Article - Jan 2001
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University of South Florida
"I still get to work at 6:00 a.m. but when I walk into my office and see a bunch of red lights, I know exactly where to send help," said Oakley. "It's a time-saving and cost- saving solution that we have adopted across the entire campus."

Case Study

Michael Troncale

The University of South Florida boasts the13th largest campus in the United States, covering 2 square miles and totaling 78 buildings. Monitoring and managing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is a monumental task that falls on the shoulders of Mark Oakley, USF's environmental systems technician. Oakley's day begins at 6:00 a.m., well before most students and staff are even out of bed, to check all the elements of the HVAC system, including thermostats, variable air volume boxes, air dampers and variable speed units, for potential failures or necessary programming changes. In his tenure at the University, Oakley has used several different systems to monitor and control the devices that comprise the HVAC system.

When Oakley began at USF in 1991, his job required him to travel to each building, connect a laptop computer to serial ports on climate control hardware, and monitor the system by running diagnostics on each individual device. Oakley also had to travel to each device to implement programming changes. The non-networked HVAC system was time consuming to control and often meant that problems went undetected until a disgruntled professor complained that their classroom was frigid, or their lab was sweltering.

In 1992, USF switched to a network system that relied on stripped-down PCs to monitor the HVAC system. Leased dial-up lines were used to connect the entire network to a central server where data was retrieved. But leased lines were expensive, the PCs added far more intelligence and cost than was needed, and the modem connections were unreliable. Information transferred slowly, and the expense of both the leased lines and the PCs sent USF in search of an alternative.

Oakley and the rest of his USF team turned to Lantronix Device Server™ Technology to connect the HVAC system over the majority of the main campus, located in Tampa, Florida, to an Ethernet network that could be managed from a central control station. Lantronix’s Device Server Technology adds intelligence to devices, allowing them to be smarter and leverage the power of networks and the Internet for real-time access to information and device management.

Today, Lantronix Device Servers are used in 48 on-campus buildings where they have increased the efficiency of the entire HVAC system. Using Lantronix MSS485 Device Server, USF is able to fully and remotely utilize SageMax field panels from American Auto-Matrix (AAM), Export, Pa.

The SageMax acts as an intermediary between the PUP (Xerox PARC Universal Protocol) networks of HVAC devices and the central control station. The SageMax units had been installed in various locations around the campus, but they were able to only support a limited percentage of the HVACs. Telephone lines and Modem connections were used to create a networked system. This resulted in three major limitations: data transfer rate was slow, access was limited to a single point on the network at any given time and there were frequent interruptions. With MSS485, HVAC devices were connected to the SageMax resolving all of the previous shortcomings.

With the new configuration, Auto-Pilot software is able to control virtually any function needed in the HVAC system. USF facilities managers can now access and control each remote location through a graphical user interface (GUI). Everything from airflow, to the speed of the fan, can be accessed and controlled remotely.

With Device Servers, USF would has been able to not only gain remote management and control capabilities, but also avoid a very costly solution for a campus with dozens of buildings. With Lantronix MSS485, USF can multi-drop several PUP networks to each SageMax unit, saving an enormous expense without sacrificing functionality. Device Servers also allow USF to cost-effectively connect the existing PUP networks, a proprietary protocol dating back to the 1970's, to the open IP networks of today using the existing campus wide network.

"I still get to work at 6:00 a.m. but when I walk into my office and see a bunch of red lights, I know exactly where to send help," said Oakley. "It's a time-saving and cost- saving solution that we have adopted across the entire campus."

USF believes that the combination of Lantronix Device Servers and American Auto-Matrix technology can serve as an example for other Universities facing similar dilemmas with their environmental control systems.

The S4 Group
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