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Smart Building Automation 

Everyone loves acronyms.

It’s the simplest way to convey a long technical name or phrase. Engineers have a special relationship with acronyms because they’re handy to explain any complex system to a layperson. But sometimes, an industry has so many similar acronyms it’s hard to decipher one from the other. 

In the world of building automation, we have a lot of them: BEMS, BMS, IBMS, BAS, EMCS, and this list goes on. Even for a building management professional, there is a lot of gray area around the technical definition of building automation. What is it, and what isn’t it? 

If you’re looking for clarity, we have you covered here.  

The purpose of this page is to give you an all-encompassing rundown of the Building Automation System (BAS). This includes what it is, the building blocks of a BAS, the relevance and importance of a BAS, its functions, and how a BAS can improve energy efficiency and the comfort of your building. 

The intention is not to drown you in information. We believe this post will give you enough clarity to understand what a building automation system is, its core functions, and ultimately improve your decision-making process while selecting the ideal system for your building. 

So, find a hot cup of coffee and a cozy space to explore the Building Automation System. 

What is a Building Automation System? 

A Building Automation System is the automatic monitoring, control, regulation, and optimization of building equipment. It integrates heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, fire safety, energy management, and other building services into one holistic system.  

The core function of a BAS is to keep building systems within desired ranges automatically using sensors, controllers, and smart algorithms. This applies to HVAC systems for parameters such as temperature and humidity, lighting systems, and even other systems such as the proper functioning of elevators and fire protection.  

A typical BAS consists of four layers. Each one has a distinct purpose and carries out a different portion of the automation process, from the user interface to end results. These slabs are the basic blocks of any BAS, whether it’s simple or complex. 

  1. Input/output: On this layer, various sensors collect data throughout the building. Temperature, humidity, occupancy, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other building-related parameters are tracked and communicated through sensors. Some sensors require communications wires to deliver data, others are cloud-enabled and communicate via secure mesh networks. 

  2. Field control: Field controllers look at data from inputs — temperature sensors, switches, etc. — and then control outputs such as actuators and relays. A Building Automation System uses proprietary programming applications to program these field controllers. The controller's programs will investigate the various sensory inputs and accordingly control the outputs. 

  3. Supervisory: Supervisory devices are like data traffic controllers. They manage data from the field controllers and consolidate this traffic. These devices play a crucial part in managing communication trunks. Communication trunks allow your field controllers to connect with each other and allow your supervisory devices to collect information from the field controllers. 

  4. Application: The application layer consolidates data from multiple supervisory devices and then delivers that data to the end user through the user interface (UI). The application server creates a database of operational patterns, notifications and alarms, and schedules. This database can be used for reporting.  

Most importantly, the server can be used to expose API for third-party applications.  

 

All the insights from the BAS lead to a user interface such as a tablet, laptop, or even mobile app so the entire system can be monitored centrally from a single location. This not only speeds up normal operations, but also makes it easier to detect and report problems in the earliest stages. 

Components of a Building Automation System: 

Any control system is made up of certain processes and key components.  

For a Building Automation System, the following components play a key role in data capture, processing, transmission, and eventually controlling building equipment: 

  • Sensors: These devices track and detect multiple parameters in the office space, such as the number of people in the room, temperature, humidity, particulate matter, the presence of smoke, and more. Collected data then travels to controllers. 

  • Controllers: The controllers are the brain of the entire automation system. They are responsible for executing the information fed to them by the sensors. They also give a command to the relays and attached systems to function as needed. They control systems like HVAC systems, lighting systems, and more.   

  • Communication Devices (Protocols): Each Building Automation System uses a specific language to connect with other components to function. Examples are BACnet & Modus, which help components to interact with information. 

  • Cloud Interface: Each BAS has a terminal (output) interface that building managers can access and use to control the entire system. This gives managers complete authority to control certain parameters manually. The displays are highly visual and depict each asset-level insight in detail. 

