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Interview - May 2002
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EMAIL INTERVIEW - Henrik Ebeklint & Ken Sinclair 

Henrik Ebeklint has been involved with Building Automation since the middle of the nineties and today is the managing director of IntelliCom and SmartHomeForum.com.  He is also involved in the Swedish LonWorks organisation as the vice chairman.  E-mail: heeb@intellicom.se

SmartHomeForum/IntelliCom about the problems having products support different building automation networks.


Sinclair: Who is SmartHomeForum.com? 

Ebeklint:  SmartHomeForum.com was founded in year 2000 by the Swedish consultancy firm IntelliCom Innovation who wanted to launch an information portal with focus on Intelligent Buildings and Homes. The first approach of SmartHomeForum.com was to have technical oriented content that could become a natural place to learn about automation networks and technologies used in the Building Automation industry.

However, the portal has today improved to not only contain technical information, but also news, articles, interviews, surveys, trend reports, products and an extensive resource directory. The main target industries today are building automation, smart homes, broadband and wireless technology.

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Sinclair: Why are all the building automation networks/standards one of your main focuses? 

Ebeklint:  Today there are many different automation networks used in buildings and homes. Some of them are proprietary and some of them are open and based on public standards. Even if an automation network technology is recognised as an industry standard it is not certain that the network technology is widely accepted on the market. These issues are a problem to manufacturers, consultants, system integrators, installers and end users, so we thought that it is important that we help clarify the differences between the automation networks by publishing information about them.

Sinclair: Why are there so many different networks on the market today? Why is there not one dominating network that could be used in all building automation applications? 

Ebeklint:  The networks have of course different technical specifications that make them more or less well suited in different applications. For example, there are differences in network speed, data capacity, network size, security, flexibility, real-time support etc. But another reason is that there are some major industry leaders on the market such as Siemens, Rockwell, Johnson Controls and Echelon who all have specified and designed their own networks. The result is that all these companies develop, promote and sell their network technologies and products to make their own systems dominate.

Over the past years all parts in the value-chain have gotten more aware about automation networks and that the systems need to be based on open standards to get the best benefits in the long term. This drives the market to co-operate to form common standards or to develop specifications of how to design communication interfaces to products in a way that makes interoperability (compatibility) between different vendors possible.

Sinclair: What problems do manufacturers face when they need to support their products with automation networks? 

Ebeklint:  Today there are many manufacturers with existing products or systems for buildings that do not yet have any communication capability or they might lack the communication technology that their customers are asking for. To develop a communication interface is in general very time consuming and costly since competence needs to be obtained both for development and certification (if applicable). The development cost and time is often substantial especially if the automation network requires development of specific hardware.

This means that the development of communication technologies takes a lot of focus from the ordinary core business. Therefore it is extremely important to evaluate what automation network to go for. This is one reason why it takes time to get products to support standard automation networks.

Reliable Controls Sinclair: What solutions are there for a manufacturer who wants their products to support several automation networks without losing focus on their core business? 

Ebeklint:  There is no simple solution to the problem but there are ways to significantly reduce the level of cost and time spent. First of all, it is important to identify and evaluate things such as:

When these things have been clarified the next step is to determine how the requested automation networks can be designed into the product based on a solution that gives the required functionality and flexibility at a reasonable cost.

It is in general not very easy to evaluate all these things within the organisation so in order to be successful it is more common to get external help. IntelliCom Innovation is an example of a company that offers this kind of consultancy services worldwide. Today IntelliCom Innovation is working as a "communication partner" to companies and corporations helping them not only significantly reduce the total cost and time to market, but also to get them into a good and competitive solution from the beginning. It is common that many problems can be solved using standard off-the-shelf products or hardware/software modules and often there is no need for inventing the wheel once more.

Sinclair: Do you personally believe that there will be one standard for building automation?

Ebeklint: I do not think that there ever will be one network dominating all automation applications in buildings, but in a long perspective there will probably be a few networks that will have most of the total market share. Some will still compete and some will find their way to complement each other.

Sinclair:  What is your role in all this? 

Ebeklint: I have been involved in Building Automation since the middle of the nineties and am now the managing director of IntelliCom and SmartHomeForum.com. I am also involved in the Swedish LonWorks organisation as the vice chairman.


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