Basics of building automation in industrial, manufacturing facilities

Industrial and manufacturing facilities have several building automation and controls needs engineers must include in new or retrofit projects

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 29, 2020


  • Jaimie Ross Handscomb, PEng, Principal, Industrial Buildings, Stantec, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Steve J. Sovak, PE, Principal, Salas O’Brien, Chicago
  • Jeffrey R. Thomas, PE, CEM, CEA, GBE, CHC, Vice President, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), Houston

Cybersecurity and hacking are increasing concerns — are you seeing such concerns impacting your work on industrial and manufacturing facilities?

Steve J. Sovak: Cybersecurity is a concern for all of our industrial and manufacturing projects. There is concern especially when you read of how someone through third party software that is part of the facilities heating, ventilation and air conditioning system could be used to access and owner’s network. Our technology engineers work closely with the owner’s information technology staff to ensure that risks are minimized.

From your experience, what systems within industrial and manufacturing facilities are benefiting from automation that previously might not have?

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: We are seeing autonomous vehicles and robots showing up in industries that traditionally did not use them in their process and operations. We previously saw technology in our manufacturing sector such as automotive that is now showing up in food/beverage and distribution. In the near future, we will see more cross collaboration between manufacturing and industrial facilities for safety, employee wellness, automation and controls and environmental practices.

Steve J. Sovak: For the projects in the food and beverage or pharmaceutical industries one of the things we are seeing is the need to be able to track a product through its entire time in the facility. Was this item at all times kept in an environment that is within the production parameters? Owners are doing this as a precaution to future product liability issues. If a claim of a defective product is made, then that item can be tracked back to its time in production, were there any circumstances that would warrant a broader concern? Gathering, handling and storing this level of data is a substantial undertaking.

In what way is the need for more smart technology and features in such buildings affecting your work on these projects?

Steve J. Sovak: The higher the level of automation, the more sophisticated the control systems will be. The result of this is a better understanding of the owner’s process, which is a good thing. If we are developing sequences of operation for the production equipment, then we are responsible for thinking through all of the modes of operation in a very logical manner. This leads to asking more questions and a better understanding of the process.

Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM to the facility maintenance team for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification.

Steve J. Sovak: Our office does design our work using Revit 3D software and our models are typically used by the design team for coordination and clash detection. While we do use some BIM features in-house for equipment specification, we have not progressed to the point where our BIM models are handed over to the owner as a part of his closeout package for ongoing maintenance.

Jaimie Ross Handscomb: Yes, we are fortunate to have some clients who were interested in developing their own internal BIM standards so that the design, construction and operational and maintenance requirements for the facility could all be based off the original design BIM models. This was to allow for their long-term vision of how they would operate and maintain their facilities.

Jeffrey R. Thomas: LAN has used BIM, Revit, for a number of years now. We have turned over partial and complete models to owners during projects. This is a paradigm shift in the way we’ve historically done business. There has always been separation between design intent and construction means and methods. The routing of conduit and small water lines, for example, have always been in the purview of the installing contractor. BIM changes this playing field should the architect/engineer decide to model to that level of detail. In many cases, modeling larger systems and components reduces issues in the field by detecting and avoiding collisions during the design phase. Modeling smaller and more detailed systems and components is expensive in design labor and assigns risk to the A/E when things don’t work in the field. While some general contractors and trade subcontractors have access to BIM, not all of them do. Making a trade subcontractor responsible for updating the BIM model as part of their record drawing efforts may add unacceptable cost to the project. As with most new technologies, this becomes a value proposition question for the owner.