Technology Refresh Part 3

BCIA Vice-President Graeme Rees revisits his blog series on progress in technology to focus on the operation and maintenance of building management systems.

In previous articles I made comparisons with the advances and developments of our building control technologies with those we see in our everyday lives in cars and televisions. Certainly, all have advanced exponentially in very recent times and I hope I can stretch the analogies one more time to help explain the great advances and benefits new technology is bringing to building owners and managers as well as those occupying the space, particularly in the ongoing operation and maintenance of our buildings post occupancy.

First though, when considering either a new or a replacement building management system (BMS), the primary factors to consider have to include an open protocol system from a supplier who has an open route to market. This is essential to give customers not only a choice of system but also choice of supply and helps to prevent any potential of being tied to expensive spare parts and post occupancy servicing, something I will cover in more detail later.

Open protocol also ensures flexibility and simplifies options to integrate with other building systems in a simple and cost-effective manner. The combination of these two open themes greatly supports the future proofing of the system and protects the customers investment.

Strong security

Another essential consideration is security, with the majority of systems now benefiting from the speed and range of connectivity options that IT systems provide, it is essential that our building control systems are designed, installed and indeed operated and maintained with strong security in mind.

With the above taken care of clients should understand not only their present needs but the needs they may have in the future and be sure systems that are being considered can meet these needs with features and benefits that support. I often recall a simplistic quote from a business leader I worked with in the past.. “all we do is control the temperature and movement of air and water”.. which pretty much sums up the fundamental task of a traditional building management system, but with the demands of our buildings increasing to include energy management, occupancy levels and density, air quality and natural ventilation, lighting controls and levels even colour rendering and a raft of analytical information derived for the wealth of data within later systems – the choice of system and provider can be a daunting prospect. Of course BCIA member companies are able to offer a wealth of experience and advice to end users and will match available technologies to client needs.


What’s next?

To recap, we understand our current and future needs, we select an open system from a supplier with an open route to market and we ensure a cyber secure installation and operation and maintenance routine. Now let’s explore in this article the operation and maintenance and return once more to the car analogies if I may.

We all know that to get the very best from our car – regardless of age and model – we should ensure it is well maintained. There are simple things that even the non-technically minded can undertake themselves such as checking oil and fluid levels, ensuring the tyres are at the correct pressure and driving sensibly to ensure a decent mpg. All this in addition to a routine service with a professional every 10,000 miles or so.

The same is true with the basics of a BMS, keeping check on setpoints and time scheduling, being sure any temporary overrides put in place are returned to normal operation and that all sensing devices are kept clean and away from any erroneous influences that may alter readings will pretty much ensure as designed operation. Calling on the services of a professional BMS company to provide any software and security updates to system software, providing software backups and exercising of the slightly more advanced technical system elements and any modifications requests, will keep a system running smoothly and cost effectively when conducted on a regular basis.

But the days of us checking oil levels and tyre pressures in our cars and marking the diary for a 10k service are over. Modern cars tell us what the oil levels and tyre pressures are and they advise us in advance when the service is due. Better still, the dealer pulled specific operational data from my key fob that told him precisely how my car had been running and I am pretty sure gave him a good idea of my own driving habits!…

Operating health

The same is true with modern BMSs. With building control systems now managing hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of data points the analysis of this data can provide a rich source of information to help direct and indeed predict maintenance activity. It can also provide insight on the operating health of the system itself – just as the modern car does.

Analytical software is available that uses the mass of data from our building systems to identify how effectively the systems are operating, where there may be inefficiencies, areas where comfort levels are not what they could/should be and also identify issues that are normally hidden even to the trained eye – cooling systems working unnecessarily for example to compensate for heating systems left overridden on or valves not properly closing off. They are even able to identify trends and predict when maintenance or replacement parts might be needed.

Just like our cars telling us and the dealerships what needs to be done and when, so our BMSs can tell us and our control specialist what is happening, what can be done to improve and when it will need to be attended to. To benefit from these advances it is of course necessary to ensure systems are cyber secure and open protocol such that the wealth of data can be collected and analysed.

We have accepted the great advances we see in our cars but so too to must we switch to the far more economic and efficient methods of servicing and maintaining our systems. We are now happy for the car systems to tell us when we need to go to the garage and what to do and we must also therefore use the intelligence within our building systems to direct our efforts and attention. There is much to gain by directing engineering resource to the activities based on analytical data and the predicted requirements as opposed to simple routine check lists which provide services to equipment whether needed or not.

The future is here

Are there more advances to come? Of course, although I think our buildings might be in advance of our cars on this one… certainly in my experience. Imagine a time when your car not only informs you of a service due date, but actually checks your diary for you, finds a slot and makes the service booking with the garage on your behalf. Not only that, it gives advance information to the garage of issues to be attended to and pre-orders necessary parts required. Can you imagine it also knowing your preferred hire car company and making a reservation for you such that a temporary vehicle is delivered to you at the same time the garage collects your car for servicing and arranges collection when yours is returned?

Whilst that might sound a little futuristic from a car perspective the equivalent with our building systems is here today. With integration to workplace management software systems (IWMS) similar building scenarios to that described above are quite achievable.

A typical scenario could be that the BMS identifies an issue with the cooling in a meeting room which effectively puts the room out of use. Integrating with IWMS would enable the maintenance contractors to be made aware of the issue and the spare parts required to facilitate a fix. It would previously check that the maintenance contractors are approved to do the work on the site and that specific system and that there are no other issues preventing an automatic work order to be issued to them.

It would also inform users who are booked to use that space that the room was no longer available and automatically move their reservation to another space, date or time and also trigger the occupancy and control of the new space through the integration with the building control system. Upon completion of the work, it would not only return all systems to normal operation and reinstate room bookings, it can also take care of works reports, even invoicing and departmental billing.

This might sound like science fiction, but it is quite possible today and makes for a truly smart building.

See also

Technology Refresh Part 1

Technology Refresh Part 2