September 2019

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Predictive Building Management is all About Intelligence

It is a misconception that converging your building on IP makes it truly intelligent. Intelligence means being able to “think” in REAL-TIME, especially into the future to anticipate what happens next.

Philip R. Juneau,
Chief Commercial Officer
Automated Technology Company (ATC)

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The international community is truly in an interesting mindset these days; with the nearly endless streams of information flooding through our conscious state, we rarely have time to quiet our minds in order to think creatively, innovatively, or even rationally at times! I’m a member of Generation X, which means that as a child I grew up with television as the main source of media and nerf football, sports and video games for leisure with friends (remember Atari?).

We’ve certainly come a long way since my childhood…first were pagers, then came cumbersome car phones, pocket organizers, mobile phones, smart phones, smartwatches/devices…  and now we’re talking about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud analytics/ diagnostics and other services; Generation X has truly experienced the hockey stick of technological development! Industry 4.0 is a great example of this for the industrial market segment, whereby discrete automation and robotics within the manufacturing environment are now connected to cloud diagnostics and analytics while simultaneously picking, assembling and placing on the manufacturing lines directly with humans. The question is not what innovation comes next but rather how to effectively use the abundance of technology that surrounds, even confuses, us to make an environmental and social impact. The answer to our question lies dormant in the stories of the instrumental leaders and humanitarians over history, some of whom were purposely overlooked in their time.

Nicola Tesla is the epitome of someone using technological innovation to make a humanitarian impact; as you may know, Tesla was the father of alternating current (AC) electricity and the AC electric motor, both still applied a century later in our electrical systems today. When Tesla revolutionarily and courageously strove to transmit electricity through the air without transmission cables, industrialists of the time nearly vilified him because they feared he would accomplish this and crush their establishments and business models overnight. But Tesla believed in change and therefore, did not limit himself to the current business models; instead, he changed his way of thinking and invited the possibility of innovation. Despite his great accomplishments and contributions to society that we recognize today, Tesla died penniless. His story not only demonstrates our fear of change but more specifically our fear of changing the status quo and challenging what we know. It is the myopic mindsets and often rigid business models which hinder our progress. Innovation does not breed in stagnant waters; it can only thrive in a continuous stream of change.

To fear the unknown is a choice, as is the ignorance resulting from fear of an unknown future. The philosopher Heraclitus believed in the philosophy “Panta Rhei” or “Life is Flux,” in which change is the only constant in life; change is a choice that we must make – change or remain stagnant. An excellent model of change mindset with respect to technology is Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Lifecycle. This is a sociological model that graphs the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation according to demographics and psychological characteristics, structured according to adopter groups. These groups are, in order of degree of acceptance, the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. I believe there is a natural and direct correlation to the acceptance degree of both change and adoption. Again, innovation does not breed well in stagnant, shallow waters, so it’s imperative to embrace creativity and innovation along with embracing their core - change!

We can all agree that technology needs to be affordable, robust and proven to be sustainably accepted. If you look at our bodies, we are robust, adaptable creatures; our bodies function holistically; our nervous, pulmonary, and digestive systems work together in harmony without any thought or action on our part. If you approach a building like you would a human body, you would take a holistic approach and ensure ALL systems are automatically working in unison with each other - an Intelligent Building.

Yet, based on dated business models and resistance to change, we continue to construct buildings in trade silos, meaning the different trades (or systems) in the building are built without true integration and inter-operability. The mechanical, electrical distribution, lighting, security, fire, etc. – ALL with the controls executed in silos as well. This is like putting our body together with all our life-sustaining systems but leaving the brain out. It sounds absurd, but that is the reality. Even in the MasterFormat specification structure defining the building trade divisions, there is Division 25 - Integrated Automation; however, this division is rarely seen in the contracting market. This doesn’t mean that specifications across building systems do not exist. There are select projects with specifications that require integration across select building trades; however, they are not based on open-protocols on the field level. This means that the lowest level of control, the device level, typically have sensors, actuators and switches which are proprietary to the manufacturer. Therefore, you are “locked-in” to that company unless you shell out the money to needlessly change every device throughout the facility.

There is hope due to the advent of the IP-based controller providing internet access on BACnet, with all the data points available for trending, scheduling and alarming. This provides interoperability, however incomplete, with respect to the entire building, as it is covering the automation level control. But the lowest point of control, the field device level, is left out. This level is where the BACnet profiles can only be linked/tagged/labelled within their proprietary controls programming language. As a consequence, when you require replacement or new field devices for a building renovation, it must be on the manufacturer’s field-level protocol, which will be based on either their proprietary field bus protocol or on BACnet MS/TP, both requiring the manufacturer to replace parts and reprogram the controller with their proprietary software.

