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Campus Automation Presents Unique Challenges
Multiple interfaces makes campus-wide optimization, data mining, and energy and operational analysis difficult,
Paul Ehrlich & Ira Goldschmidt
Building automation systems provide more than an academic challenge on college and other multi-building campuses. Some of these challenges include:
How many contractors/manufacturers are appropriate?
With more than one manufacturer how is interoperability handled?
Who installs/manages inter-building communications?
What level of design standardization is needed?
There are other issues such as getting the right user interface and tools to optimize campus operations, how do we support all this stuff?, and dealing with “legacy” systems.
How Many Suppliers/Manufacturers?
Our first answer to this question is “one is too many and two is not enough”. Seriously, there is no easy or correct answer to this question (and arguably the real question is how do we get the best service and pricing?). In an ideal world one contractor/manufacturer would be the best approach given the issues of training, standardization and ease of maintenance. However, purchasing rules may require that multiple contractors bid on each project, and the sheer volume of work may require the services of multiple contractors anyway. Therefore multiple BAS contractors and manufacturers are generally a given in a campus environment. There are alternatives to this free-for-all including a master agreement with a single manufacturer, using a manufacturer that allows multiple contractor representation within the region, or the use of open protocols and a unified user interface. Nevertheless, the challenge is in achieving BAS installation and operator-interface consistency so that facility operations can be optimized.
Interoperability Between Multiple Manufacturers
Due to the above, many campuses find themselves with an installation composed of multiple systems. Fortunately, each building on a campus often has a single manufacturer’s system, so this challenge may be simplified to the choice between a single vs. multiple central operator interfaces. However, multiple interfaces makes campus-wide optimization, data mining, and energy and operational analysis difficult, which is less than ideal. Therefore, a unified operator interface using open protocols becomes an approach worth investigating. However, the state of interoperability has not yet matured sufficiently to make this a trivial solution. Nevertheless, a properly applied open protocol solution with a uniform interface for operations, reporting and analysis makes this worth pursuing.
Ethernet/IP communications has become the standard for upper-level BAS communications. The campus-wide (WAN) communications needs of a BAS can be simplified and less-costly if the campus IT infrastructure is used. However, this usually requires inter-departmental coordination/approvals on areas such as communications security, maintenance, and system adds/moves/changes. One alternative approach is for the BAS WAN fiber to be installed/maintained by the IT department, but dedicated for use by the BAS. There are also more subtle issues regarding the BAS WAN that become more obvious when an open protocol such as BACnet® is utilized – these include the proper management of network segments, broadcasts, and device/object naming and numbering. These issues clearly require a campus wide-set of standards.…
Undoubtedly some level of design standardization is important for a campus BAS. However, these standards usually involve a balancing act concerning such issues as:
When does a standard intrude on the engineer-of-record’s design responsibilities?
Can the standards be used verbatim in the engineer-of-record’s design?
Should it cover standard sequences of operation and points?
Keeping standards up-to-date without making it a full-time job.
The Above Items Are Tactical – What About the
We’ve said it before - “We don’t plan to fail, but often fail to plan.” The decisions made about the above items should not be made in a vacuum, but instead should be the tactical implementation of a master-planned strategy. This becomes increasingly obvious when a campus BAS is often a unique combination of digital and pneumatics, obsolete (“legacy”) and newer BAS’s, open and proprietary communications, Ethernet/IP and not…, none of which can be replaced/upgraded/integrated/etc. all at one time.
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