March 2015
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Systems Convergence

HVAC & Security
Todd Fiinnegan

Todd A. Finnegan
President,
ACS Services, LLC
tfinnegan@acssllc.com

TechTalk
January 2015: Volume 14

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In the time I’ve been working with automation systems, I’ve seen convergence of systems in some of the “smarter” buildings and data centers I’ve been in. Sometimes this has been of necessity, sometimes due to convenience, but often it’s about energy reduction strategies, efficiency and on-going system maintenance and expansion costs...pretty practical considerations if you think about it. For the sake of this discussion, I’m keeping this to HVAC and Security systems since in my own personal experience I’ve not seen many system integrators pull Fire and Life Safety Systems in the mix with elegance...at least not yet.

There seems to be really two camps out there: Those that say these two systems should NEVER converge and those that have seen benefits to systems convergence in HVAC and Security and now fully support the idea.

In this article I’d like to talk about reasons for the “Yea’s” and the “Nay’s” either resistance to system convergence or the embracing of the idea and the commensurate benefits that some folks are realizing.

The “NAY’S”:

On or about the year 2000 I was firmly in this camp. My customers had the ability to have systems come to a single “head end” which at the time was fairly difficult. This was an option that was relegated to large system owners and facilities folks with larger than normal budgets for such things as Federal Government, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare clientele. For the Nay’s, the risks associated with combining these systems in any way was just too great and the Nay’s had a point. The advent of nimble integration platforms that made this sort of combining of systems easy was still relatively far off. Integrations in this typle were inordinately complex since the underlying system architectures were inherently proprietary, even if the systems were from the same large OEM. Full-deployments of this type of integration were in a few instances flat-out failures. With the passage of time these experiences, even when somewhat successful, were put into the Facility Folks collective memories as “nice to have’s”, not “must have’s”.

Then there are also the “silo’s” to consider. The people that are running the HVAC systems in a building are not always the same people running the security systems. In the type of building where these sorts of convergences were sold to the customer, these “silo’s” existed since they were typically large buildings or multiple buildings with enterprise level systems. It took subject matter experts within the facilities staff to manage the system and the skill sets were VERY different and the systems were likewise. There were strenuous arguments on part of the Security System Folks to not have an HVAC System person making changes to access control credentials. Likewise HVAC Systems personnel did not want a Security Systems person making changes to the supply set-point on a chilled water plant.

The risks on both sides were real and apparent. If you take that one step further into something like a critical facility or pharmaceutical or the data center world, it could have been a recipe for disaster. For several years, the “Nay’s” had the majority vote and for VERY large enterprise systems this is to some extent still the case. Migrating these large systems is a delicate matter and not something that can be done easily or inexpensively.

New buildings, large and small, coming out of the ground have the opportunity to consider such system convergence options but existing buildings with large complicated systems need migration advancements that can mitigate the enormous risks associated with convergence and full-scale system migrations. There’s still too much risk in a lot of instances for such cases.

The “YEA’s”:

Fast forward about a decade later and you are seeing that instead of straight-stick “controls” manufacturers or OEM’s you are seeing platforms that began as integration engines with drag-n-drop programming functionality that made automation systems of the 1980’s and 1990’s seem quaint. Technology began to become “web-enabled” and as systems grew in IT sophistication, their graphical user interfaces (GUI’s) and programming tool sets became more accessible to Facilities Folks and others in the mechanical and electrical trades that had not spent decades learning to write code. Being able to work with multiple protocols is yet another incredible advancement that was previously inordinately difficult and expensive to achieve.

Manufacturers of HVAC and Security equipment are producing equipment that comes with its own controller and controls the equipment to a designed efficiency. This controller can typically speak generally accepted protocols such as BACnet, MODbus, and SNMP. On the systems side, instead of actively controlling this equipment we often now need to just “speak” to it via the protocol and provide this equipment with a schedule to run and a set-point to maintain. This change was instigated by building owners that did not want to be slaves to proprietary systems.

Once you have shifted the systems to being more like integration engines and being able to read standard protocols you opened up a world of inter-operability between systems, but early adopters were seen as heretics...the first people through the wall always get bloody! Change is never easy and HVAC and Security System personnel saw this as a threat to their jobs.

The application that swung my vote was witnessing an HVAC and Security System converged in a large high school that was being built about five years ago. This particular building was engineered to be “smart” and it delivered. I had the opportunity to tour this facility with the Director of Facilities and Athletics and here’s what I saw:

Reliable Controls “The Athletic Director (AD) and Facilities Director took me straight to the gym. This was a BIG TIME sports program at this school and they were proud of their teams, but they were also keenly aware of what an energy hog the gym was in their old building. The AD showed me two security badges, one for the Varsity Girls Volleyball Coach and one for the Varsity Boys Basketball Coach. We watched from the hallway outside the gym as the AD held each badge up to the card reader outside the gym entrance. The Volleyball Team badge automatically turned on the lights to half the gym, raised the basketball backboards and raised the set-point temperature in the gym to 72 degrees. After a two minute wait, the AD used the badge for the Basketball Team. The input from this badge lowered the basketball backboards, turned on all the lights and lowered the set-point to 68 degrees. When the AD swiped the Basketball Team badge a second time, the backboards went up, the set-point went to 65 degrees and the lights went off. I was sold.”

System convergence is not for everyone and every building. The function of the building and the work patterns, comfort and security of the occupants need to be the top most considerations. That said, for the sake of simplicity of system service, future system expansions and potential energy savings that are far beyond the calculus of purely outside air percentages, lowering or raising set-points and turning off lights, you have to admit it's worth at leastthinking about it.

That’s all for now and always remember us SERVICE GUYS don’t care how large or small the job is, we just want to be the call you make!


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