November 2015

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Building Automation needs a Global Standard

- not only a Data Communication Protocol

Global Standard

Hans KranzDipl.-Ing. Hans R. Kranz VDI, Forst / Baden
(active) retirement
Former member of DIN Executive Committee
Former Board Member of VDI-TGA
Former Project Leader ISO 16484

"Standards are the priceless values that strengthen the dissemination of all new technologies and bring new ideas to market faster. The fundamental drive that sets and keeps the economy moving comes from new products and methods ..."
Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Austrian-American economist, end of the 18th Century

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Standards are documents that are created by experts in a process of mutual agreement on standardization bodies. These documents are particularly well suited for disseminating technical knowledge in today's communications environment. Unlike patents, which are subject to intellectual property rights, the knowledge codified in standards is available to everyone at no charge. Standards define terminologies and design principles and processes, upon which an industry may rely. With standardization comes a level of certainty as to planning, costs and legal issues; in the case of building automation, for all those involved in construction[1].

Standards and operating policies

In many countries standards must be agreed to contractually. A European Standard (EN) is implemented in all European countries as a National Standard. Sometimes standards are regarded, however, as more of a burden--providing no added value and as a form of state intervention--but only by those who wish to bypass a "generally recognized state of the art" for business reasons, or that have no idea of the scientifically proven economic impact.

Hardware costs as a backdrop

The old industry standard fair practice of intensive sales support for consultants with proprietary, often encrypted bills was intended to confuse competitors. The common hardware data point calculation does not distinguish functionally between the data point for a bathroom fan or that of a complex chiller, even if it is used to simply indicate the function on a plant schematic, a cascade control system or a complex control chain for a co-generation plant. This situation resulted in a fatal downward price spiral. In other words, the one who miscalculated the most, got the job - and improved on it by "omit". This is exactly where for some of these players the "curse" of standards begins, because it becomes just that more difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of enlightened customers.

Concerted action

The most important prerequisite for an efficient building automation system is a competent design and tender as well as clear and unambiguous documentation of project requirements. Technical processing (engineering) is a key project cost driver since the advent of digital technology. These expenses are directly related to the required building services functions.

Builders, consulting engineers, BACS manufacturers and HVAC companies have to agree in a concerted campaign on a definition of one Building Automation and Control language (BACnet) and of BAC functions for building services plants (ISO 16484-3) and introduce them as a rule of technology and in standard specification for BACS. In ISO it was intended from the outset to standardize the processes for design and implementation in addition to hardware and data communications. In Part 1 of the global BACS standard, the "BACS-Function List" (BACS-FL) is defined as documentation of the planning concept for system neutral BACS-planning. For an energy efficiency certificate, these functions also are required pursuant to the upcoming ISO 16484-7 [Energy Efficiency by BACS].

The BACS Function List (BACS-FL) as a worldwide standard

Today in the BACS industry needs to achieve testable project quality as well as cost accounting and cost certainty when it comes to the building automation and system integration trade. The BACS-World Standard series EN ISO 16484 is available as a code of practice. The BACS-Function List and its functions definition has gained acceptance throughout Europe (EN). This BACS-FL is the collection and allocation of standard BACS functions ranging from data points to plants and/or suppliers. It replaces the mostly incomplete prosaic descriptions of functions, which can be interpreted in any number of ways. The planned ISO 16484-4 intends to bring up those functions and applications specially for the integrated room automation with HVAC, lights and shades.

Predictable services

[an error occurred while processing this directive] In contract documents (bill of quantities) each of these BACS functions is calculated as a complete engineering service--from technical clarification, programming and commissioning to operator instructions and documentation. This simplifies settling accounts for increases or decreases to a project. In the bill of quantities, the BACS hardware can be advertised as product neutral per mechanical equipment room by the number of required I/Os. The allocation of services (functions) to subsystems in multivendor integration projects is nearly impossible without a correct BACS-FL. Today, there is virtually no BACS project that does not feature interoperable communication/integration of third-party products, e.g. boilers, rooftop units or SCADA. The most sustainable and cost-effective solution for these tasks is using the internationally standardized communication protocol BACnet (EN ISO 16484-5); manufacturers can no longer afford to not offer this standard protocol without consequences (who could see that as a curse of standardization?).

Expertise and potential for innovation

Clean and proper calculations under the BACS-world standard, helps keep innovation potential within the industry and protects it from undue legal expenses. In addition, a lack of expertise (curse?) is quickly evident when applying a standardized protocol and functions in a tender. To remedy this, there are courses on BACnet, see: But there are trainings for standardized planning and tendering of building automation only in Europe/Germany, see

Finally, the legal certainty of standardization permits investments in rationalization tools (BIM, C-Tools and e-commerce) for planning, tendering and engineering clearing the way for an unprecedented streamlining of planning and sales processes. And in the end, the building operator receives a system that works as advertised and planned. The development way building automation was going in past years we explained here: 

[1] Application of the building automation and control system function list (BACS FL) ISO 16484-3


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