Best of BAS

This month's panel of controls experts takes a hard look at the state of intelligent buildings, how the industry has evolved and where it is heading. CSE: How far have intelligent buildings come in the past few years? HOFFMAN: Further than we expected, but less than we might have hoped. Building systems manufacturers have worked hard to provide communication features that facilitate integration...

By Barbara Horwitz-Bennett, Contributing Editor February 1, 2007

This month’s panel of controls experts takes a hard look at the state of intelligent buildings, how the industry has evolved and where it is heading.

CSE: How far have intelligent buildings come in the past few years?

HOFFMAN : Further than we expected, but less than we might have hoped. Building systems manufacturers have worked hard to provide communication features that facilitate integration of information as well as convergence with the enterprise IT network and business systems. On the other hand, it is unusual to see advanced intelligence systems specified on projects outside of mission-critical applications or high-visibility owner-occupied projects.

AHUJA : The industry has seen progress partly due to advanced, cost-effective technologies and the utilization of existing communication infrastructures to network intelligent devices. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED commissioning requirements also promote more intelligent buildings to save energy and enhance controllability of complex interoperable systems.

HUSTON : I agree that the industry has seen tremendous growth. Intelligent buildings— requiring integration of control subsystems with third-party software applications—have become easier to implement, more powerful and less expensive. A new business model called master system integrator (MSI) has emerged. Companies based on this model are popping up everywhere. In the past, control system contractors typically offered a single manufacturer solution, but this limited the ‘intelligence’ of the building to the vision and capabilities of that manufacturer. Instead of designing the system to meet project requirements, the project was altered to meet the capabilities of the system. The value of MSI is that it is vendor neutral. MSI creates intelligent facilities by integrating products, based on open protocols, to implement systems.

TOM : In a similar vein, I think there have been significant improvements in the tools required to create intelligent buildings. BACnet, Internet services and wireless networking have evolved to the point where they can fully support system integration requirements of intelligent buildings. We also have seen significant improvements in intelligent building applications. Fault detection and diagnostics, utility demand response, dynamic evacuation control, enhanced performance monitoring and similar applications are now making their ways out of the laboratory and into real-world buildings.

WESTPHAL : One proof of the significant progress made is the fact that almost all manufacturers have at least one product in theirproduct lines that can communicate using the Internet Protocol (IP) that includes some form of Web services. This allows for the sharing of data through the use of other industry standards and technologies that utilize IP. Also, in the HVAC industry, Honeywell, JCI and Siemens have added controllers that use the BACnet Standard protocol to their product offerings, which boosts overall industry proliferation and indicates that more and more specifying engineers are adding the BACnet protocol requirement to their specifications.

CSE: What are the major hurdles in the way of a fuller implementation of intelligent BAS?

HOFFMAN : In my opinion, the biggest hurdle is still educational in nature. Manufacturers communicate the systems’ capabilities that appear to be the most beneficial to owners and operators, but perhaps manufacturers should educate these people regarding all of the opportunities and benefits and let them make the informed decision themselves. Fortunately, there are organizations and individuals who are making a difference in this education process like Continental Automated Buildings Assn. (CABA), RealComm, and The Building Intelligence Group, to name a few.

WESTPHAL : I see two significant hurdles. One, the communication protocols used by the different building systems have yet to be standardized under a universally accepted open protocol. And second, consulting engineers must be more educated about the inter-communication capabilities of system protocols and BAScomponents.

TOM : Another hurdle is demonstrating to building owners that the intelligent building concept is worth the additional cost and complexity. For the most part, every major building built today is custom designed. That means HVAC, lighting, security and every other major subsystem also is custom designed. In a conventional building, the “customization” of each subsystem primarily consists of adding the right number of components to a modular system to match the requirements of the building. In an intelligent building, these components need to be engineered to integrate their control algorithms with those of other building subsystems, and that requires custom engineering.

Owners need to be convinced that the benefits of this integration outweigh the costs of custom engineering. Rising energy costs and increased emphasis on LEED helps, but more publicity with hard data is needed to show how intelligent buildings save money.

Yet another hurdle is the basic process used for most building construction projects. The general contractor will hire separate electrical and mechanical subcontractors, and these people, in turn, hire contractors to install the HVAC controls, lighting controls, access controls, etc. When multiple contractors, who are struggling with time and budget constraints, run into integration problems, they are more likely to point fingers than to develop solutions.

HUSTON : From a business standpoint, it is the industry itself that stands in the way. The market—manufacturers, controls contractors and design engineers—benefits from proprietary, standalone systems. The catalyst for change is the growing number of owners and operators who are beginning to realize that they can improve their bottom line through the intelligent application of integrated control system technology.

The major hurdles are the need for education— knowing what is possible—and the lack of motivation—to do something about it. Energy costs continue to rise, sustainable design is growing in popularity and owners of all types are looking to improve performance and lower costs.

