Is There Gold at the End of the Building Automation Rainbow?

Security systems integrators have posed the question many times, to mixed response: Is there gold at the end of the building automation rainbow? Now, we all know that many of the larger conglomerates in the security and building automation world...

BAS and security are similar in many ways, but they have their differences as well. The BAS installation focus on LV wiring and control is in many respects like the LV wiring and control used in a traditional security system. The big difference with BAS is that there are far more analog inputs and outputs than in a traditional security system, and there is more programming and on-site commissioning, some of which can be quite intensive.

Why Is a Building Automation System Important?
With an effective BAS it is possible to increase productivity in a manufacturing or service environment and increase sales in a retail situation. People comfort (customers and employees) is of vital importance. Clean air and humidity reduction are issues over which many a lawsuit has been fought. Many aspects of conditioned air are now regulated by rules and regulations.

A BAS greatly increases the interaction of mechanical subsystems within a building, lowers energy use and allows off-site building control. Modern building automation systems use computer-based monitoring to coordinate, organize and optimize the administration, operations and performance of HVAC equipment and alarm systems with purpose-built networks and protocols. They can also optimize building control sub-systems such as security, fire/life safety and elevators.

Standards and Open Systems
Over the years, several proprietary building automation network standards have evolved in the marketplace, including Siemens' APOGEE? and Johnson Controls' Metasys?. Proprietary solutions have generally permeated the non-residential HVAC market, limiting the upgrading and expansion of infrastructure to either off-the-shelf, vendor-compatible products or costly custom solutions. Vendor initiatives to publish their proprietary protocols usually resulted in one-way open systems, with the host system always playing the role of master.

Migration to open systems has become the buzz phrase over the past few years. Flexibility, scalability and expandability are extremely important when selecting a BAS. The ability to reconfigure and monitor changes made to an automation system in real time is of tremendous importance to building managers.

In recent years, truly open protocols like BACnet have been promoted and implemented as primary protocols by companies such as Automated Logic, Alerton, Andover Controls, Advantech, Delta Controls and Reliable Controls as alternatives to proprietary vendor-specific protocols. Furthermore, LonWorks-based solutions (developed by Echelon Corp) have taken the interoperability down to the device level with support from companies like Honeywell, Invensys, Smart Controls LLC and Distech Controls.

Finally, gateway controllers with Web-based connectivity over Internet/intranet/VPN have come into play with companies like Tridium and Enflex, making connectivity between systems even easier. More recently, the Continental Automated Buildings Association has taken the lead in defining the industry directions for vendor-independent open systems. Specifically, the oBIX initiative defines an XML-based standard for the future. Having the ability to implement best-of-breed solutions, use existing network infrastructure and retain existing investments in field-level gear provides building and system managers with many fiscally positive options that they never had before.

Does this fit into the realm of the security systems integrator? The latest SDM 100 estimated that only one percent of the $4.1 billion revenue was in the area of BAS. From other market research it is known that the BAS covers at least five to 10 percent of the HVAC market (ASHRAE). So there are certainly some areas of significant opportunity possible for security systems integrators who want to grow into that area.

Who Is Buying BAS?
Generally the buyer of a BAS is the facilities department, which is responsible for the building environment?occupant comfort, productivity and cost of energy across the enterprise. This has an immediate impact on the company's bottom line, so it gets looked at far more closely than security.

Often in new construction, the architectural/engineering team carries out the basic design, and the project is bid through the general contractor/mechanical contractor, very much like a security project. With retrofits of existing facilities, an energy engineer and a mechanical engineer will often be involved in the purchasing process. Thus, a whole different group of people is involved in a BAS implementation than is typically involved in a security implementation.