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Building Smarts

The highly sophisticated central management system developed by Manitoba Hydro is a paragon of high-IQ thinking. It joins a number of other organizations that are taking intelligence to the next level.


January 1, 2009  


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If there were a Mensa society for buildings, then Manitoba Hydro’s new headquarters in Winnipeg would be at the top of the list. The 22-storey LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold-certified building has more built-in intelligence than your typical operation.

“In a typical building you would have about 3,000 control points,” says Tom Akerstream, energy coordinator for Manitoba Hydro. “A complex hospital would have environment would have about 6,000. This facility has more than 14,000 fully-integrated inputs that control the buildings air quality, heating, cooling, lighting, security mechanical systems and other functions.”

He notes that getting up to the super-intelligence levels took a lot of human thinking. “The biggest issue in all of this was the control systems. It wasn’t like what we wanted was an off-the-shelf feature. You can’t go grab a control system that will open a window for example. There was a lot of custom design involved.”

Interoperability was an essential part of the selection process he adds. “We had to make absolutely sure in the design stage that any systems relating to the control and operation of the building could be integrated. This was critical for maintaining an optimal indoor environment and energy consumption.”

Another key consideration was the backbone. “There was a lot of debate whether to use one backbone for everything, or a separate one for the controls system.” The decision was made to go with a dedicated fully-redundant backbone.

It goes without saying the management of this extremely complex “neural network” was of equal importance in the planning and implementation stages. The highly sophisticated central management system developed by Manitoba Hydro is a paragon of high-IQ thinking.

By way of example, the building’s weather stations provide data to the building management system, which in turn communicates with different devices on each floor to tell the various spaces how to respond. If there is an extra amount of heat generated from sunlight in a specific area, the system will tell the blinds whether to open or close. Wind conditions will dictate whether windows or vents should be open or closed to vent air outside.

Depending on the programming configuration, lighting fixtures can respond dynamically to changing conditions. Lights run off photo sensors during the day, and adjust to changes in ambient light conditions, while at night they respond to occupancy sensors. The system can also identify which lights are to be left on for security purposes.

Ackerstream says that while the building control and management system it has in place today is impressive, future- proofing was always a driver in the network design and decision-making process. A big part of that was adhering to open standards all the way. “Having an open architecture was critical, since it allows us to refine the controls as we evolve for optimum performance. I’d say with all the groundwork we did, we got it about 90% right to start with, but you need flexibility in your control systems because you can always do better.”

The fact is that building intelligence is moving far beyond basic monitoring and control of mechanical equipment. Now enterprises are finding a multitude of new ways to leverage existing resources so that multiple devices — from access control devices and surveillance cameras to air quality and climate control systems — can carry on intelligent conversations.

Adding more intellectual capacity to a building’s IP infrastructure has been driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the availability of much more sophisticated and affordable control systems that can do everything from managing heating controls to opening blinds.

Bandwidth and network infrastructures have the robustness and capacity to handle loads of extra traffic, and wireless applications are now secure enough to make the job of integration much easier and more cost-effective.

The rapid adoption of telephony has also had its effect. Those who have gone the VoIP route have proven that there are a lot of cost savings and efficiencies to be gained by putting voice and data on a single network. Now network managers are applying creative thinking to using the same IP backbones for even more applications.

The focus of intelligent applications has evolved over time as various political and economic forces have taken centre stage. The post 9/11 era spurred increased activity in improving security, as organizations used their IP infrastructures to ensure their surveillance and access control systems worked in tandem.

The last 12 months security has been surpassed by energy as building managers seek alternative ways to manage rising fuel prices and reduce their carbon footprint.

Bottom line thinking

“What is happening now is that people are looking at their buildings and saying we have telephony and data and have been able to drive savings, so why can’t we do the same thing with building automation and light controls — or any other (electronic) thing that we can put on an IP backbone?” says John Cowley, director intelligent building solution business unit for CommScope Inc. in Richardson, Tex.

Ronald Zimmer, president and CEO of CABA (Continental Automated Buildings Association) in Ottawa, says that the move to building intelligence is really more of an interest in reducing operating costs, creating better indoor air quality and increasing employee productivity. “It’s very easy for example to reduce energy usage by 35-45% with technology. That’s huge in terms of your bottom line and doing the right thing.”

A CommScope study of a major building project in the Middle East, in which 100,000 devices were connected and controlled through a central management system, delivered a 33% up front savings in cabling costs and reduced IT support staff needs by 70%. “This demonstrates that by going intel- ligent you save on up front construction costs, as well as on back end operating costs to keep the facility running,” says Cowley.

The operative word to achieving these gains is integration. As Jiri Skopek, managing director for sustainability for Jones Lang LaSalle, a Toronto-based global real estate services company notes, there have been plenty of control systems in place for some time that can provide intelligent data. However, they have often operated in isolation. “Typically, systems were installed separately, which meant dedicated wiring and a lot of redundancy. Now the move is to integrate all those legacy systems together to make a building intelligent.”

Integration can ultimately lead to a great deal of enlightenment when it comes to how buildings operate, from understanding water and steam usage, to lighting controls and occupancy management, says Greg Turner, director of global offerings for Honeywell Building Solutions in Raleigh, N. C.

“Today’s networks have made it much more cost-effective to reach out to a whole building from a sensing and control perspective and that’s having an interesting impact on operational functions. It’s not just having the ability to connect everything on a common network, but also extracting value from those facts and exchanging information to make the building more efficient. For example, you can understand what areas of a building are in use when, and adapt your lighting, heating or air conditioning to meet demand.”

Upping the intelligence quotient of your building is not something that should be approached on an ad hoc basis. An important first step for many is getting a working understanding of your BIQ (Building Intelligence Quotient). This online intelligent building ranking tool is provided by CABA and BIQC (BIQ Consortium).