It sounds like history is repeating itself with building owners and operators being “locked-in” to one building automation manufacturer. Truth be told, this is NOT the case. By using open-protocols on the automation and field levels and IP-based platforms to converge all protocols in their native language, the customer is protected from reliance on one manufacturer – now there is a choice!

contemporary As previously established, BACnet is the eminent and open standard for HVAC controls on the automation level. Additionally, Modbus and M-bus are the standards for electrical distribution and metering, respectively. I will mention LONworks, although this standard is diminishing in the market for various reasons. The solution to the issue of field level inter-operability is to embrace the international building control standard, KNX, which is adopted by ASHRAE for building controls. KNX was incepted in 1999 in the Netherlands based on a merging of three different protocols used across Europe, primarily Germany and France, with membership founded on the major electrical manufacturers working together: ABB, Jung, Siemens, Schneider, Legrand, etc. The group created a controls protocol based on a common database and tool, used by the current 470 membered manufacturers, 470 training centers, 8,000 products and 83,000 partners with many success stories over 190 countries globally. This means that it is an established worldwide protocol and standard. KNX enables you to have a smart field device, configurable to your needs with robust communication, on a distributed network of other intelligent devices; plus, it allows you to have one communication wire ran for both HVAC and lighting (two trade silos), saving on installation labor, wiring, switches and thermostats. You can group devices with ease, meaning you can create a multitude of control applications specific to the occupant’s needs. In addition, KNX is completely interoperable with BACnet and all other open-protocols and is therefore proven to be reliable, robust and future proof. As a member of the KNX National USA board, I am excited what this means for the US market - to reach the next level in field-level automation like the rest of the world.

Having covered the automation and field level interoperability, this leaves us with the IP-convergence platform. There are a handful of platforms in the market, the most prevalent here in the US being Honeywell Tridium’s Niagara platform. However, there are others which provide equivalent levels of integration, interoperability and access to cloud-based applications (using IP-based communication such as MQTT, JSON or a REST API). At Automated Technology Company (ATC), we have a sophisticated, seamless platform called ASCEND (powered by Eisbaer) that provides the IP-convergence in the building. ASCEND enables the Internet of Things (IoT) and Digitalization via the Local Network of Things™, which joins the building data together on ONE platform. As a result, every occupant can use their smartphone, tablet or computer to participate in their comfort and safety while making the building efficient. By converging on IP, you bring your house in order by aligning all of your building data using open-protocols on both the field (KNX) and automation (BACnet) controls level in the building across all of the trade systems (silos). Therefore, it is only with Intelligent Buildings that we can achieve the next level in cloud diagnostics/analytics and, more importantly, dynamically feedback into the building to reach the next level of SAFETY, COMFORT and EFFICIENCY!

It is a misconception that converging your building on IP makes it truly intelligent. Intelligence means being able to “think” in REAL-TIME, especially into the future to anticipate what happens next. By using artificial intelligence (AI) in real-time, this is possible. Since ATC has the data sets disseminated and defined in the building with IP-convergence, we can now use AI to predict building operation, making it a truly Intelligent Building. The term we use is Predictive Building Management, whereby ATC has partnered with Danateq, a truly innovative AI company, to link the ASCEND platform with Alex, their AI-platform (see diagram below). The data sets are exchanged dynamically, in real-time, to predict future occurrences and immediately take action to minimize or prevent in advance.


The future of building automation is available today; we need to change our way of thinking and embrace change in the way building systems are designed and implemented.  As such, I am calling out to you early adopters out there who embrace change and innovation…the architects, engineering consultants, building contractors, developers, owners, manufacturers, system integrators, or whoever is truly interested and willing to have an open dialogue about how we can bring change for the better to building technology. The power is through our cooperation and actions, which will bring about true innovation with the current, proven industry and open-standard technology available. Now, we can truly say that everyone has a choice in how SAFETY, COMFORT and EFFICIENCY are intelligently applied in their building environment, leading as the basis to Smart Cities and an overall sustainable world.

About the Author

Philip R. Juneau, Chief Commercial Officer, Automated Technology Company (ATC)

As a dedicated and genuine leader, Phil is determined to achieve excellence and success in every challenge he encounters. Having worked for multi-national companies – Siemens, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and ABB, with 20 years abroad in Zurich, Switzerland, he has acquired the international skills and experience to provide complex, innovative and sustainable solutions and services to the commercial and industrial building industry.

Phil has extensive commercial and technical acumen has developed and implemented business strategy, strategic marketing with new offerings, sales strategy, performance management, project management, new organization models and value-added services and solutions over his career. Having repatriated recently to the USA, Phil’s desire and passion to bring building automation to the next level can be seen in his market interactions at ATC and his consulting advocacy for intelligent buildings.


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