November 2018

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Niagara Edge 10
Beta Customers Give the GO Sign to Wide Rollouts
Therese SullivanTherese Sullivan,
Customer Marketing Leader, Tridium Inc

Contributing Editor

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Some of the most consequential work is done in the most utilitarian of buildings - like school houses, garages, manufacturing shops, even strip-mall rental space. The story of Building 20 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus is a good case in point. Built during the 1940 World-War II years when construction talent and quality materials were in short supply, Building 20 was designed as a temporary structure. Yet, it stood for over 50 years and housed one breakthrough research project after another despite its well documented dim lighting, bad ventilation and hot and cold extremes. How much more productive could those MIT physicists, engineers, computer scientists, and linguists have been if they were also comfortable? Those masters of the scientific method would certainly have liked to have point-and-click ability to adjust light levels and temperatures, to call-up visualizations of building equipment performance in real-time, and to run analytics programs to predict and trigger the repair of issues in the building before there was the reason for complaint.

Alas, those knowledge-workers didn’t have such smart-building tools back then. More regrettable still, their 2018-counterparts working in similar nondescript spaces don’t have them either. To date, the smart technology revolution has largely bypassed the Building 20-type ‘if-you-pour-the-concrete-and-tilt-up-the-walls-they-will-come’ buildings. The economic and cultural circumstances following World War II and leading into the 21st Century have left the holders of large institutional, corporate and municipal building portfolios with many such minimally maintained yet vital buildings—old and new, big and small.  Most of us work, study, shop and otherwise transact our lives in these buildings. Meanwhile, showcase projects—those one or two new construction or major retrofit efforts that have a PR budget as well as a design-build budget—have pushed and proven the energy saving and comfort enhancing potential of smart building technology. The question has been ‘When are the portfolio holders going to take these lessons and roll out the technology to the greater portion of their building stock?’ 

Cost and technology risk have been the inhibitors. The breakthrough may have just arrived in the form of edge devices that have all the smart-building essentials — an open-protocol building management framework, analytics engine, and support for tag-based data modeling — in an affordable package designed for collecting, processing and visualizing real-time operational data close to the source and in a secure, resource-efficient way. Early users are reporting that the Niagara Edge™10, for example, offers all that is needed to bring smaller, older, non-BMS properties under Niagara control, plus the advantage of a single-tool infrastructure for managing operational performance across a whole portfolio. With their wide mix of use cases, Edge 10 beta customers are signaling that the moment for the wide roll-out of smart building features may finally be here.

University Campus Use Case

Facilities leaders at a top public research university in the US South have committed to the aggressive goal of reducing energy use by 10-15% annually to curb carbon emissions. A core strategic pillar of this effort is a centralized energy management control center which uses Tridium Niagara software to monitor and control HVAC and other equipment on campus. From this control center, the university’s facilities team and its Energy Services partner can centrally monitor and manage energy use for a score of LEED-targeted buildings, or about 15% of the campus building stock. Many JACE controllers are programmed to run the various mechanical systems, subsystems, and pieces of equipment that serve these high-performance buildings. And, just in the buildings served by the control system, the Department of Utilities and Energy Management has achieved impressive energy usage and cost savings of up to $3 million annually. However, as of early 2018, the buildings under centralized control are limited to these newly-built or upgraded student resident halls, science labs, and multi-story medical facilities. Yet, the goal remains to have visibility of energy usage across the whole campus portfolio. The University trialed the Niagara Edge 10 to see if it could be the transformative technology that changed the economics of rolling out Niagara to smaller, older and less showy buildings.

There were two obvious sites where the Edge 10 would enable a new approach to distributed digital building controls on this campus. The first is a 7,500 square-foot, early 1960’s-era office building that is part of the College of Medicine, and the second is a two-story Colonial-style, historical building. Both buildings received frequent comfort complaints, and neither had a viable building management system. The unique challenges of the first mid-Century building concerned its HVAC system, comprised of four small retrofitted fan-coil units controlled in a limited way by four in-building thermostats. The units ran continuously, except in the event of a breakdown; that is, there was no ability to do HVAC scheduling, pulling back operation to save energy on nights, weekends, holidays and school breaks when the space was not occupied. An additional worry was that walls might have been insulated with asbestos material, and code prohibited doing any wall penetrations that might disturb it. Swapping out the thermostats with four Niagara Edge 10s appeared to be an ideal way to gain visibility and control over this building. The Edge 10s could be programmed to control the fan coil units remotely and to send alarms any time measured return air temps indicated that something wasn’t working as intended. The second deployment in the larger landmark historical building had similar goals: upgrading the control capability of an aging HVAC system, in this case, a pneumatic system; bringing visibility to energy performance; introducing HVAC scheduling capabilities and setting up predictive analytics and alarms to detect and correct issues before people complained.