BIQ expert Tom Lohner, vice president of Peng & Associates in Chicago, says that in developing the certification, they first looked at traditional things people relate to intelligent buildings and typical automation systems. HVAC control was the most dominant, fo
llowed by lighting, security, intrusion protection and vertical transportation.

“For the most part these were standalone components, but we then looked at whether any of them could be integrated, as well as the additional features and benefits that could be gained from it,” Lohner explains.

The last part of the process is looking at whether integration could reside on the corporate intranet and/or had the ability to logically connect to the corporate network in a secure fashion. “This last piece is more about the way a building is managed and maintained (at the enterprise level). We considered how using data from a building can be used to help improve ongoing operations and overall management of multiple buildings.”

A strong proponent of the BIQ process, Skopek says, “By using the BIQ scoring system you can determine the quality of the systems you have, how well they are integrated, and the functionality you can bring to the building through linking those systems.”

Once you know the lay of the network landscape, integrating intelligence doesn’t have to be an “all-in” proposition from the get-go. According to Zimmer, “not every building requires that you network your entire inventory of control systems. It depends on the building’s focus and your budget. A warehouse for example is far different from a courthouse or an airport. In many cases, you might just want to have the lighting and energy systems networked.”

In addition, not all building management systems need to run on a network. Because many room-specific occupancy or CO2 sensors are small and low powered for example, they can easily be battery-powered wireless solutions. That said, building management systems actually put very little stress on a building’s network. Even video applications, which initially required a great deal of bandwidth, can be managed more effectively on existing backbones.

“It’s realistic to assume that if you put in a TCP/IP backbone in the last two years, you can use it for building automation purposes,” says Turner. “Compression algorithms (for video) are so much better, and end devices much more efficient. Also, you now have the ability to allocate feeds between VPN tunnels which make for better network management.”

The only exception to the rule in virtually all cases is the fire alarm/emergency system. These require special routers and standby routers in accordance with building code requirements.

Designing for intelligence

The Bank of Montreal for one has spent the last few years evolving its intelligent building initiatives for several of its office towers. The facilities management team has automated a number of lighting, fan and air flow systems to optimize energy efficiency and indoor air quality.

“We can manage our buildings floor by floor, zone by zone,” says Mike Wells, director of facilities management. “As we learn how our occupants behave, we can automate changes in air flow and lighting to get as much savings as we can out of our office towers.”

Access control plays an integral part in optimizing energy usage, which is why BMO’s facilities team has also been standardizing its surveillance and security systems on IP networks in seven major buildings in the Greater Toronto Area.

A more recent pilot project is the implementation of a single, central monitoring system for two buildings, with a goal to increase that number over time.

For those working from a clean slate, getting the most out of intelligent integration on a new build has to start at the drawing board. Experts advise working with the architect and consultant at the front end of the project to identify what systems you want integrated, what are your electrical requirements, and whether you want to put everything on a single backbone.

In the interests of economy, many will opt for hybrid systems, since they have legacy equipment such as surveillance cameras that haven’t depreciated enough to warrant replacement. “Even if you’re keeping some systems, it’s important that you are looking to your future needs when it comes to cabling,” says Cowley. “That’s one of the hardest things for people to get their head around.”

A key component of any plan is ensuring interoperability and open standards. “It’s very important to have a homogeneous network with one standard to manage,” says Turner. When working with existing systems, there are devices such as the Building Network Adapter from Honeywell that will TCP/IP enable proprietary, serial network devices.

Interoperability also plays a key role in the security aspects that go hand in hand with convergence. Manfred Arndt, convergence solutions architect for HP ProCurve, notes that one of the management challenges is how to seamlessly deploy policies and securely authenticate users on the network.

“Depending on the users, you have to ensure ongoing proactive management of communications security. Adoption of interoperability standards is an important part of supporting that.”

Mark Ascolese, chief executive officer at EDSA in San Diego, Calif., a specialist in power analytics for electrical system applications also points out the importance of applying intelligent software tools to enable real-time design changes and to keep tabs on your power infrastructure in a real-time setting.

“If you want to make better use of energy and reduce your carbon footprint, you need the model simulation tools to figure out how design changes will impact electrical usage before you spend money. That’s a huge benefit.”

Cat 6 cabling should be the absolute minimum for any new installation, since Cat 5e can lead to bandwidth and frequency response, says Cowley. “That cable will be bundled with 40 to 60 other cables running to offices and cubicles, and bundles can create noise.”

Termination is another factor that deserves special consideration. Every time a transmission hits break, reflection happens. The higher the bandwidth and speed, the higher the reflection.

“You really have to pay close attention to crosstalk and termination issues,” Cowley explains. “Most cable installed today is UTP, but when it’s terminated at the jack, the wires are untwisted. If you’re not careful, you’ve defeated the whole purpose of using UTP, which his noise cancellation. You wouldn’t believe the number of calls we get about poor performance on a network, only to discover that they bought cheap patch cords. So make sure you test everything, including outlets, connectors and jumper cables, to ensure they meet specifications.”

Redundancy is also a network design and installation essential. This can be achieved through both wired and wireless options. “It’s much like looking at a power system when you have redundant power providers,” says Lohner. “You should look at broadband services the same way and have redundant providers. You can accomplish that in a number of ways. Wireless and Wi-Max can be used as cost-effective alternatives.”

Whatever the choices, according to BMO’s Wells, building intelligence is a matter of applying sound technology principles, while keeping your business needs in mind. “The technology is available to do it now. The question is, whether it’ economical to exploit it or not. You have to figure that out before you move to the next stage.” CNS