Global BAS: Where is the U.S. Holding?

Although U.S. equipment manufacturers and system integrators have made great strides in the development of controls systems and protocols, the likelihood that the average American will experience such cutting-edge technology in action is somewhat greater overseas than it is at home. "Although the U.S.

By Barbara Horwitz, Associate Editor September 1, 2002

Although U.S. equipment manufacturers and system integrators have made great strides in the development of controls systems and protocols, the likelihood that the average American will experience such cutting-edge technology in action is somewhat greater overseas than it is at home.

“Although the U.S. marketing effort of [integrated] technology tends to lead, our implementation tends to sag,” explains Jack Caloz, P.E., managing principal of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, New York.

Offering an overall global assessment, Byron Hill, director of marketing for systems and technology at Milwaukee-based controls manufacturer Johnson Controls, posits, “In all regions, everyone is interested in integration and intelligent buildings, but the U.S. and Europe are more concerned about how it helps them run their facilities, so they look at things from more of a business standpoint.”

In Asia and Latin America, however, he says, “there are higher expectations of having more technology in the facility, and there’s not as much of a focus on cost of operation and impact on business performance.”

Also in Asia, governments and corporations tend to be more focused on putting their cities on the map, so they’re more apt to build technology-laden signature buildings. “Asia-Pacific wants to prove itself as a region, so they’re trying to build the next biggest tower to be a size and technology landmark,” claims David Willett, a vice president with Honeywell’s Minneapolis-based automation and controls division.

Similarly, Tony Tay, P.E., a senior vice president and general manager for New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Singapore office, notes, “Asia’s building owners are prepared to spend money on highly integrated and intelligent buildings to create product differentiation and project their building as having a high-grade, high-performance working environment.”

Although one of PB’s signature projects—Singapore’s Capital Tower (see “Singapore’s Savvy New Tower”)—is currently at 100% occupancy, this isn’t always the case due to the expensive lease rates in such buildings, claims Kevin Osburn, the head of product marketing and development for Siemens Building Technologies, Buffalo Grove, Ill.—the manufacturer who designed the BAS for Capital Tower.

Consequently, here in the U.S., where building owners are more concerned about seeing a return on their investment, the place where the economics of smart buildings plays out well is with large end users, explains Osburn.

In fact, in his company’s experience, for spaces larger than 50,000 sq. ft., between 75% and 80% of all the systems installed last year were integrated, as compared to an overall systems integration average of 30% for all buildings. While seemingly low, that total average has increased 10% over the past three years.

Looking at the Asia-Pacific region, the growth of integrated systems is even more significant as Siemens reports that 40% of the systems the company installed last year were integrated.

A number of variables fuel this phenomenon, including Asia’s affinity for technology. For example, Johnson’s Hill points out that six years ago, everyone in Hong Kong had a cell phone, long before they became prominent in the United States.

Latin America, he says, also tends to be more high-tech savvy and creative when it comes to designing integrated systems because many may not have access to standard integrated packages.

Fragmented foundation

But an even stronger difference between the United States and its global neighbors is the fact that the U.S. building and construction methodologies are not exactly conducive to integrated buildings.

For instance, the manner in which the Construction Specification Institute’s MasterFormat divides building systems into 16 separate divisions discourages integration because the mechanical, electrical, controls and security systems will often be bid out separately, notes EYP’s Caloz.

“Everything tends to get broken apart,” he says.

Even though CSI is in the process of reorganizing the format to be more “integration-friendly,” Caloz points out, “in the marketplace, there are many specialists in each of these areas, but not a lot of generalists.”

These dynamics also surface within U.S. organizations as information technology departments, facility managers and security groups are often distinct entities with their own ideas of how to do things.

But in places like Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe, the situation is different. Not only do designers tend to take more of a whole-building approach, but these markets aren’t as saturated, so there are more opportunities to build new, high-tech buildings from the ground up.

Additionally, high energy prices, especially in Europe, are another motivational factor to integrate advanced BAS systems in buildings, claims Faruq Ahmed, P.E., a principal with Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann, Butler, Pa.

One characteristic that BAS has begun taking on internationally—especially in Europe—is a greater focus on personal environments at the office level, according to Honeywell’s Willett. Particularly in Germany and Italy, and starting more in the Netherlands and France, Willett has observed more and more systems providing individualized control.

Yet another interesting difference between the Far East and the U.S. is the fact that in Asia, building owners—often considered “elders”—are treated with more respect and reverence. Therefore, if an owner decides to build an intelligent building, in all likelihood, there isn’t going to be a lot of opposition to that decision, explains Ahmed. In the U.S., on the other hand, those that yield any sort of power in an organization usually have no qualms about voicing their opinions.

Piggybacking for progress

One factor that may determine how quickly intelligent buildings develop globally is how effectively international building and construction industries take advantage of advances made in other sectors, namely industrial and telecommunications.

“Typically there is a three- to five-year time lag [adopting technology] from the process control/industrial sector to the building industry,” notes Siemen’s Osburn.

But the whole idea is to avoid building a brand new protocol when it’s possible to adopt existing protocols such as XML, Modbus and Ethernet.

“We need to better harness advances from other marketplaces,” points out Carlos Petty, P.E., an associate partner and group manager with the Syska Hennessy Group, New York.

For example, Petty comments that Ethernet speeds have increased exponentially from 10 Mbps in the early days to 1 gigabit per second today, which has had a direct effect on BAS capabilities.

Closer to “home,” yet another phenomenon is fueling commercial BAS development. “The ultimate trend that I’m seeing has to deal with home automation—something that’s taking off throughout the world,” observes Petty.

The concept includes connecting home appliances—such as the microwave, washing machine, lighting and furnace—so that devices can talk to one another on a home network to promote better energy management. Because the consumer demand is there, manufacturers are now busily developing these networks and protocols to operate in a residential setting.

“There is lots of growth in this market and it will soon start spilling over onto the nonresidential market,” claims Petty, noting consumers’ tendency to desire what they have at home in their office as well.

Amid this progress, kinks still need to be worked out, notably with cabling and wireless standards. Because the industry has yet to standardize, many end users are still guessing as to which system for their telecom infrastructure will be most conducive to future compatibility, standards and technology.

“There are a ton of different standards that are available in the marketplace and it’s a big capital investment,” says Hill, “so figuring out what the best solution is has some customers in a tizzy.”

But overall, the momentum that has been created by energy conservation concerns and new technology should be more than sufficient to keep the BAS train moving forward and making its way into more and more buildings worldwide.

BAS: Drivers and Obstacles

Factors driving the growth of integrated, intelligent buildings in the Asia-Pacific:

A cultural affinity for technology.

A greater focus on developing “signature” buildings.

A desire to mitigate the impact of high energy prices.

Growth in the home automation market.

Factors inhibiting the growth of integrated, intelligent buildings in the U.S.:

A greater focus on the bottom line.

The fragmented nature of the U.S. building and construction industry.

Lack of standardization in the telecommunications industry.