What can be controlled? 

Now that we have established a basic understanding of the Building Automation System, let's discuss the operational range and capabilities of a BAS. 

The controller regulates the performance of various facilities within the building.

Traditionally, this includes the following: 
  • Mechanical systems 

  • Electrical systems 

  • Plumbing systems 

  • Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems 

  • Lighting systems 

  • Surveillance Systems 

A more robust Building Automation System can even control security systems, the fire alarm system, and the building’s elevators.

What purpose should a BAS serve for different stakeholders? 

Building Automation Systems should create value for all stakeholders. This especially includes building owners, facility managers, and occupants.  
  • A BAS should improve the operational efficiency of the building. It should provide a way to reduce resource and energy consumption and cut operating costs.   

  • It should improve the safety of tenants and ensure uninterrupted building operations via reduced equipment breakdown. This should make facility managers' lives easier.  

  • Tenants prefer workplaces that give them a comfortable and productive environment. Hence it becomes immensely important to create that atmosphere for them. With the use of IoT and smart applications, a BAS can deliver what tenants deserve.  

Furthermore, from an operational point of view, now sustainable buildings have more opportunities to attract investors and tenants. Multiple studies suggest sustainability has turned into profit centers. Smart, sustainable buildings with certifications such as DGNB, LEED, or BREEAM are in high demand in the real estate market. Now it makes even more sense to invest in a sustainable building that has a strong base with a BAS.  

For a commercial building operator, an HVAC system provides the highest saving potential. However, apart from savings, other factors are important as well. This includes comfort – provided by even temperatures and high indoor air quality – and safety delivered by CCTV analytics and fire safety management.  

And for the same reason, managing these aspects requires an integrated BAS approach. So, let us examine these supporting Building Automation Solutions one by one. 

Smart Lighting Solution: 

Smart lighting is the next practical step after HVAC management. It is simple, cost effective, and offers automation and integration with the rest of your smart building controls, along with additional energy savings.  

A smart light includes a controller or microprocessor that responds to signals generated by computers, smartphones, sensors, time clocks, or other smart devices. Depending on the control signal sources, smart lighting can have various levels of sophistication.   

Stage 1: Adaptation based on time scheduling.  

Stage 2: Adaptation based on sensor activation.  

Stage 3: Adaptation initiated by intelligent and integrated systems such as Building Automation Systems or Energy Management Systems (EMS). 

Stage 4: A mix of the above strategies  

Smart lighting solutions give you the ability to control your building’s lighting using a smartphone or web application. Some come with motion detection features, which automatically turn a light source on or off based on the occupancy of an area. This is, once again, a great way to reduce the overall energy use of a building. 

HVAC Control: 

HVAC network needs a lot of controlling and fine-tuning to get the desired balance between comfort and energy savings. There are multiple solutions or tweaks needed to control the HVAC system.  

A) Airflow Balancing:  

Buildings are dynamic in nature. The heat load required by each room varies by occupancy, external weather conditions, etc. HVAC systems themselves cannot make intelligent and orchestrated adjustments that both increase comfort and save energy. Hence a system is required that understands the changing fresh air requirements in each zone and control dampers based on cooling and comfort.  

A series of smart dampers and sensors that are connected through an Internet of Things (IoT) network create a mesh system to optimize the airflow in each zone, sending air where it is needed at optimal times.  

B) Chilled water system:   

Chilled water systems are used in medium and large buildings. Chiller plants act as centralized cooling systems providing cooling to one or even multiple buildings. Chiller plants are often a significant portion of a building’s energy usage. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 15 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings is for cooling purposes, making chilled water systems a center point for energy-saving measures.  

Optimizing a chiller plant is a complex task that involves gathering data and making calculations. These calculations determine how to best operate the chiller plant equipment. For instance, during the cool night hours, it may be more efficient to raise the chilled water supply temperature setpoint of the chiller. Raising the chilled water supply temperature setpoint will allow the chiller to not work as hard.

