May 2010

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Mobile is the new HMI

How an iPad saves money by making procedures lean

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak
Vice President OPC Marketing,

OPC Foundation

Contributing Editor

As a society we live in an exciting technological time. High technology is becoming extremely easy to use, and more affordable than ever before. We are a “mobile” and “on demand” driven society. We can multi-task, and speak to people around the globe in seconds via text messages, and instant messaging software programs. We conduct our business at an extremely rapid pace, and we demand information pushed to us in real-time.

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If you think about it, life styles in North America are actually modeled after the characteristics of OPC. As individuals we are using our smart phones, and handheld devices, to poll and make requests of various data sources. We cannot only read data on websites, and Facebook pages, but we can also use our handhelds to write data. We can even set up subscriptions to data sources; as well as receive alerts when specified parameters are met. The access to this information is all thanks to the capabilities of our smart phones and PDAs which act exactly like handheld HMI’s.

We are no longer tethered to a desktop computer, or landline internet connection. Work that typically required an individual to be chained to their desk can now be performed from anywhere with a wireless internet connection. As a marketing professional I travel a lot, so my office is wherever I happen to be standing. I can work from any Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop, airport, or friendly neighborhood tavern. The ease of access to information on hand-held wireless devices definitely provides me with the ability to get more done in a day without being at my office workstation. I can more effectively use the time that I spend travelling and not simply label it as “dead time”. Productivity and efficiency have increased thanks to handheld technology.

I was recently introduced to an Apple iPad and I have to say that it is a device with unlimited potential! My first thought was that it was very “George Jetson” and futuristic looking, but I wondered if it was simply a very sleek toy or if it had actual practical applications. The more of the features I was exposed to, the more I quickly saw the potential of the device to actually replace the need for docked or desktop PC’s. It has the ability to access a corporate VPN, and conventional office tools like Word and Excel.

Then I thought about a practical application in a Building Automation capacity. I was imaging a scenario where a maintenance manager of a series of buildings had one of these iPads that was configured as an HMI to provide access to the various building systems and could be accessed wirelessly. A maintenance engineer can check entire building systems while getting a coffee and banana muffin at Starbucks. Workloads can be distributed to crews from the iPad and received using blackberries or other handheld devices. The correct priority of task for maintenance assignments would optimize the work flow of the crews for their day and reduce wasted time driving from site to site to identify jobs that needed to be completed.

Similarly maintenance managers could better deal with issues that arise when they are on call. A notification / alarm could be sent to a maintenance manager about an AC unit that has malfunctioned in a high rise building on a Sunday. The manager could access the building system through the iPad interface and receive diagnostic data from the malfunctioning unit and prepare a list of parts that are required to fix it. Parts could be ordered, or shipped, and a maintenance crew could be dispatched with a full understanding of the situation that they need to fix.

The maintenance manager could also look at the affected building system, and determine if other AC systems can be re-routed to provide environmental conditioning to the affected area. All this could be done directly from the iPad.

A situation like the one above is where technology trends seem to be moving. This would require actual building automation devices to have some intelligence built into them so that a diagnostic system could access it. The argument could be made that the cost of putting intelligence into a device like a light switch would raise the cost of the switch and make it too expensive to install. I think that while the cost of a switch with intelligence built in would increase, the costs would be easily recovered by the savings in energy costs and preventative maintenance.

CatNet Systems Maintenance managers could take the data from an office building’s intelligent devices for a month and export them via a protocol like OPC into a historian where the data could be analyzed. Energy trends could be analyzed and systems could be tuned for maximum energy efficiency. This in turn would save the building owner money, which could be turned into a cost savings for the tenants of the building. Not to mention the fact that the building owner would reduce the building’s energy footprint and demonstrate the environmental responsibility that we as a planet are all striving for.

Placing intelligence in building automation devices will also reduce maintenance costs by enabling the maintenance manager to access greater diagnostic data from all the devices contained within a building’s architecture. Using an iPad, a maintenance manager could receive alerts from devices in a building architecture as to what their status is, and when a failure is likely to occur. Imagine a device sending an alert to a maintenance manager saying that a failure will occur in a certain number of days. Parts can be ordered and maintenance crews can be scheduled before a failure occurs. Predictive, rather than reactive maintenance results in higher cost savings, and an improved bottom line.

The technology that exists today has tremendous potential to totally change the way that we work, live and play. Individuals who are looking to learn more about the latest technology trends in Building Automation should consider attending Connectivity Week in Santa Clara, CA.

Technology trends in OPC can be viewed at www.opcfoundation.org. The OPC Foundation product catalogue lists vendor products that are applicable for the building automation vertical.

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