As the world becomes more intelligent, IoT-enabled building automation systems are a natural progression of this. It doesn’t make sense to connect and integrate cities, home automation, and traffic systems and then not make buildings just as intelligent.
BASs have been around for years, but often times the costs associated with installation, potential retrofitting, and upgrades have made it seem impossible for small to mid-size businesses to take advantage of them. Large enterprises may benefit from cost reductions due to scale, but it can still be upwards of tens of thousands to millions of dollars to implement a BAS. However, as IoT technologies have continued to be developed and improved, we have seen these costs shrink, allowing for businesses of all sizes to integrate intelligent building automation systems.
There are several key drivers for improved BASs, including reduced operational costs, increased efficiencies, and optimized processes. But not all of these drivers are positives — the increasing global population and veritable tsunami of people who are flocking to urbanized areas makes updating current building automation systems imperative. As more people move to cities, apartments, and offices, city buildings and more will have to adapt to manage and accommodate the rising number of inhabitants.
While, we are seeing more interest in automation systems as the technologies become cheaper and easier to use, there are other challenges besides cost. For instance, maintaining connectivity despite frequency/wireless chatter, as well as the physical materials necessary to construct buildings, mean building managers may have a heck of time keeping their wireless sensors and actuators connected.
Advancements in wireless technologies and improved low-power wide area networks have made this less of an issue, but this leads to another problem: a lack of education. Many large enterprises know about the improvements made to BASs, but many small to midsize businesses may not know anything at all about past or present systems. And if they do know about them, these SMBs may not want to take the plunge because of a fear of the perceived cost or maintenance necessary to install or maintain these systems.
However, as IoT continues to further penetrate a wide array of markets, hardware, installation, and maintenance costs will continue to drop. Additionally, as the availability of quick and easy one-stop-shop and out-of-the-box solutions and platforms increases, much of the hesitation to manage a BAS will drop off.
How the IoT has Changed Building Automation
One of the major ways IoT has changed building automation — and the entire planet — is through its economics of scale. The Internet is already an open platform in many ways, but IoT has extended it to include any electronic device (with the right components, of course).
This has allowed for incredible breakthroughs in technologies and a reduction in manufacturing costs as these types of technologies can be deployed on a massive scale. The scalability of building automation solutions has increased exponentially, not just because it has become more cost effective, but also because of the number of sensors that can be deployed and managed at one time.
As the software has become more powerful and flexible and the technologies have become more sensitive, building managers are able to deploy more sophisticated sensors than ever before. This means that increasing amounts of information can be gathered and managed more cheaply, adding another compelling layer to IoT-enabled BAS. When building managers can save on initial installment, the sticker shock can drop. Additionally, because the software for these systems has become more flexible and responsive, building managers may not be as overwhelmed by managing these systems as they were before. Being able to visualize and contextualize the data has led to the development of more readable dashboards and improved user experience designs, removing much of the hesitation for individuals who have to manage these systems and their initial instinct to feel the need to find a techie to do it for them.
It is this contextualization of data that will prove to building managers and owners that an IoT-enabled BAS will allow them to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and increase occupant comfort levels. These connected BASs can provide predictive maintenance alerts, whether or not systems are on or off, working properly, or are not being evenly distributed throughout the building.
Additionally, for security purposes, access control services can be integrated to increase security and provide better means for monitoring the people who come and go through the building. These systems not only provide real-time information on the building, but also can keep a detailed log, allowing for better historical analysis and detailed records that can be reviewed at any point. By providing building managers and owners with easy to digest, valuable information as well as reduced costs for installation and deployment, IoT-enabled BASs are becoming more compelling all the time.
Building Automation Use Cases
Many of the buildings currently in use have outdated electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems that are either approaching their expiration date or have already surpassed it. This leads to problems associated with aging pipes, obsolete wiring, i.e. aluminum wiring vs. copper, and temperamental heating and cooling systems. Oftentimes building owners and managers have to do untold amounts in repairs, replacements, etc. By integrating a BAS into these older systems, managers and owners can greatly reduce costs for repairs and better understand how these systems work holistically to improve efficiencies.
But even new buildings can benefit from having BAS installed. Over time, more efficient materials and systems have been installed into new buildings, but having an integrated and intelligent BAS can help increase savings and the lifecycle of the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. There are many ways BASs can improve maintenance and management of older buildings, as well as new construction, such as core automation and control features. These features facilitate the operation, maintenance, and management of BAS. These services control the HVAC systems, manage safety and security alarm systems, and can control building access and lighting.
Security is top of mind, and the ability to monitor buildings, residential or commercial, is one way to increase building security measures. In addition to video monitoring, building managers and owners can install access and control systems, which can include RFID tags, video and surveillance services, as well as occupant tracking to figure out who has moved where and when. This can limit access to a building or parts of building, with varying levels of permissions, and provide the facilities manager with the ability to monitor the goings on of a building at all times.
Additionally, people proximity monitoring allows for building managers and owners to keep tabs on the number of people inside of the building at a given point. This helps maintain occupancy compliance, as well as how the number of individuals in the building affects other systems.
The monitoring of energy consumption is also a major benefit of BASs. With population increases energy needs will also grow, which may be difficult if the majority of buildings continue to operate the way they do now. By having a BAS in place that can monitor usage and maintenance throughout a building, facility managers and owners can identify areas of waste or possible malfunctions, reducing operational and maintenance costs. Additionally, these solutions can also monitor and keep track of occupant comfort levels in real time, better assessing how these systems are used throughout the building and help regulate and schedule them accordingly.
Like many new IoT initiatives, smart building automation is inevitable.
The world is moving to a more interconnected, more intelligent way of existence. It’s only a matter of time before every building, residential or otherwise, is part of the IoT. Eventually, buildings systems will be connected directly to emergency services, removing the need for intermediaries to report emergencies. Building occupancies will be visible, much like the smart parking solutions we have today. Energy consumption will be more efficiently managed and billed for. And we’ll see other increased operational efficiencies, improved security, and an overall better utilization of buildings, new or old.
Joyce Deuley is senior analyst and content czar of James Brehm Associates (www.brehm.com).
Edited by Ken Briodagh