Open systems: The foundation for a new era of BAS

As system integration strategies become more complex, the need for improved building automation system specifications becomes evident.


Learning objectives

1. Understand open and closed building automation systems.

2. Learn about system integration, system specifications, and their complexities.

3. Understand the roles and responsibilities of vendors, consultants, and integrators.

Throughout the past two decades, the building automation system (BAS) industry has witnessed the introduction, incorporation, and acceptance of open systems (see sidebar, "Definitions and terminology") as a practical-and largely preferred-solution for system integration and enterprise-wide interoperability. As the industry moves farther away from proprietary or "closed" systems, the market opens a new level of opportunity for vendors, consultants, and integrators to engineer specialized products and craft solutions that utilize widely available technologies and provide cross-platform accessibility.

There is plenty of room in the market for innovation with an open systems approach, and those who embrace it are free to innovate the next generation of intelligent and interoperable buildings. Success will be measured by the level of interoperability, transparency, and acceptance by end users. By adopting a multi-tier division of responsibility and validation process, a sustainable check-and-balance system can be put in place. This article discusses these concepts and how they apply to a single building, a collection of buildings (campus or site), and a full enterprise solution. The enterprise is the highest level of abstraction and supervisory access: think SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) for hundreds or even thousands of facilities!

Specifications that deliver open systems

Figure 1: The Project Process defines the stages of ensuring a successful implementation strategy for an open BAS project. Courtesy: RBCG LLCAs integration strategies become more complex, the need for improved specifications becomes evident. The opportunity arises for consulting engineers to increase the value of their business by providing more comprehensive BAS control specifications and work with owners to define corporate standards and openness, and improve cost of ownership. Generic specifications that simply require a system be "open" are no longer acceptable. Specifications must address a sophisticated level of integration, cross subsystem interaction, IT integration, and data management elements so owners have clear ownership and access.

Learning the basics of what makes a good specification requires more information than just a mechanical or electrical system specification. The process starts with a clear vision and objective followed by a well-defined project scope. It will provide context for the project, help the engineer create the specification, and set a foundation for the team to get on the same page. Industry suppliers and integrators are engaged to ensure adoption of and compliance to the specification. This step is followed by a verification and validation model where adjustments are made as needed.

According to John Huston, President and CEO of Division 25, a consulting engineering firm based in Chicago, "The biggest issue is education. Unfortunately, the BAS design market hasn't required many extra demands over the last 30 years or so. When older systems were initially created, they were proprietary, and engineers got used to designing very generic systems. But today, technology has evolved significantly, and engineers must learn what these technologies are and how they can be properly integrated so they can do what they've been hired to do, and that's providing expertise to their clients.

"The role of our firm is to serve as a technology partner, and this inevitably leads to educating our clients on the options available to them, and doing so on whatever level they are most comfortable. As the technology partner, we fill in the gaps where the client lacks expertise or simply doesn't want to maintain internally."

To help address this issue sample guide specifications are being created that incorporate all the necessary integration elements as a starting place for consulting engineers. This work is being done in the ASHRAE SGPC-13 Standing Guideline Project Committee, a team of industry experts developing a standard guide specification for use by system designers, consulting engineers, and end users with the goal the goal of having a draft ready for public review in 2013. The guide specification outlines the responsibilities of the integrators and associated vendors. It does not mandate a specific technology or protocol. In fact, there will be references that provide options for both a LonWorks and a BACnet system. In some cases, solutions may require both in the same facility, and this will be accommodated.

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