The impact of the internet of things on buildings

September 09, 2018 by Karl Walker, market development manager, Beckhoff Automation
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The impact of the internet of things on buildings

What do you need within a building to ensure that energy is used efficiently and the occupants are comfortable? Control systems? Sensors? Easy user interaction? The answer is, of course, “all of the above”. Haven’t we been doing this for many years, anyway? Have control principles and the hardware technologies that enable them really changed much during this period? The answer is probably an emphatic “no”. We still use temperature and CO2 sensors to provide the feedback for HVAC systems, or motion detectors for lighting systems. Equipment still breaks down, often without any visible warning signs, leaving the occupants in an uncomfortable environment until the problem is fixed. We’re constantly being told about the industry’s “performance gap” with respect to the energy consumption of buildings, sometimes more than 400% above the calculated or modelled figure.

So, what’s going wrong and why haven’t we fixed the problem yet? Some would argue that the blame lies squarely at the feet of the main contractors, attempting to “value engineer” every last penny out of a building’s construction costs, with control systems often the first to fall victim. Others might blame the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude of the M&E design consultants. The truth is, however, generally down to a lack of communication: Not just a lack of communication between the users and the systems affecting the ways in which they can interact with them, but a more fundamental issue of equipment and systems failing to communicate and interact with one another.

The “fourth industrial revolution” – or “Industry 4.0” as it is more commonly known – was first publically introduced in 2011 to address shortcomings in the manufacturing and process control industries, identifying weaknesses in interoperability, transparency of data, technical assistance and decentralised decision-making. Through the implementation of open networking standards and increased automation technology, manufacturing has benefitted from vastly improved methods of self-optimization, self-configuration, self-diagnosis, cognition and intelligent support of workers in ever-increasingly complex processes. Much of this success has been thanks to IoT-enabled devices providing real-time data to improve the understanding of current operating conditions and detecting faults and failures in production, combined with various software packages that provide overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) information to factory management in order to highlight the root causes of problems and possible faults and weak points in the system. Furthermore, these systems are able to gain self-awareness and self-predictiveness, which provide a greater insight into the status and performance of the factory as a whole. Peer-to-peer comparison and the convergence of health information from various components provides a precise health prediction down to component level, triggering maintenance actions that result in near-zero downtime.

So, why should a building work any differently from a machine? A machine is expected to perform to specification, otherwise there are serious ramifications. It’s almost as if people aren’t really important and their performance output as a result of having to work in a poor environment is inconsequential. A recent report from Morgan Stanley claims that buildings optimised for occupants can command 3% more rent and gain a 10% increase in equity value, have a significant increase in workers’ productivity (and reduced absenteeism) as well as potentially reducing energy usage by 30%.

An energy efficient, occupant-optimised intelligent building can be achieved by taking a more holistic approach to building controls and collecting, aggregating and processing all building data which includes all systems, sub-systems, plant and sensors;

Sensors detect changes, such as occupancy, temperature, air quality or motion in a room and feed that information to building management systems.
Building management systems enable facility managers to automate and manage the different variables of a building's operation, including temperature, ventilation and lighting.
Collected data is stored and analysed over time so that adjustments can be made and further savings can be realised, which could even include the optimisation of space.

Although the principles of control of a smart building require a new way of looking at the problem, they don’t necessarily result in a “rip it out and start again” outcome for the control hardware. IoT-enabled sensors and gateways allow new devices to be added to existing systems and existing (or additional) systems to be connected to one another. Using standard and open IoT protocols such as MQTT, AMQP and OPC-UA, data can be easily collected, collated and processed in a central location, either on-premises or in the Cloud, where analytics software can make sense of it all and optimise and continually fine-tune the control processes, as well as providing a ‘single pane view’ to occupants, facilities managers and energy managers.

Additionally, many IoT-enabled sensors are wireless or use existing IT infrastructure, thus minimising installation time and disruption. Thanks to the openness of IoT, this new data can be freely used by any of the other devices within the system to improve control decisions. Internet-based information, such as weather and traffic conditions, can also be incorporated into control and optimisation algorithms. For the user, interaction with these systems can be greatly simplified via mobile phone or assistant technology such as the Google Home or Amazon Echo.

Opportunities surrounding the implementation of IoT devices will be encountered on an increasingly regular basis, with new products and systems continuously arriving on the market. As building operators improve their understanding of IoT and identify ways to fully harness and utilise data there will likely be a surge in sensor-based information being used to maximise efficiency and improve comfort levels for occupants.
Commercial buildings are perfectly positioned to take advantage of connected devices and join the dots between existing systems. With the course ahead seemingly set on a trajectory towards widespread adoption, IoT will usher in a new era of smart buildings and could eventually lay the foundations for establishing the smart cities of the future.

Beckhoff will be exhibiting at the Smart Buildings Show 2018 (Barbican, London, 7-8 Nov) showing how its TwinCAT IoT function libraries and new EK9160 IoT coupler enable easy integration of sensors, I/O and third-party equipment into the IoT ecosystem and will also be presenting a CIBSE-accredited CPD course entitled “IoT in Buildings” in the Training Theatre.

 

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