Driven by several factors, including the need to reduce carbon emissions and even the COVID-19 pandemic, building automation continues to become more and more mainstream. Matthew McDonald identifies the latest in Smart Building Technology.

By now, the Smart Building concept is well-established. Organisations of varying sizes now understand the benefits they stand to gain by automating their workplaces.

That said, considering that we are a long way from reaching the ‘end-game’ in terms of Smart Building technology, now is an opportune time to ask how the revolution is proceeding. What is the latest when it comes to commercial building automation? And what more should specifiers be doing to extract the most benefit from the available technologies?

According to Matthew Doley, National Market Development Manager, Electrification – Smart Building Division at ABB, beyond the integration of different building systems, into single platforms with the aim of creating more comfortable, personalized environment’s, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics are coming into play.

“Predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms [are being used] to anticipate and respond to building performance issues,” he says.

“These algorithms can detect patterns and anomalies in data and use them to identify potential problems before they occur. This proactive approach can help building managers reduce maintenance costs and downtime while improving building efficiency and occupant comfort.”

According to Doley, in terms of products, customers are increasingly interested in solutions that offer greater connectivity, flexibility, and scalability. This includes wireless sensors, cloud-based platforms, and mobile apps that allow for remote monitoring and control of building systems.

“Customers are also asking for solutions that are easy to use, understand, and maintain. Building managers and operators are often responsible for multiple buildings and need a centralized, user-friendly interface to manage them efficiently,” he says.

Responding to these market demands, ABB Cylon building automation products offer various features such as energy management, HVAC control, lighting control and AI building analytics.

Scalable and suitable for various building sizes, the ABB Cylon Building Management system can also be easily customized and configured to suit specific building requirements. On top of that, because it uses open protocols such as BACnet, Modbus, and LonWorks, it is compatible with a wide range of devices and systems. And, because the system can be connected to the cloud, it allows for remote monitoring and control of building systems from anywhere in the world.

Ventilation & automation

David Auret, Director of EBSA, an Australian company that specialises in performance driven solutions for the facade industry, points to another area in which building automation has begun to make its mark.

“The Covid 19 pandemic has fast tracked the mainstream shift towards automated façades as a means to provide natural ventilation and thereby improve indoor air quality,” he says.

“Window automation technology stagnated for a period but more recent technological developments using digital actuators and controllers has allowed a level of integration with a building's BMS that was simply not possible in the past.”

This means that the BMS can now communicate directly with every window actuator, receiving status feedback and real time fault reporting. At the same time many such systems, such as those from D+H Mechatronic, are dual purpose can also form part of a smoke control solution.

According to Auret, this technology is future proofing commercial buildings by allowing the floor layout to be changed and windows regrouped without the need to change field cabling.

“In an effort to reduce the amount of field cabling required to naturally ventilate a building, EBSA has worked with our partners to develop a digital satellite module,” he says.

This module, which is installed remotely from controllers, accepts inputs from air quality sensors and wall switches and provides outputs to interface with mechanical heating and cooling. Each module can control a ventilation zone whilst reducing the size of the master controller and eliminating up to 50% of the field cabling. This makes the implementation of window automation for natural ventilation system and smoke control an incredibly sustainable option.

“It has completely revolutionised the way normal automation systems are designed and implemented,” says Auret, adding that he expects that, over time, it will shift industry expectations regarding such systems.

Healthy & sustainable

Auret isn’t the only industry figure to point to the pandemic as a key factor in the increased uptake of building automation systems.

“COVID-19 has raised occupant awareness of building health, particularly in terms of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ),” says Stefanie Oakes, General Manager of Asia Pacific Services, Honeywell.

“In a Honeywell global survey of office workers conducted this year, 45% of respondents across five markets said their expectations for improved IAQ had increased ‘significantly’ over the last three years, while 93% reported at least a slight increase.”

Honeywell Buildings Sustainability Manager (HBSM) powered by Honeywell Forge, a ready-now autonomous controls platform features a suite of intelligent applications that address a set of objectives long viewed as mutually exclusive: optimizing IAQ while also increasing energy efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of buildings – particularly, their Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions.

The system-agnostic HBSM platform sits atop a BMS to help achieve sustainability goals while avoiding unnecessary trade-offs. HBSM leverages the AI and ML algorithms of the Honeywell Forge software to aggregate and analyse energy performance data – down to the device level in a building.

