Exploring complex hotels, resorts, and casinos: Automation and controls

Casinos and resorts are designed for fun and relaxation, but with such projects becoming increasingly complex and high-tech, engineers charged with tackling these structures have challenging work ahead of them in regards to automation and controls.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 18, 2018


Brant Dillon, Director of MEP, Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
Matt Dolan, PE, LEED AP, Senior Design Engineer, Southland Industries, Las Vegas
Jeffrey S. Grove, PE, Director, JENSEN HUGHES, Las Vegas
Ronald R. Regan, PE, Principal, Triad Consulting Engineers Inc., Morris Plains, N.J.
Mark Richter, PE, LEED AP, Partner, National Residential & Hospitality Practice Leader, AKF Group LLC, New York City
Gregory K Shino, PE, Technical Director of Fire Protection Engineering, NV5, Las Vegas
Toby White, PE, LEED AP, Associate, Sr. Fire Engineer, Arup, Boston

CSE: From your experience, what systems within a hotel, resort, or casino are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been?

Regan: High-end request for information and smartphone access to elevators, stairwells, parking access, and area access for special functions and systems that are keyed into the reservation system allow speedy but controlled access. If there is an event, staff can replay access to confirm timelines. BAS and energy management systems (EMS) are merging to provide seamless controls or power distribution and HVAC.

CSE: IoT is increasingly on owners’ minds. How has your technology team worked with building owners and managers to implement such integrated technology? How has this changed the user experience?

Richter: At our company, we provide a well-rounded and diverse team of experts in many building systems including MEP design, infrastructure, low-voltage systems, architectural lighting, and energy and sustainability, to name a few. In addition, our firm performs projects in diverse market sectors including health care, higher education, science and technology, corporate, residential, hospitality, and retail. As such, we see the effective application of technology and its integration across systems and sectors. In particular, our Lighting Design Studio and information technology (IT) teams are looking at converged networks and implementation of lighting over the Ethernet distribution network. Known as Power over Ethernet (PoE), the recent evolution of LED lighting is allowing lighting power to be fed over the same cabling as the data streams. The application provides building owners, including hotels, with a prime opportunity to reduce their installation costs while providing a level of technology integration not yet seen in the hotel industry.

The lighting fixture of the future will take wellness to a new level and include such integrated features as Wi-Fi, occupancy and vacancy sensors, public-address speakers, sound masking, emergency lighting, and video surveillance, all while integrating the current technologies. This is just the start of the level of integration and convergence possible with the IoT. AKF Group sees technology convergence as a game changer in the industry—a new way of simplifying multiple complex systems and creating technologically pragmatic solutions while significantly reducing installation, maintenance, and energy costs and simplifying infrastructure. This converged PoE network is scalable and currently viable, and its ability to collect data regarding human activity and interaction throughout the building is priceless to an industry sector such as hospitality.

Regan: We are working with franchisees to understand the extent they wish to entertain IoT now. Many brands allow the franchisee/operator to select levels of technology. Smart rooms with voice-activated thermostats, TVs, channels, automated shades, and lights are more the norm than in previous years.

CSE: When incorporating IoT, what are some of the most pressing challenges?

Regan: The biggest challenge is to determine what new technology is stable and will be relevant in 2 to 5 years. We recently took over a large hotel complex that was in design/construction for 30 months. We had to remove more than 300,000 ft of inadequate communications and control wiring, 215 out-of-date smart (maybe not so smart) room temperature controllers, and a nonworking room-access system. The new operator wanted their branded go-to equipment installed.

CSE: Cybersecurity and vulnerability is an increasing concern—are you encountering worry/resistance around wireless technology and IoT as the prevalence of such features increases? How are you responding to these concerns?

Regan: Wi-Fi for guests is a must, but also a concern. Preventing the hacking of smart devices, such as temperature sensors for rooms, smartphone room access, and guest Wi-Fi, requires updating the cybersecurity constantly. Most “top floors” of casinos or hotels with suites require their server to be hardwired with room outlets to be certified lines. In some instances overseas, IT personnel employed by guests (government or corporation personnel) visit and test lines to ensure there is no “vampiring” of the secure data lines. Nearly all offshore marinas provide direct, wired lines to pedestals at which mega-yachts berth for prevention of hacking/data capture. Wi-fi is only used for noncritical web surfing.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome in such projects, and how did you do so?

Regan: The project we mentioned above had a nonfunctioning generation plant with a mix of natural gas-fired and diesel generators. There was no paralleling switchgear and, understandably, the local inspector was not happy with the confused approach, which also mingled life safety requirements with normal power. We designed a paralleling dispatchable plant that provided life safety, full site power, load shedding, and load-addition controls. The switchgear was pretested at the factory and online within 3 days of receipt at the site.

CSE: How are automation and controls being incorporated into the building design to enhance the occupants’ overall experience/comfort level in these building types?

Dillon: One of the newer control systems that we see being used by hoteliers is the use of products that are combining guest interfaces with room controls, with an owner’s ability to control the overall building management system. Systems like this help reduce the owner’s operational budget while enhancing the guest experience.

Dolan: In-room control systems for hotel towers are becoming more complex and integrate every electronic/motorized device available within the space. These systems allow the room to be setup upon guest check-in and programmed for a preset “welcome” scenario upon entering the room. This includes elements such as setting the lighting levels for ease of entrance, the thermostat temperature setpoint for guest comfort, TV operation and the welcome-message channel, and the window-blind position for a view out of the room.

Regan: New designs are based on improving overall guest experiences, such as innovative lighting design, water and site features that change based on time of day and season, sensors that provide more exacting HVAC controls, and A/V systems brought into common spaces for seasonal showcases.