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Technology trends – IP building automation

The trend towards IP building control shows no sign of abating. Johannes G. Rietschel and Andy Stadheim of Barix look at the widespread benefits.

The inclusion of a central network infrastructure – almost a given in any new building today – gives architects plenty of room to plan for the integration of smart and scalable control and automation systems

The proliferation of IP (internet protocol) technology has forever altered facility design – and most would say for the better. Architectural teams today have the freedom to conceptualise network-driven, building-wide systems that tie multiple operations to a central infrastructure.

Nothing quite summarises this concept better than building automation. The move to IP-based building automation more effectively integrates facility systems and components together than previously possible. HVAC, lighting, security, water, energy, life safety and even AV systems can all connect to a central network, singularly controlled through a common user interface.

Architectural considerations for stadiums, commercial complexes and large residential spaces increasingly provide focus to IP building automation. The inclusion of a central network infrastructure – almost a given in any new building today – gives architects plenty of room to plan for the integration of smart and scalable control and automation systems. The expense of facility operation for the owner at a comfortable level almost depends on such forethought, long after the design teams have left the premises.

The migration away from legacy technologies and toward IP offers immediate and future benefits for the building owner. It facilitates a common pipe to connect multiple systems and favours open standards as opposed to closed, proprietary standards. It also eliminates the need to administer expensive, specialised management software to handle complex data islands that are a consequence of legacy systems.

There are also many benefits for the architectural team. The IP network infrastructure eliminates many of the expenses associated with legacy systems during construction. The cost of materials and labour are minimised. The payoff is reduced staffing costs, which ultimately lowers the project bills for the building owner.

Minimised footprint
Cabling requirements at the foundation level are minimised with IP systems thanks to the open standards practice. This minimises time spent planning and installing cable runs between floors and connecting disparate components. 

Future installers also benefit from the single-wire infrastructure of IP. Facility wiring has traditionally been done as first come, first serve – eventually leading to a spaghetti bowl of unmarked, unbundled and poorly managed cable runs. Integrators retrofitting systems into existing buildings are often exposed to this phenomenon. Few, if any of these wires are marked to identify their purposes, and many simply rest just above the ceiling tiles and grid. 

The IP infrastructure surpasses even the most advanced legacy cabling systems as the single IP/fibre connection eliminates bundles of wiring. This is an especially strong reason to migrate if there are multiple levels in the building and/or multiple buildings on the same campus. The cost of installing cabinets with ports and switches is miniscule compared to wiring multiple cabinets on every floor. There is also less opportunity to accidentally snap, twist or disconnect a wire as the construction process moves forward.

Once the system is operational, even the rare wiring problem is easier to troubleshoot in an IP building automation system. Network management software can provide an immediate diagnosis for broken or disconnected cables. Such issues can quickly be localised to a bad port or switch. The need for a new drop can quickly be determined if a specific area of the building is no longer reporting back to the central server. 

Common infrastructure 
Building automation has captured interest from new audiences as professionals recognise the opportunity to centrally control disparate elements over a common backbone. This creates a previously unseen level of communication across systems ranging from fire and life safety to lighting and projection systems.

The most effective IP-based systems use a series of controllers and sub-controllers for control and automation purposes, depending on the depth of the system and the number of components controlled. Many of these same controllers, such as Barionet devices from Barix, can centrally collect data from multiple machines and notify building owners of trouble through various alarming procedures.

Controllers and sub-controllers may also trigger units on and off based on distributed relays – ideal for energy-efficient strategy such as dynamic load shedding. Architectural teams have an opportunity to reduce a building’s energy usage by strategising daily power consumption with building owners and local utilities prior to installation.

IP building automation systems can be configured to automatically activate load-shedding processes, reducing energy usage during peak hours. This can be achieved by rotating heating and air-conditioning units (15-minute cycles) and alternating sets of lights, for example.

The beauty of IP building automation is that architects and design teams can present building owners with a valuable foundation that can start small and scale as requirements change. Taking advantage of an open standards system with minimal wiring and cabling requirements makes life easier during both the construction phase and the months and years that follow – or as often stated, “for the life of the building.”

Johannes G. Rietschel is CEO and founder of Barix AG and Andy Stadheim is president, Barix Technology, USA