Indoor Air Quality:

This is probably the hottest topic in the post-pandemic world. 

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a major concern to businesses, building managers, tenants, and employees because it can impact the health, comfort, well-being, and productivity of building occupants. 

Pollutants in our indoor environment can increase the risk of illness. While most buildings do not have severe indoor air quality problems, even well-run buildings can sometimes experience episodes of poor indoor air quality. 

Pollutants can be generated by outdoor or indoor sources, including building maintenance activities, pest control, housekeeping, renovation or remodeling, new furnishings or finishes, and building occupant activities. One important goal of an indoor air quality program is to minimize people's exposure to pollutants from these sources. 

Because of the HVAC system's importance, good indoor air quality management includes attention to: 
  • Ventilation system design 

  • Outside air supply and air quality 

  • Space planning  

  • Equipment maintenance 

Occupancy Management: 

While building operators strive for energy efficiency and net-zero targets, it’s important to not neglect occupant comfort. It is important to consider occupants’ comfort when targeting the economic and environmental goals of a smart building or designing an appropriate automation system for the same.  

In a typical building, visuals, thermal dynamics, and air quality are three key factors that impact occupant comfort. Visual comfort is provided by lighting appliances, while HVAC units can be responsible for providing thermal and air quality comfort.  

To summarize, energy management, HVAC control, lighting optimization, and occupancy management constitute the four pillars of a fully integrated Building Automation System.  

Based on all that we understand about the BAS, it is quite evident that a successful implementation of a BAS has enormous potential to change the way tenant, facility managers, and building owners can interact with a building and its operations. 

Importance and benefits of Building Automation System: 

BAS has significant importance in terms of the security of occupants and the environment. Building Automation Systems allow occupants to have control over their surroundings with an automated remote-control system.
  • Environment: Automated buildings can be triggered to operate within a certain set of usage threshold guidelines, which help to reduce unwanted energy consumption. These smart buildings have a far reduced carbon footprint, hence making them more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. A well-connected plumbing system allows a building to produce negligible waste and augments correct water usage. Therefore, less waste is generated.  

  • Safety & Security: This system provides complete control and intelligence over the CCTV footage, making it extremely easy to monitor a large-scale area. In case of any mishap, an auto-generated alert is sent, and the assigned operation team takes care of it. 

An IoT-powered BAS provides multiple benefits to both the building managers as well as the building occupants. Some of the key benefits:  
  • Lowered Energy Costs: Since the HVAC and electrical systems run more efficiently than before, the energy consumption can be mitigated significantly, in turn reducing the utility costs and bills. Since the analytics component of a BAS keeps the record of historical parameters, the data can be analyzed later to look for improvements.  

  • Lowered Maintenance Costs: Even though the initial installation and implementation of the entire BAS are relatively expensive, the system pays for itself with a short duration of its operation. Studies have shown that a BAS installation can result in cost savings of 10 to 30 percent.  

  • Control: With an automated system, one can possess 24/7 remote access to the entire building system from any internet-enabled device. This feature is highly beneficial for employees who are at work during off-hours. 

  • Occupant Comfort: A big advantage of a BAS is the level of comfort it offers to the building residents. The controlled temperatures regardless of outside weather conditions enable the occupants to be at ease throughout the building. The ability to augment the use of natural light and regulation of fresh air is also managed automatically by the system itself.  

  • Mitigated Stress: Being cognizant about your surroundings and assured of receiving predictive alerts makes the facility manager’s life easy. Decreased stress levels and better working conditions have a direct benefit on the occupant’s health, something that every occupant and tenant appreciates. 

As we have come to the end of this post, you are now one step ahead in your quest to explore Building Automation Systems. We hope this guide has given you enough clarity about what a BAS is and what it isn’t.  

If you still have any questions regarding the ideal BAS for your buildings, feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you. 

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