CSE: What are some of the latest intelligent building products and technologies?

AHUJA : IP-based networking technologies, building IT infrastructure used for BAS communication, the ever-increasing capability of systems input/output points, graphic enhancement of screen data display and a general knowledge base of protocols and computing systems.

HOFFMAN : I give credit to the developers of wireless technologies as having the greatest impact on building intelligence. Trying to retrofit intelligence into existing buildings has always meant a lot of wire pulling and terminations, which, of course, is greatly reduced with wireless networks. Also, IT hardware and software providers get credit for setting standards for interoperability in their devices and applications. This has enabled systems vendors to concentrate on individual core competencies.

Lastly, advances in control technology generally have been disregarded by the public, but it is safe to say that today’s control systems are easier to operate, install and maintain than ever before while providing unsurpassed levels of comfort and energy efficiency.

HUSTON : The next big thing is wireless. Wireless is becoming a reality. The ability to monitor and control without wires and conduit increases flexibility and performance while drastically lowering installation time and cost, but paramount to the success of wireless technology is the development of communication standards. Similar to LonWorks for device level control system integration, wireless technology needs to adopt communication standards to allow multiple manufacturers to reside within the same network. We expect the use of wireless applications to explode in the near future.

TOM : BACnet certainly has had a major impact as it’s made integration of traditional building automation functions simple enough that they are now routinely implemented by field personnel. This integration may not rise to the level that’s considered an intelligent building, but it’s a necessary foundation for intelligent systems. The BACnet committee took a significant step to enable intelligent buildings when it passed the ASHRAE/BACnet Web Services standard. This provides a way to integrate the building automation system with virtually any other system in the world using standard IT tools. From a building automation viewpoint, it provides a way to bring in information such as weather forecasts and real-time utility pricing to control the building more intelligently. And from an energy management standpoint, it provides a standard way to extract information out of the building automation system for analysis, optimization, tenant billing and other functions. Because this integration uses IT standards like XML and SOAP, there already are a large number of people who can program these links and owners are not tied to the BAS vendor for intelligent building applications.

CSE: How actively are BAS manufacturers working together to improve the quality and interoperability of systems on the market?

HOFFMAN : BAS manufacturers have never been more involved in coopetition—cooperative competition—than in the last five years. LonMark International, BACnet International, Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), the Zigbee Alliance, CABA, ASHRAE and many other organizations are setting standards and providing a forum for open dialogue and understanding that provides advanced systems with greater benefits at a lower cost of ownership.

HUSTON : I agree that the leading BAS standards, LonMark and BACnet, have made significant progress over the last 13 years. As a side note, it is important for the rest of the market to be involved in the development of BAS standards. End users and system integrators provide the realities of interoperability through their experiences and often provide some of the best input for fine tuning LonMark and BACnet.

TOM : I would say that the level of cooperation is high. When ASHRAE first started working on BACnet, the conventional wisdom was that a standard would never see the light of day because it was in the BAS manufacturers’ interests to keep systems proprietary. It did in fact take a long time to develop the standard, and some vendors initially were reluctant to embrace it. But that’s all changed: Just witnessing a BACnet committee meeting, a BACnet web discussion or a BACnet plugfest, shows an amazing level of cooperation among manufacturers. There may be disagreements over the best way to implement new features, or differences of opinion on the interpretation of existing specifications, but the underlying goal is to make integration work.

CSE: Would it be beneficial for BAS manufacturers to outsource the development of certain components of their systems, such as software, in order to develop a better overall system? Is this being done?

HUSTON : Yes, as I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest catalysts for the implementation of intelligent facilities are infrastructure products and third-party applications. The days where a single manufacturer provides a ‘one-stop shop’ are over because technology is too advanced. It is difficult to be an expert in all aspects of delivering an intelligent facility. System performance has increased significantly by combining the knowledge and expertise of specialists on infrastructure products and software developers with manufacturers of control systems.

HOFFMAN : Some vendors need to outsource development in a given area and others do not. We see a lot of companies that focus on a particular area of competency and are capable of ‘insourcing’ the component products and intellectual capital to do the majority of the tasks they undertake. On a broader scale, we see smaller companies outsource key enabling technologies while larger organizations form technology alliances that eventually lead to mergers or acquisition to bring that competency in house.

TOM : I fail to see this idea as being either desirable or practical. The software is not an independent component of a BAS system. It is inextricably linked to the hardware. Standard protocols like BACnet define key communication characteristics needed to make systems interoperable, but they don’t even attempt to define the I/O processing, memory mapping, interrupts and other low-levelhardware functions. They also do not define the control programming language that interacts with these hardware functions, nor the user interface at the operator workstation that interacts with the control programs. Many of these functions were deliberately left to the discretion of the manufacturers in recognition of the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all building control system architecture, and also to encourage competition and innovation. I think a much better approach is to agree upon standard ways to link BAS systems with each other and with higher level enterprise applications.

