The demands of mixed-use facilities: automation and controls

Mixed-use facilities require engineers to handle several complex components. Here, engineers with experience on such facilities offer advice on bringing successful execution into the mix with automation and controls.

By CFE Media September 13, 2016


Timothy Chatterton, PE, Project Manager, RMF Engineering, Selbyville, Del.

Kari Engen, PE, CxA, LEED AP, Senior Mechanical Engineer, WD Partners, Dublin, Ohio

Taner Tekin, PE, LEED AP, Project Manager, exp, Maitland, Fla.

John Torre, PE, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of Electrical Engineering Services, OLA Consulting Engineers, Hawthorne, N.Y.

Scott Vollmoeller, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Associate DBIA, Managing Principal, Glumac, Seattle 

CSE: When working on monitoring and control systems in mixed-use buildings, what factors do you consider?

Engen: Factors to consider are simplicity in the user interface for the facilities operator, compatible control protocols when building systems monitoring is taking place, and maintaining local control at the tenant/occupant level.

Tekin: Numerous factors should be considered when designing a building automation system (BAS). Generally, the first factor is the owner’s project requirements. Some owners want to have many building systems, such as fire alarm, lighting control, miscellaneous equipment, etc., integrated with their BAS while others may not. Integrated building management systems require a lot more coordination between the BAS design engineer and the product-selection engineers to make sure the desired communication protocols (BACnet, Lon, Modbus, etc) are specified with the product as well as the communicated points. In the absence of strong owner requirements, the criticality of the facility should be considered. Critical facilities, or portions of the facility that are considered critical, that have low tolerance to equipment or system failures or environmental changes may require more monitoring from the BAS, but possibly more or less sequence of operations complexity. The sophistication of the systems can also play a factor in designing the BAS. Unitary-based systems generally have limited interface options with BAS, and the general system design may not warrant a sophisticated controls overlay. Budget also will come into play as more equipment and systems are integrated with the BAS.

Vollmoeller: We consider expandability, ease of use, measurement and verification capabilities, and local service availability.

Chatterton: When working on monitoring and control systems in mixed-use buildings, I take into account the type of space we’re working in and who the end users are going to be. For example, each apartment or dorm room of a university residence should have its own programmable thermostat. For retail spaces, our team needs to consider the type of system and if demand-control ventilation is required. In this case, we will provide programmable thermostats as well. In the case of a VRF system, we may provide an additional central controller depending on the size of the system.

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

Tekin: The biggest issue we see is a client moving down a path too soon with a solution, or moving without a solution. We find they have a vendor or device(s) installed without an integration solution planned. We try to guide our clients by focusing on their needs and business operations and developing a solution around those needs and processes. We often have to take what they have and find a way to integrate through brute force. If we can get involved early, we develop a systematic plan, evaluate the options, and look to the future so the solution can be built on as the project grows and technology advances. This way, their solution grows with building expansions and evolves with technology advances.

Engen: In earlier projects, system-integration challenges were common, with requirements for translation protocols or flat specification of proprietary control-protocol specifications being a project requirement. With more recent projects and more standardization of building automation control protocols, this issue is becoming less common.

Vollmoeller: In an effort to minimize these challenges, we typically suggest the controls contractor work with the subcontractor to install their controllers within each piece of equipment, rather than relying on suggested interoperability. A solid commissioning process is also vital in ensuring the optimal operation of complex integrated systems.

CSE: What unique tools are the owners of such projects including in their automation and controls systems?

Vollmoeller: Handheld device access, implement preventive maintenance programs, and integration of lighting controls.

Engen: Newer systems incorporate wireless technology, smartphone applications, the use of quick response (QR) codes for gathering data, and other more portable technologies.

Tekin: Most of the clients we see who are on the forefront are looking beyond the typical HVAC control system. They are looking at how their BAS can help their business operate better. This focuses on data analytics and fault diagnosis. Clients are looking to incorporate lighting, metering, and occupant interaction systems to not only improve building efficiency but also enhance productivity. In the hospitality arena, connecting the building systems to the customer preferences is a key deliverable, but can only be done if planned for in advance.

CSE: How have you worked with the building owner or facility manager to tackle the Internet of Things (IoT)? Have you helped catalog every device in a building, such as lights, fire alarms, electrical outlets, and more?

Tekin: Cataloging every device is a metadata or database concept, which we have provided through our BIM during design, but we find that the contractors and operators do not transition this model during turnover. We still propose complete BIM during construction, this can then be integrated into the various systems (BAS, computerized maintenance management system, asset inventory, etc.) to provide a deeper networked database with added value. IoT, when applied to the building, is often misunderstood. Just because a device is Internet-ready does not mean it should be connected to the Internet. One of the biggest hurdles is understanding connectivity. Having all of these devices connected to your network is always a concern to the information technology (IT) department. We help our clients outline that IT and operational technology (OT) can and should be separate. The corporate network (IT) handles different business and should be treated differently than the facility network (OT), which handles physical devices that do not change as much as corporate network devices. In this way, the networks can be fully secured but the security approach is different.

Vollmoeller: We make suggestions. We have worked with a consultant to help with the cataloging.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.