Retail, restaurant and mixed-use facilities: Automation, controls, technology

What are the trickiest aspects of retail, restaurant and mixed-use projects and what trends lie ahead? Read on for solid advice from experienced professionals.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer June 28, 2019


Jason GerkePE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C 

Practice Area Leader – Mechanical/Plumbing | Principal  




Wayne GriswoldPE, CFPS 

Principal Fire Protection Engineer 




Jonathan Robertson, PE, LEED AP BD+C 

Associate Principal, Mechanical 

Integral Group 

Austin, Texas 


Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP 

Vice President 

CCJM Engineers 


CSE: From your experience, what systems within a restaurant, retail or mixed-use project are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been? 

Gerke: Reduction in energy in dining spaces open to the outdoors is becoming more easily accomplished with more reliable sensors and control devices to disable mechanical cooling automatically when large walls are opened to enjoy the outdoors. HVAC and lighting control systems continue to become more sophisticated in prepackaged boxes allowing these higherlevel controls to be incorporated in more projects. 

Robertson: For restaurants, the incorporation of variable speed controls the respond to the actual cooking surface and what is being cooked has had a dramatic impact on energy usage. 

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

Gerke: Our company provides commissioning services for a major retailer across the country. We see issues in control system integration dependent on the equipment manufacturers selected. For instance, we see more initial success on projects where a specific rooftop manufacturer is used versus another manufacturer allowed by the retailer. The standardization of the commissioning service provider and control contractor has helped minimize these complications, but communication between lighting systems, HVAC systems and other integrated systems will continue to be a focus of design, construction and commissioning into the future. 

Robertson: Proprietary controls have been a significant and costly issue to overcome. Not only does this cost the building owner or tenant an exorbitant amount, but if set up as software as a service, then there are scenarios where the data actually becomes the property of the service provider and not the building owner or tenant. 

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owners to design a project?  

Roy: We have had to turn over our BIM design documents for some design-build projects. The problem we’ve seen is that contractors are trying to use these design models as shop drawings and bypass the coordination activities that are needed between trades. No matter how slick the BImodels may look with the equipment families including the details down to nuts and bolts and panel screws, our contractual obligation is to prepare design drawings, not shop drawings. We are not obligated to draw every elbow, offset or fitting required to construct the system. 

Design drawings define the scope of work, define the level of sophistication in the systems and controls, indicate all coderequired features and capabilities and ensure general code, service and operating clearances. That does not mean the same thing as contractor prepared shop drawings that are coordinated in detail with other trades. We find contractors’ presumption that BIM design drawings are ready to go as installation shop drawings because “everything was coordinated in the BIM virtual model” a very disturbing and dangerous trend. There are plenty of differences between bid and permit drawings and shop drawings and the former isn’t a shortcut for the latter. 

Robertson: I have found this very hard to implement. The most perfect BIM model gets built during design in one platform but is then translated into a software the contractors can build from in a different platform and a lot of the information critical to for operations and maintenance is stripped during this process. I do not see widespread usage of BIM for O&M until building owners start requiring this of the designers and contractors. 

CSE: Has the “internet othings” come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? How has this integration impacted the project?  

Robertson: The expectation that everything can be connect is now present on most jobs and is always a topic of conversation when it comes to a guest experience. This places a greater importance on integrations, controls and low-voltage scopes. For one project in Ohio, the owner’s design for a connected building led to a systems integrator to be brought onto the project during design. This helped to make the project a success by having someone specialized in integration rather than adding more scope to the already broad disciplines of MEP. 

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

Roy: This is an ongoing and valid concern that we have brought up with numerous clients and owners. IoT features must have a level of security features that separate the MEP system components from other pathways into the owner’s facilities and information technology systems. There are legitimate uses for IoT functionality, particularly in lighting and zone level ventilation integrated to space occupancy to ensure energy efficiency at the occupant level. However, it is absolutely essential that these devices have a level of separation from the building’s IT infrastructure, whether being on its own isolated network or some other means to certify to the owner that these systems don’t offer a pathway into sensitive proprietary information or financial networks.  

To date, we have not generally observed that most facility managers at nonhardened buildings have the experience that IT managers require to keep their facilities management network as secure as regular IT networks. It’s not because they don’t care, but rather because it’s not in their core competencies. It may take another generation or two of new facility managers brought up totally savvy in the IT world to ensure the requisite IT IQ in addition to MEP system and operations IQ. Needless to say, there are always exceptions who are absolutely up to speed on cybersecurity concerns. 

Robertson: Cybersecurity is an ongoing concern and an arms race between cybersecurity professionals and criminals. Segregation of data streams (credit card processing, building controls, inventory systems, etc.) and reverting back to wired networks for the most sensitive of streams is a trend. 

CSE: When incorporating IoT-ready products or technologies, what are some of the most pressing challenges or concerns when working on such structures? 

Robertson: The ability for individual devices to communicate with one another easily is still a struggle. BACnet and other similar communications protocols have helped in this effort, but building components are a far way away from being plug-and-play due to the restrictions certain major controls vendors place on their systems while claiming to be “open” and “compatible.” 

CSE: How have your engineers worked with building owners and facility managers to implement integrated technology in restaurant, retail or mixed-use structures? 

Robertson: Successful integration of technology has been a result of arriving at a common understanding of what is to be integrated early on during the project and revisiting it often instead of scabbing integration onto a project during the final stages or design or during construction, which is all too typical.