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Article - November 2000
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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Phil Longhurst,
Business Development Manager

Sontay Open Systems


Technology and innovation from suppliers continues to reveal new control possibilities with open systems.

Building occupiers are becoming ever more demanding of the environment they require within their buildings. Higher degrees of comfort, flexibility, energy efficiency, usability, maintenance and cost-effectiveness are among the many factors which increasingly shape how building services are designed, installed and operated today. In the same way that buildings continue to evolve with the advent of new technology, so the control systems that go to run them have progressed from analogue systems to the networked, microprocessor based systems now common in many commercial buildings.

Control Solutions, Inc During the past 12 years, there have also been major changes in the way that control systems have been supplied. In the UK the Systems Integrator (SI) has emerged as a powerful force in the controls sector. In fact, the majority of UK building controls are currently supplied and installed by SI's and the trend is continuing upwards.

There are many reasons for this growth. One point often made is the end-user's desire to have choice in the control system that is being supplied. Using an SI offering a range of different systems from the various controls manufacturers, end-users, it is claimed, retain an element of choice and competitive pricing for the life of the building. In fact, in many cases, this degree of flexibility has only been superficial. Once a particular control system has been installed into the building, then the end user is effectively locked into this system for good, whether he likes it or not. Today, SI's have the opportunity to deliver real choice to their customers.

Open systems offer low cost network communications technology, creating the possibility of much more distributed and integrated control of the whole building. Foremost amongst the contenders for a successful and widely adopted open systems standard is LONWORKS. Supported by over 3500 manufacturers world-wide and already embedded in at least some of the controller products available from all the major controls companies, LONWORKS stands head and shoulders above other possible "open" solutions such as EIB and CAN.

More and more LONWORKS projects are proving the viability and cost-effectiveness of this technology in real-world applications. As multi-vendor suppliers, SI's are using their growing open systems experience to mix and match open products from different suppliers, combining them to suit the needs and budgets of particular projects. SI's also have the necessary expertise to inter-connect the various devices to create interoperable systems.

There is also an ever widening choice in open products on the market. As new devices are launched to fill the gaps that previously existed, so the price of controller I/O has fallen significantly. To illustrate this, in 1998 there was no obviously viable LONWORKS compatible open supervisor, but the introduction of the OSS 2000 from Image, and the developments in TAC's Vista program have now given LONWORKS systems front-end functionality ahead of proprietary products. Also, until last year there was no open systems solution for time control and optimisation at a network level, but Sontay Open Systems' LN-SCH open scheduler modules have now filled that gap. Truly open systems can now be achieved using devices from these and other manufacturers, providing real choice for SI's and end-users - now and in the future.

With the growing acceptance of this open standard, LONWORKS technology is also increasingly being integrated into various building plant items. This allows equipment to be delivered pre-tested to site and easily connected to a common network in the same way that it is connected to the power supply. A wide range of such equipment is either already or imminently available with LONWORKS compatibility, including packaged AHUs, pumps, inverter drives, humidifiers, smoke dampers, blinds and luminaries. An additional benefit that LONWORKS can bring is in the integration of the various systems in the building. This means that, for example, the HVAC plant and the lighting can be brought on to provide the right environment when an area is occupied, saving on energy when the area is unoccupied.

These impressive advantages are now being harnessed to the power of the internet, backed by world leading companies, such as, Cisco who are driving the internet revolution. Occurring simultaneously with the migration to open systems is a change in the way the data from such systems is accessed. IT technology is increasingly available to allow easy routing of data from the control system to almost anywhere using standard IP protocols. A new breed of products enables this approach, such as Echelon's I-LON embedded web server, or the Open Supervisor software OSS2000 Webserver. With these new products only a browser on a PC connected via a LAN or WAN is required to interact with the system. This ensures that the right control system information is available where and when it is needed, vital in today's tough competitive business environment.

Technology and innovation from suppliers continues to reveal new control possibilities with open systems. At the same time, LONWORKS product, installation and maintenance costs continue to fall. Equally, a growing band of SI's are now attuned to the technology, and capable of bringing real added value, integration expertise and choice to end users on open systems projects. Open systems using LONWORKS are delivering real benefits on real projects, and show the way forward in building controls for many years to come.


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