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Windows proves a now solution to interfacing several vendors’ software packages.
by Ken Sinclair, ESI Enviromation Services Inc/Sinclair Energy Services Ltd

This article was written in the early days of BACnet. Mike Neuman was the feature speaker at this Seminar and my dinner talk was to provide a quick view of what to do while we are waiting for BACnet to be a reality. The talk still provides some insight into how to economically interface legacy systems.


Multi-Vender Graphic Interfaces Using Windows 95

Dinner talk after ASHRAE BACnet Seminar Oct 24,1996 - Edmonton

I think it is ironical to be back at NAIT to give this dinner talk exactly 30 years after graduating from this Institute.

For those of you that do not know me; I was born in Edmonton, raised on a small farm north of the city, attended NAIT taking the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technology and grew up in the HVAC industry in Edmonton. One cold winter day my car would not start so I moved west to British California, or what the rest of Canada affectionately calls the “WET COAST". They told me that you were not a resident until the moss started to grow on your back. If you want me to take my shirt off I can show you that I am a resident.

Anyway, being from Edmonton proved to be my biggest asset as I met and worked with a continuous stream of imported Alberta ASHRAE members, who all asked “when did YOU come over the hill?” I remember at one Vancouver ASHRAE meeting when the old Edmonton gang was almost larger than the Vancouver showing.

The environmental control industry in British Columbia has always had more than just a little trouble coloring between the lines. Free thought, and questioning why, are motherhood on the west coast. I am proud to be part of the BC control industry because I too always had a little trouble coloring between the lines. In fact if you check with my old drafting teacher here at NAIT, he would question whether I could even draw lines in which to color.

Control Solutions, Inc The title of this presentation, Multi-Vender Graphic Interfaces using Windows 95, is not yet another plug for the “Emperor of the World” Bill Gates, but this operating system is here and is now and does solve many present day problems. I think that history will prove this to be transition software. The net heads will show us a way to have non-proprietary multi-platform operating systems anywhere. I will share my thoughts about this before closing in my synopsis on likely future trends.

Windows proves a now solution to interfacing several vendors’ software packages. The important part of the system is the stuff they stole from Apple, the “Point and Click” technology. Now all operating systems on all platforms use point and click. Included are internets, intranets and all good DDC vendors graphics. If the movement and approach to the graphics follow a graphics guideline such as the one developed by B C Buildings Corporation as part of their CCS Design Manual which is available to all on the net.

Link to BC Buildings Corporation's Client Comfort Design Manual

Link to BCBC Client Comfort System Graphic Guidelines

Link to BC Buildings Corporation's Graphic Guidelines for Air Systems

A similar touch and feel can be achieved with multi-vendors with no restrictions to each vendors strengths and weakness. In case you are wondering what the heck CCS is, it another “AA” “Annoying Acronym “ that stands for Client Comfort System. The client service orientated, environmentally concerned, politically correct name for Direct Digital Control or Energy Management Control System, Building Automation System or whatever. Deciding what to name the new system for each project is some of the hardest stuff I do.

Back to the Graphic Guidelines. We were fortunate to be part of the team that developed this design manual on the net. These Graphic Guidelines help BCBC provide a common touch and feel to all their multi-vendor systems. This resource is available free to anyone with internet access.

Many of the concepts in this manual evolved from the University of Victoria CAS. I am doing it again, another AA - CAS stands for Campus Automation System. This project encompassed 13 major buildings on campus. The design team, which we were part of, decided that a graphic interface was mandatory. When we got to preparing the Request for Proposal specifications we asked how do we spec graphics? In the past specs had said things like “vendors shall provide graphics as required???” Shades of some of the old control specs “Contractor shall provide controls as required??” What the heck does that mean? A few risk it all Consultants had actually specified the quantity of graphics; “the Vendor shall supply 15 graphical screens to suit the project”. Clearly a better system was required. The only way to spec a graphic was with a graphic, so we prepared a graphic for every graphic we wanted. In fact if the vendor used a Windows program he could even use these same graphics as feedstock to his graphic generation process.

Once we started to develop the graphics it became obvious that we would have to do something else we had never done before which was to spec virtual points. Our specifications in the past had always included all hardware points, but virtual point were covered with that great catch all, “as required”. The average DDC system that we design has more virtual points than hardware points. Eventually presentations of each graphic with movement buttons, generic start up code, hardware points and virtual points were placed on a one pager that grew to 17" x 11". Since it is suicidal with fax and net tech to make non standard pages, the one page became two 8.5” x 11” sheets organized to allow side by side presentation in paper and vertical stacking on the NET.

Link to BC Buildings Corporation's CCS Manual 5_vb1 One Pager

The 300 page spec document resembled a phone book, but it allowed us to show on site personnel and help them understand exactly what they were going to get before they got it. In fact we had them sign off each one pager as to graph and point accuracy.

This Request for Proposal provided the lowest cost per point from several vendors that we had ever seen for this type of project.

The pre-generation of the graphics allowed them to be used for instructing the installation crews. The vendor’s database and graphics were required to be pre-generated and demonstrated prior to switch over. This allowed project control by on site operator because as the data on the graphics became live they could monitor the vendor's progress by the minute. For acceptance the vendor’s generated graphics were signed off by the vendor and the University once the complete graphic was commissioned. I bet you think Sinclair’s lost it, gone senile and forgot that he is supposed to be talking about multi-vendor interfaces. Nope; to do a good multi-vendor graphical interface you must do a lot of prep work so that when you bring the systems together there is a common touch and feel, or more correctly point and click.

The UVic project successfully combined 10 separate vendor’s systems in a common PC using Windows.

Each vendor has a individual style  but the common point and click items like trend icons, clock icons, program access and menu bar are similar.

$3000 to $4000 will buy you a multi ported, 32 mB 150 Mhz or better, several giga bite hard drive machine with fax modem, that will integrate several vendors’ graphic interfaces. Everyday operators will have no problem flipping between systems with common point and click.

Zero training was provided on the UVIC project and 12 non computer types use the system daily.

System support people for the separate DDC systems still have to deal with supporting multi vendors, but in today’s learn an operating system before noon, well laid out systems are not a problem. It usually becomes clear which system is technically superior and which windows will have growth and which will eventually fade and disappear. Remember I feel that this concept is only a transition to a new way of doing business.

SO HERE IT IS - My prediction for the future is that we will see the separation of the vendors involvement in the graphics and data presentation. Both Internet or Intranet type HTML multi platforms available anywhere presentation, will become the standards. This will allow the data to be easily organized into a common non proprietary presentation application. We are presently working in this exciting area. Existing vendors will be required to concentrate their traditional hardware data into TCP IP protocol, to pass information to a dynamic internet database. Virtual operating systems will allow control from any browser on the internet or intranet.

As apparent seamless national and international automation occurs, companies will organize themselves by function, not geographically as they are now. DDC will be expanded into many non traditional applications. Integration will occur on a non proprietary level, and vendors will have trouble keeping up with hardware and installation demand for the new breed of system as the number of applications will greatly increase.

In closing, remember that I am the source of these predictions and ........Well........ I... live on my little Island and I believe in Ferries.

Ken Sinclair, ESI Enviromation Services Inc/Sinclair Energy Services Ltd Tel: (250) 656-5378 Fax: 656-2394 E-Mail: sinclair@enviromation.bc.ca


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