Using sensors, analytics and self-learning algorithms, the platform establishes performance baselines, detects sources of energy waste, and eliminates them to optimize energy efficiency and IAQ. At the same time, HBSM tracks and records both direct and indirect carbon emissions, using AI/ML algorithms to optimize energy performance and thereby reduce carbon footprint.

“Building owners and operators are under increasing pressure – from regulatory agencies, internal sustainability initiatives and public concern – to cut carbon emissions along with their energy consumption,” says Oakes.

At the same time, however, they face a three-way dilemma. They need to find ways to make their buildings more sustainable while providing a healthier indoor environment. And they need to do so in a cost-effective way.

“Addressing all three at once may seem challenging, especially if there’s a portfolio of buildings involved, but AI and ML are enabling new capabilities in energy performance management that now make it possible to avoid trade-offs,” says Oakes.

As she explains, it’s important not just to have data but to be able to leverage it to drive outcomes. “HBSM not only identifying abnormalities and opportunities in energy performance but also enables users to optimize building systems – autonomously or manually – to reduce energy use and carbon emissions without compromising occupant comfort,” she says.

Scope for effective innovation

The best way to illustrate the effectiveness of building automation is by way of example. Panasonic’s Z Series Air Conditioning range, which is positioned as having innovation at its core and integrates smart features such as in-built Wi-Fi and the Comfort Cloud App., is one such example.

According to its manufacturer, automation remains an essential focus for the range.

“One of the ways the organisation achieves this is via its Comfort Cloud App which revolutionises the use, monitoring and management of Air Conditioners,” says Michael Tate, Trade Marketing Manager, Air Conditioning at Panasonic Australia.

“While others in the market also release applications that connect to a range of smart devices, the Comfort Cloud App allows users to adjust room temperatures – anytime and anywhere –delivering a highly tailored level of control.”

The Comfort Cloud App also provides greater oversight and control of energy consumption, so that users can monitor power output and transfer it to various units accordingly. It allows for up to seven unique users access to the smart system network of air conditioners.

“This means multiple users can specifically tailor their environment to their own preferences, without affecting others. The App also delivers new capabilities to activate or deactivate Panasonic’s unique nanoe X technology, which has been integrated into the Z Series models,” says Tate.

“The nanoe X technology inhibits common indoor pollutants from viruses to allergens, creating a fresher and healthier living environment...By using the Comfort Cloud App, a consumer can activate the nanoe X technology before entering a room, neutralising potential odours or pollutants, and making the environment cleaner and fresher.”

For commercial applications, Panasonic also provides a range of unique solutions in addition to the standard proprietary central controllers and Building Energy Management System (BEMS) integration solutions it has across the industry.

AC Smart Cloud and AC Service Cloud are cloud-based secure central control solutions that offer remote control and monitoring for end users. They also offer the option of remote fault analysis for mechanical contractors and installers, without the need to physically go to site.

Together, according to the company, this functionality expands the efficiency of the air conditioning systems and sets them apart from non-automated alternatives.

Open standard protocols

The proliferation of all these technologies requires effective communication protocols. One such example, which is not owned by any single company but has been adopted by more than 500 companies around the world, is the KNX open standard protocol.

“One of the key advantages of the open nature of KNX is that it allows for interoperability between devices and systems from different manufacturers,” explains Andy Moore, Sales Manager Building Automation, at Theben.

“KNX devices from different companies can communicate with each other seamlessly, allowing building operators to create a fully integrated building automation system using products from multiple manufacturers.”

In contrast, proprietary systems are often designed to only work with products from a single manufacturer, which can limit the flexibility and interoperability of the system.

Some popular KNX products now available include KNX sensors, which are used to monitor various building parameters such as temperature, humidity, and lighting levels; KNX switches, which allow users to control building systems like lighting, HVAC, and blinds from a single interface; and KNX actuators, which are used to control such systems based on signals received from sensors or switches.

Meanwhile, KNX gateways allow for the integration of KNX systems with other protocols such as BACnet, Modbus, or LonWorks. In this way, they enable interoperability between different building automation systems.

Overall, the KNX Open protocol is well-suited to commercial building automation applications. According to Moore, as demand for intelligent building systems continues to grow, we can expect to see more innovative KNX products and solutions introduced on top of the 8,000 devices already available.

“Because the protocol is open, any manufacturer can develop and market KNX devices without having to pay licensing fees or royalties. This encourages competition and innovation, which can lead to better products and lower costs for end-users,” says Moore.

In this way, it has a key role in helping to ensure that, as we move further into the 21st Century, commercial buildings will continue to become more comfortable, more efficient, and more environmentally sustainable.

Image: ABB