in this paper. If you add to those inherent shortcomings the cost and complexity of IP networking, one quickly realizes that embedding IP into every device in an automation network is not a suitable automation solution.

There is a better way. The chaos of the Internet, ironically, brings order-and opportunity-to those involved in servicing and managing broadband enabled properties. The Internet provides low-cost, ubiquitous remote connectivity and a standard platform for communications between humans and electronic devices.

The cost-effective, future-proof way to integrate the Internet into an automation network is have the NOS speak IP. Doing so allows the automation network to be optimized for local control, monitoring, and sensing while at the same time allowing remote (or local) IP clients such as web browsers or WAP phones, to interact with individual devices on the automation network as if each one had an IP stack embedded inside. Such an architecture allows property and facility management companies to interact remotely with a customer's building in real time, from anywhere in the world.

Remote Control and Efficiency 
A single, open automation network connected to the Internet can give property and facility managers a real-time, detailed view of every system throughout the building or campus-from HVAC and lighting to security and landscaping irrigation-24 hours a day. Alarms indicating fluctuations in equipment performance enable managers to often anticipate problems before the system fails. Scheduled repairs replace costly breakdowns and systems are maintained with minimal disruption to tenants. Many problems can be corrected on line, such as adjustments to air handlers, lighting, and heating or cooling. Improved preventive maintenance leads to longer equipment life, again reducing costs.

As discussed above, each property has it's own dedicated automation network with local control, monitoring and sensing capabilities. The IP network (Internet) is used as the backbone to aggregate information up to business systems (e.g., service scheduling, warranty tracking, customer resource management, et. al.) and as the path for remote network administration.

This immediate, remote access to information provided open systems based on open interoperable device networks allows facility managers to be far more efficient. Information enables improved decisions regarding the need to "roll a truck" at the start of a normal business day rather than at 2:00 AM. The ability to make these types of decisions results in reduced cost of operations. One facility manager can now effectively and efficiently handle buildings and facilities that previously required individual monitoring and management. Savvy companies can set up a portfolio of multiple sites with millions of square feet-across the US or around the world. This reduces labor costs and increases profits to the management company, lowers ongoing operating expenses for building owners, and provides much higher levels of customer support to building occupants.

There are many ways to build automation systems for buildings and residential applications. Automation systems that leverage technical advancements based on open standards deliver on all the benefits and promise of open systems to building owners, integrators, and manufacturers. Clearly some ways are better than others.

The open automation systems that have been discussed in this article do, indeed, exist. They are based on an open platform for device networking called LONWORKS®. LONWORKS devices can be certified interoperable by the LONMARK® Interoperability Association, an organization comprised of supporters of the platform from virtually every country that represent a who's who of control companies.

Additional Information  
About Echelon, the creator of the LONWORKS platform - 
About LONMARK interoperability - 

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