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Together as one

Karl Walker of Beckhoff Automation explains how a building automation control platform can bring building functions together on one integrated system and simplify facilities management

The International Energy Agency predicts that global energy consumption will rise by up to 30 per cent by the year 2030 and over 40 per cent of the total energy used will be consumed by buildings.

Within Europe it is estimated that over 70 per cent of energy within commercial buildings is used for heating alone. If we are to make serious inroads in tackling the issue of wasted energy, it is imperative that we make sure our commercial buildings are as efficient as they can possibly be.

As a rule, building lifecycle costs are generally calculated over a 30-year period but in many cases the lifecycle extends far beyond this. Following the widely acknowledged 10-80-10 rule, whereby 10 per cent of the lifetime cost is attributed to design and construction, 10 per cent goes towards decommissioning and a massive 80 per cent is earmarked for operation and maintenance, it is clear that repair and maintenance can contribute significantly to overall running costs.

‘Intelligent’ building controls can significantly improve energy efficiency but although there are plenty of recommendations, there is currently no legal obligation to use them. The first definition, coined by the Intelligent Buildings Institute, defines an intelligent building as “one which provides a productive and cost-effective environment through optimisation of four basic elements: structure, systems, services and management, and the interrelationship between them”.

Expanding on this somewhat, the modern intelligent building should boast an integrated communications infrastructure that supports wired and wireless networks which have seamless access to all assets and their data. It should also facilitate person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications within the building and with the outside world using an open and flexible control platform. This platform should not only support the control of lighting and HVAC systems, but embrace a “total building management” concept which incorporates air quality sensors, audio/visual systems, shading control and room booking systems. Buildings are also becoming increasingly cloud connected as an essential part of smart grids and smart cities.

Though new buildings are undoubtedly more connected than ever before, it is not uncommon for the internal systems to be designed and installed in isolation by different companies. These ‘islands of automation’ are often not conducive to allowing interconnection between systems so the benefits of convergence cannot be realised. Open communication protocols should allow the retrospective interconnection of these systems but a higher level system often needs to be added to aggregate all the data and make the control decisions.

A connected building that boasts an integrated communications infrastructure, supportive of all building functions and systems can allow for predictive maintenance. This approach can offer significant cost savings over routine or time based preventative maintenance based on regular equipment inspections as it allows facilities managers to determine the condition of assets that enables them to make the necessary inspections or changes before an issue occurs.

It is estimated that between 15 and 23 per cent of a building’s lifetime cost can be taken up solely by repair and maintenance, with a significant proportion of this cost borne out of unplanned or unscheduled repairs following unforeseen breakdowns or malfunctions.

While preventative maintenance can be effective in reducing the risk of equipment failure, around 30 per cent of all preventative maintenance activities are carried out too frequently and 40 per cent of preventative maintenance costs are spent on assets with negligible effect on uptime failure.

Following the adoption of a predictive maintenance strategy, it is commonly noted that equipment performs better, equipment life is extended, equipment is replaced before failure, repair costs are reduced, downtime is cut and occupier comfort is increased.

Real time notifications are an essential part of an effective preventative maintenance plan and this means that all devices and equipment should be connected to a system that can aggregate all necessary data, monitor performance and constantly compare it to reference data. Electronic documents, stored together on a cloud based system, can be accessed quickly and easily, giving the right person all of the information they need in order to take the right action at the right moment.

To truly maximise the effectiveness of the building automation control system (BACS), the generation and distribution of services should be based on consumer demand at room level. A simple example of this is lighting that responds to occupancy. A modern commercial building featuring a well-designed, holistic BACS should already be controlling and communicating with connected assets such as pumps, valves, boilers, air handling units (AHUs), fan coil units (FCUs), sensors, etc.

A number of manufacturers have adopted open protocols in their products, thus facilitating the interconnection of devices within buildings. The upshot of this is that the existing BACS platform – without the need for any additional hardware or external systems – should be capable of aggregating all asset data and securely ‘pushing’ it into the IT enterprise level or a cloud platform where it can be further integrated into cognitive analysis systems to provide the information needed for computer aided facility management (CAFM) or other predictive maintenance systems.

With the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) coming into force from April 2018, building owners and operators will be under increased pressure to ensure that their building has an energy performance certificate rating (EPC) of E or above. Those who don’t comply could be prevented from renting out such properties and may end up facing significant financial penalties.

Many will be looking at ways to improve efficiency and in doing so may choose to implement a new or improved BACS, potentially using the BS EN15232 standard to evaluate different control technologies and their cumulative impact on energy use.

By integrating all building functions and systems onto a single platform, the user has control of their building assets and can address many of the potential FM challenges, allowing for preventative – or, better still, predictive – maintenance, CAFM, real-time reporting, interaction with electronic documents, and utilisation of cloud and IoT platforms.

As adoption of BACS becomes increasingly widespread, the interconnection of systems and convergence of controls is likely to become a defining factor in the battle to eliminate islands of automation, giving FMs the tools they need to streamline maintenance procedures and improve efficiency across the board.

About Sarah OBeirne

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