Integrated control systems for labs


Construction phase

Although it feels as though the bulk of the integration review is conducted prior to implementation, there is a definite need for continued review throughout the construction phase of the project. Understanding that systems can be properly integrated is one thing, but taking the proper steps to ensure that a usable system will be provided to the owner is another.

Figure 4: The Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, uses a fully integrated control system for all building mechanical systems including their BSL-3 suite. Courtesy: RMF Engineering

The next step of the review process occurs when submittals begin to arrive. Traditionally, the equipment submittals arrive first, followed by the building automation submittals. The document the designer created with spec and drawing points lists should be fully populated with points listed in the submittals. The control submittal carries with it the bulk of the data. While the controls submittal is oftentimes a cut-and-paste version of the contract drawings, a full-team review is still required. The network riser diagrams will outline whether all desired components have been accounted for, and the individual system flow diagrams and points lists will outline whether all the desired integration points are present. Conducting a final review of each of those components is key to a successful implementation phase. It's recommended that an individual is specifically tasked with conducting it rather than having multiple team members trying to coordinate review.

It can be a challenge to ensure that each piece of equipment is selected with the proper communication protocols that will communicate with the BAS. Finding equipment submittals in which the communication protocol is clearly identified can oftentimes become difficult. Some of these submittals will list the types of protocols available, but the option that is being provided is not highlighted. If a submittal identifies that a chiller can communicate via Modbus, BACnet/IP, or BACnet/MSTP, they must clearly identify which communication card they are providing with the chiller.

If a specific part number for the communication interface is not selected, it isn't complete. When in a construction administration role, it is best practice to have the contractor revise and resubmit to clearly identify communication protocols supplied with the equipment. When in a commissioning role, providers should note that supplied protocols should be provided and that the contractor is responsible for coordinating the integration effort to ensure that the design intent is met.

In the case of integration of laboratory controls systems, it's important to spend extensive time reviewing the software and features associated with the submitted hardware. If the submittal is not provided with a table of read/write points of control, then the engineering team should ask for it. This is one of the last opportunities to ensure the design intent and OPR are achieved and a usable system is going to be provided to the owner. Make sure the desired integration points are not only readable, but also make sure any writable points that are integral to the sequences of operation are present.

This is the point in the process where designers will benefit from holding a controls-integration meeting. At the meeting, the owners, designers, and contractors will thoroughly review the project to discuss communication-protocol types and verify that all desired integrated components have been picked up in the contract documents. This is an opportunity for the designer to ensure that the project team understands what to look for when submittals are provided. For instance, during the submittal review, the project team should look for the type of BACnet protocol that is being provided. If this is not done during this stage, there will certainly be issues during implementation.

As an example, a piece of equipment that is supplied with a BACnet/IP communication card will interface with a BACnet/MSTP interface, but not without an additional piece of hardware. Rarely do we see this level of communication identified in the specifications, and this is the last chance to ensure the proper components are provided. This additional piece of hardware will likely come at an additional cost for the part, labor to install it, and labor to program and integrate the associated points. Addressing these items at this stage will allow for a streamlined implementation during the construction or renovation phase of the project.

Proper data management is key to system operation. There are additional data, and additional stress, on a building automation controls network that comes with laboratory integration. The data must be managed during implementation to prevent slow BAS access.

Designers should assist in determining which available integration points from the laboratory controllers should be accessible from the BAS to meet all project and OPR goals. All available data points should not be integrated—the process should be determined by requirements of the sequence of operation and the experience level of the owner.

A critical step involves working with the controls contractor to ensure that change-of-value (COV) rates are properly set to reduce network traffic while providing useful real-time lab data to the owner. COV rates are essentially refresh rates of the data displayed on the BAS server and within the graphical user interface. A laboratory controller will update data on the BAS server based on the COV setting. If a COV is set to 0.1 cfm on an airflow measurement, for instance, the laboratory controller will update the BAS over the network for every 0.1 cfm of change in reading. The lower the COV setting, the higher the rate of data exchange across the building automation network; thus, the slower the network responds. Reviewing trending capabilities and setting limits on data retention that make sense for that particular site and application should occur during the commissioning process and final review of system operation.

Focusing on energy efficiency

While most laboratories are focused on occupant safety, not all laboratories are focused on energy. One of RMF Engineering's clients, in particular, has used its facility data (which is integrated from the laboratory controllers to the BAS) to monitor lab performance and ensure energy standards are being maintained. Using integrated airflow rates and a table of room dimensions, they are calculating real-time air-change-rate metering as a means to quickly see if the targeted 8 and 4 air changes/hour are being maintained. Using integrated room-occupancy sensors, they allow for standby modes of operation during their daily occupancy schedule to reset airflow rates to unoccupied flows while maintaining lab temperature and humidity set-points. Using integrated differential-pressure transducers, they are resetting the AHU supply's static pressure set-points.

These energy-monitoring and -savings features would not have been possible without the proper integration and usability of the client's BAS and laboratory control modules—and without established owner requirements and focused controls integration review.

An added benefit of the successful integration at this facility was the final layer of a laboratory-monitoring dashboard. Due to the nature of this facility and the structure of its service contracts, implementation of the dashboard was a risk to network performance and system reliability. Careful monitoring and data management of the integrated system points were crucial to the successful installation of the system and to ensure the established existing system reliability was maintained. The main issue the team wanted to avoid was taking a functional building and lab control system and slowing the network down by adding this additional layer of monitoring.

When the client decided to install the laboratory dashboard, RMF Engineering was tasked with monitoring the implementation as it coincided with a simultaneous re-commissioning effort. The re-commissioning effort included a 33% sampling rate of all laboratory spaces within the facility. While functionally testing the laboratories, RMF coordinated using both the existing BAS as well as the newly implemented dashboard. In using both control systems to test a laboratory, RMF was able to more clearly identify who was needed to resolve the issue when an issue arose. The synergy between the two projects simplified monitoring network speeds during other onsite efforts and provided multiple systems to use during operational checks.

At the conclusion of the project, the dashboard was successfully rolled out to 280 laboratories and 9,000 data points. These data points include air and temperature values, their associated operating set-points, heating-valve position, trends, alarms, and air-change-rate calculations. All 9,000 points are integrated from the lab control system to the BAS and the laboratory dashboard. Roughly 2,800 of those points are trended by both the BAS and the dashboard, which is a significant amount of data passing along the building control network.

It was critical during the course of this renovation project that no disruptions to active research occurred — therefore, access to all system data had to be maintained at all times. The re-commissioning process of the facility found no impact on the building control network. This could not have been achieved without careful attention to data point mapping and trending across all systems.

Commissioning providers must have the opportunity of a design review to highlight system discrepancies or deficiencies and assist in driving a more thorough and complete set of contract documents. It allows for customers to experience not only a safe and functional laboratory facility, but also an energy-efficient one.

The key to a successful controls integration, whether it is in a laboratory environment or any other type of facility where multiple control systems exist, is to conduct a focused controls integration review. If a project schedule does not afford the time to conduct a review of this type, it will show when it's time for installation.

Jeremy Bartlett is a commissioning specialist with the Field Services Division at RMF Engineering. He is a controls engineer with more than 10 years of experience working with building automation systems.

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