Integrated control systems for labs


Figure 2: The laboratory controls system at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Andrew W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center facility in Cincinnati is fully integrated into the BAS. Advanced laboratory-pressure and fume-hood monitoring are tDesign considerations

Successful controls integration starts with a well-documented owner's project requirements (OPR) and design effort for a new facility or a renovation. More often than not, the controls and sequencing are among the last components to be addressed. For example, modifications are often made to the specifications at the last minute, and oftentimes, the control schematic drawing points list isn't developed until the end of the job.

RMF Engineering has commissioned projects where all laboratory integration was removed from the project as a value-engineering measure to save cost. What was lost as a result were opportunities for integrating systems as a means for energy savings, not to mention providing any BAS interface to the laboratories to allow facility operators to monitor lab operation. What was saved in implementation cost was lost in energy savings and proper access to the system. These are elements that need to be considered sooner rather than later. Failing to identify the desired interoperation of the various systems early on in design will lead to a lack of communication between different control systems.

While developing a basis of design (BOD) for a project, all interoperation must be defined. At this time, systems and equipment need to be selected that can meet the project goals. This is standard operating procedure for most system designers, but if you consider product selection from a building automation point of view, you will see this process in a different light. Laboratory control systems will come with different features and varying levels of integration.

Control systems typically come with their own proprietary software. While one vendor's software, by default, allows for a high level of BAS integration and controllability by exposing all available control points, another vendor's software may lock out those same points and make them read-only as a safety precaution and include a requirement for manual exposure of those same control points. While one laboratory controller may allow for occupied or unoccupied control only, another may allow for additional modes such as "standby."

The desired interaction of the BAS and the laboratory controls system must be clearly understood so proper equipment selection can occur. OPR or BOD documents must be made available and should be developed with the owner. Clear direction for the project, be it new construction or an existing building, must be identified so proper identification of integrated systems can achieve both system operation and energy-saving goals.

Figure 3: Power generation is integrated to the BAS at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Narragansett, R.I., facility for monitoring and use on an energy dashboard. Courtesy: RMF EngineeringDesign review

To ensure successful systems integration, there must be extensive review during the design phase of any project. Many of the common design oversights can be caught with a proper and focused review. A quality analysis/quality control (QA/QC) review must be conducted.

The goal of the QA/QC review for the design group is always the same: There should always be a complete set of contract documents and appropriately specified controls integration.

System designers should begin by reviewing the OPR. This is followed by a review of the specifications. Every section that could possibly be tied into the BAS should be reviewed, starting with the controls section. This is the most logical place to begin and start identifying integration requirements, and this is where the holes in integration are first discovered.

Designers should keep in mind that from the perspective of a commissioning authority, it is rare to find relevant specification sections or requirements sections that are thoroughly identified. Laboratory terminal units, heating or cooling plants, lighting control, power generators, etc., must all be clearly defined in both the specifications and drawings. It is critical that system designers thoroughly review all documents during the design review to ensure that there aren't missing related specification sections or references to integrated systems.

After the control specification has been reviewed, all other equipment-specification sections need to be reviewed. Once again, a review of the related specification sections or related requirements sections should be performed to see if the controls section has been referenced, though in many cases it is not. Many times, owners may find phrases randomly placed in the spec, such as "shall connect to the BAS" or "will report to the BAS."

Rarely in the individual equipment specifications will you find coordinated communication protocols with the controls specification. When requirements for integration are provided, they typically are generic. While it may be enough to say that a system should be provided with BACnet capability, there is a chance that when equipment submittals come through, some equipment will have BACnet/Internet protocol (IP) communication cards while others are provided with BACnet/master-slave token-passing (MSTP) communication cards. In this situation, the desired integration at the end of your project will still function, but at an additional cost.

The bottom line is that rarely do specification sections identify how a BAS will be interconnected or integrated.

Once all specification sections have been reviewed, documenting both specific and implied forms of controls integration should be completed. A specification that includes a BAS points list should be tabulated for future comparison to drawings and submittals. When applicable, the integration type is recorded as well.

The next step is to review all project drawings. The review cannot be focused solely on the control flow or sequence drawings, but multiple disciplines must be reviewed in their entirety. This full review is necessary to pick up items, such as fire alarm integration or utility metering—the two most common points of integration that are skipped over. For example, designers can find plumbing drawings with a note that a water meter shall report to the BAS, but that point is not picked up in the control drawings.

After the completion of both specification and drawing reviews during the design phase, the design team will have an internal review document that identifies integration types and desired integration points. If a points list was included with the specification, the team also will have a side-by-side comparison of BAS points across both contract documents. With that information available to them, designers can easily visualize where holes in the BAS integration design are occurring.

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