CSE: Would encouraging M/E engineers to increase their knowledge of IT systems help improve intelligent BAS?

WESTPHAL : Because digital communication in facilities today uses an installed Ethernet backbone usually controlled by the IT department, it is imperative that the M/E engineer understand IT networks, IT vocabulary and the security issues confronting IT departments. I believe the best way to encourage M/E engineers to increase their IT knowledge is through publication articles that demonstrate its advantages.

AHUJA : Increased knowledge would definitely help with a smoother implementation of communication protocols and diverse systems integration. The best way to encourage this is by mandating certification criteria for BAS systems designers where knowledge of IT systems is tested, much like a RCDD license for communication systems designers.

HUSTON : Unfortunately, the encouragement has been there, but engineers have not been responding. Too many firms still write basic performance specifications for controls or simply add ‘must be LonMark or BACnet compliant.’ Most firms do not have control system engineers, as the mechanical engineer typically is tasked with the duty to write the control system specification. In the past, this was acceptable, if not required, because every system was different.

With today’s open standards, it is possible, if not required, to design an intelligent facility from the device level through the wide area network. Open standards enable the design to be vendor independent, creating a competitive market. Competition fuels development, and the market continues to improve.

The market is naturally evolving. The encouragement must come from the end user. The end user must be willing to pay more for a truly intelligent control system design, as opposed to the low budget performance specification they are used to. If end users are unwilling to pay for this service, then un-intelligent facilities will continue to be the norm.


Anil Ahuja , P.E., Senior VP, CCJM Engineers, Chicago

Terry Hoffmann , Director, BASMarketing, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee

John Huston , P.E., Director of Technology Integration, Teng & Assoc./Teng Solutions, Chicago

Steve Tom , Director of Technical Information, Automated Logic Kennesaw, Ga.

Bruce Westphal , VP, Research and Development,KMC Controls, New Paris, Ind.

BACnet Spurs Greater Cooperation

We are now witnessing considerable effort by manufacturers to improve the qualities of communications and interoperability.

For example, the ASHRAE BACnet Sustaining Standard Project Committee (SSPC) 135 is working to improve the protocol by adding objects and services to incorporate other building services such as lighting controls, security, etc. and new technology like XML. Recently, BACnet International (BI) was formed by merging the BACnet Manufacturers Assn. (BMA) with the BACnet Interest Group of North America (BIG-NA). One of the purposes of BI is to promote interoperability through the testing of products to a standard battery of tests that are designed to determine whether a product has implemented the BACnet Standard correctly and will thus communicate with other BACnet products effectively to allow interoperability. BI does this testing through the BACnet Testing Laboratory (BTL), which lists the products that have passed the BTL test battery. Products that have passed the BTL tests are allowed to use the BTL listing label on their products and are also listed on the BI website.

The ASHRAE SSPC-135 at the quarterly meeting in Atlanta formed a new working group called Testing and Interoperability to be the liaison with BTL to improve the testing process and to work on interoperability issues. Furthermore, BI holds an annual “Plugfest” where manufacturers can test their products with other manufacturers’ products to determine the compatibility and interoperability of the multitude of BACnet products that are available.

— By Bruce Westphal, Vice President, Research and Development,KMC Controls, New Paris, Ind.

BAS Design and IT

Modern BAS systems utilize IT standards and a knowledge of these standards is certainly useful, but the overriding goal should be to control M/E systems in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

The engineers who design these systems should specify the sequence of operation. This requires knowledge of control algorithms, system dynamics and part-load performance which, quite frankly, many M/E engineers do not have. Fortunately, there are many continuing education courses offered by ASHRAE and others that can help solve the education problem.

However, a more basic problem is convincing engineers that control system design is not an isolated specialty. If the engineer who is designing a system doesn’t know how it’s supposed to operate, doesn’t design it to integrate with other systems in the building and doesn’t specify a workable sequence of operation for this integration, then it’s doubtful that a control system vendor will provide an optimal solution.

If end users don’t know what they want, they will accept whatever is offered. Once M/E engineers know how end users want the systems to be controlled, M/E engineers need to become knowledgeable enough about BAS systems to write a good control system specification. There should be someone on the design team who can provide this expertise. Again, ASHRAE and others offer continuing education programs that can provide this information.

The engineers who are specifying the BAS would also be the ones who most need an understanding of IT systems, as IT will form the backbone of the BAS, as well as the means of integrating with non-BAS systems. One can extract the information you need from these resources, but it requires a lot of “selective self-study” to find it.

— By Steve Tom, Director of Technical Information, Automated Logic Corporation, Kennesaw Ga.