“We have a versatile set-up here. Our inside facilities staff and energy advisor are trained in the Niagara framework, and we have the environment and flexibility to try out new hardware and software first,” explained a Facilities Representative. “Installing the Edge 10 hardware was an easy panel plug-in for us. Concerning software, we only needed to program logic for one edge device, and this defines a template to send to the other devices. This made deployment very fast. We’re familiar with such templating at the VAV level, and we had already experienced the Bulk Deployed templating service at the Supervisor level when we upgraded to Niagara 4.6 running on JACE devices. Now, we have this convenience at the edge, that is, at the air handler, or equip, level. When you do password updating or other common commissioning, provisioning, and maintenance tasks, you step through the logic once, then you click a button and sit back as the same logic is applied to the other clone devices. With the Edge 10, we have pulled new building types into our energy management control center. And there are many similar structures to these beta buildings found across our campus. They will be a great showcase for touting potential energy savings for the whole portfolio.”

Niagara Templating Service

School District Use Case

Another Niagara Edge 10 early customer serves as a trusted advisor on smart building technology deployment to a large school district. He was just about to specify a more traditional BMS for the controls upgrade going into a middle school when he heard about the Edge 10. He opted to put in the edge device to serve the school’s multi-zone air handling unit. It was a good fit in terms of the points of control needed and those available.

“When you are working with public schools, keeping building automation projects within budget is a driving factor. The price of the Edge 10 was attractive,” said this VYKON partner. We needed sufficient I/O to control each classroom. With five inputs/five outputs, we had it covered. With the expansion module, we could go bigger should the need arise. But, using the Edge 10 kept First Costs lower. There are four or five identical schools in the district when their turn comes up for a controls upgrade; I would again use the Edge 10. We have other elementary schools served by small chiller plants. With an Edge 10 and IOR expansion module, we could expand up to the 44 points needed to control these campuses. This district already has 58 schools with Niagara-based controls. and four members of its facilities staff are already Niagara certified. Opting for the Edge 10 with Niagara means we have a single-tool interface and the customer saves on training too.”

Manufacturing Shop Floor Use Case

Tridium’s invitation to be a Niagara Edge 10 beta customer was also taken up by a building controls engineering firm that plans and designs HVAC systems and fabricates custom packaged equipment. The building involved in this deployment was an industrial facility that housed sheet metal welding operations and adjoining office space. The building had two roof-top units (RTUs) sized to ensure sufficient air changes per hour to maintain air quality for all occupants. The I/O modules that came with the RTUs had cryptic set-up and programming instructions. Plus, they ran on a LON network that was already clogged with traffic from the shop-floor equipment. The goals of the beta project were to replace these native modules with Edge 10s so that the air handling data could run on the building’s IP network and be brought into the Niagara Framework.

“It was imperative that we have the monitoring program and alarms to ensure contaminants are removed from the air and fresh air brought in during occupied periods,” explained facility manager. “I didn’t entirely trust the data I was getting from the RTU’s original controls modules. There are four or five identical schools in the district. When their turn comes up for a controls upgrade, I would again use the Edge 10. Like most people in our industry, I was already familiar with the drag-and-drop wire-sheet interface pioneered by Niagara, and the IP connection is easier than a LON bus. Also, I no longer worry that someone will see the 2-wire connection snaking along the floor, and say ‘What’s this?’ and clip it. Now we have Niagara on these RTUs, and I feel like the data coming off these points is much more reliable.”


The Niagara Edge 10 beta sites described here may never be as renown as MIT’s Building 20, but they are being transformed into Smart Buildings at the lowest technology risk and the best price/performance quotient possible today. The upcoming general availability of the Edge 10 along with the growing number of Niagara-partner developed edge devices might  trigger the tsunami-like Smart Building roll-out  across large portfolios that many have been expecting for years.


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