The Current and Future Integration of IP Technology in the Building Automation System Sector
IP technology is very new in the BAS (Building Automation System) space and this technology, more specifically adding yet another learning curve for the consulting gengineering community. The introduction of IP controllers has created the need for not only capable contractors to deploy these systems, but a high demand for capable designers. The hardware and software required to provide a secure system that accommodates various building technologies has generated the need for the consulting engineering community to be up to speed on how to design BAS systems and their supporting networks using IP technology.
Greg Fitzpatrick of Cochrane Supply recently reached out to Tony Peerbolt, Controls Engineer at GMB to discuss how they have approached attacking this recent shift in the BAS ecosystem. GMB Architecture + Engineering is a learning organization and an integrated team of educational planners, architects, and engineers focused on the education ecoystem. Tony is spearheading the effort at GMB for the use of Division 25, IP technology and OT Networks.
Greg Fitzpatrick - You and I spoke 2 years ago about where our industry was headed, in respect to the new technology being introduced to support the applications that make our buildings smarter. I’ve found that the consulting engineering community has been a little slow in embracing IP technology and the supporting networks. Why do think that the engineering community has been apprehensive in adopting this technology in their designs?
Tony Peerbolt - As with many changes proposed in our industry, there are multiple disciplines and areas of responsibility involved in developing and adapting new technologies, methods and designs. Specifically, the proposed changes in Building Management System (BMS) communication topology to IP introduces cross-over into network design, Operational Technology (OT) vs. Information Technology (IT) responsibilities and network and data security issues. Although our approach to building design is highly collaborative from the inception of a project through to construction and beyond, it requires an additional amount of cross discipline communication and cooperation when new technologies are introduced. We also want to ensure, among other considerations, that any new technologies are beneficial to our client, can be understood and implemented by contractors, and do not add undue cost or complexity.
Greg Fitzpatrick - GMB has specified IP devices on a few of your recent projects. Were these requests by the owner or was this a GMB recommendation? In the case where the owner made the request, can you talk a little bit about your approach to the design. If there were cases where GMB made the recommendation, can you talk about how GMB convinced the owner that IP devices and the supporting OT network would enhance their facility?
Tony Peerbolt - This is an excellent question, Greg. And a great follow up to the previous question. We recently had a client with an upcoming multi-year, multi-building project. The Maintenance Supervisor and the Technology Director had done some research and requested our design team base any new control systems on IP communications. We interviewed several BMS contractors before the final design and incorporated a flexible and adaptable design for the district. The key to success in this was the close participation we had and continue to have with the school administrators, the Maintenance Supervisor and the Technology Director along with the participating control and integration contractors. Network design, security, accessibility and scalability are designed and implemented as a team.
We recommend implementing IP-based control communication for most clients. This takes a degree of education and explanation of benefits for most clients. We initially work with the key “owners” of the system, the maintenance and operations people and the IT teams. With their buy-in and enthusiasm most administrators are happy to incorporate any systems that will provide extra benefits if costs and complexity are not significantly affected. Overall, when we collectively put students and teachers at the center of the system we design, everyone benefits
Greg Fitzpatrick - I spent years as a consulting engineer and one thing that I know about consulting engineers is that they rarely want to ‘recreate the wheel’ or indulge in new technology unless they are forced to do so. I believe that a big part of the reluctance is that the learning curve involved in certain new technology can sometimes expose the firm to gaps in coordination. Can you explain what GMB is doing from a coordination standpoint to feel comfortable with moving forward with IP technology? I’m referring to the multiple disciplines in your office like mechanical, electrical and maybe IT.
Tony Peerbolt - We have several cross-discipline teams working on implementing new technologies both for our clients and for internal use. We really want to develop better tools, technologies and practices before we are forced to do so. Specifically for building technologies, our Building Performance Team, made up of mechanical, electrical and commissioning engineers, project managers, architects and client leads, works to develop intelligent building technologies and techniques that can be implemented into our designs both in the short and long term. We believe that improving the performance of a building has a positive impact on the function of the building as it relates to user success as well as environmental impact, and comfort and wellbeing for students and teachers.
Greg Fitzpatrick - How comfortable are you with the products that you have specified for OT networks? Have you found products providing comfort that your design intent will be met and that you can manage the submittal process without any major issues? If so, what features does that product (or products) have that offer said peace of mind?
Tony Peerbolt - As you know Greg, the products and capabilities are changing constantly. We focus our specifications more on performance than brand or models. We also try to tailor specific products to client IT department preferences or standards. We consider performance, security, topology and ease of maintenance and upgrades for every project, so this seems to be ever evolving. Project success is a result of the team’s collective effort and installer/provider performance as much as product performance.
We also work closely with BMS and System Integrators’ submittals to ensure the quality of the systems they are providing.
Greg Fitzpatrick - We know that incorporating IP devices into your design requires a network to support those devices. We call that network an OT network, because it can support not only HVAC controls, but also other building technology. That being said, is GMB encouraging owners to integrate more of their building systems?
Tony Peerbolt - Short answer, yes! We seek out input from clients, equipment providers, contractors and engineers to evaluate what systems should be integrated together and what the benefits will be both immediately and in the future. We look at ease of using a single user interface to view multiple systems, the data interaction that can be gained from integration, and more importantly the performance optimization benefits achieved. We want to design buildings that will analyze and improve their performance using internal data and external data such as current and forecasted weather conditions for example. Much of the integration decision revolves around the added value to the building user/operator as well as overall building performance.
We specify the equipment and systems to be integrated and then the type of communication and security standards they must provide.
Greg Fitzpatrick - One of the major areas of concern with owners’ IT departments when installing IoT networks and connecting to the internet is cyber security. How is GMB assuring their clients that the systems you are designing are secure?
Tony Peerbolt - In many instances, our client’s IT department has developed standards that they would like adhered to so they can manage and upgrade the installed systems as they deem necessary. Our team of network designers work with the mechanical and electrical engineers to ensure that any IoT devices designed into the system are placed in the proper position on the OT network and is configured correctly by the installer. We work to ensure that the provider of the device has a thorough understanding of their own device and how it will fit into the network configuration. The system integrator also has a significant role in ensuring all devices and systems are secure and robust. We are very pleased to see that most BMS / System integration contractors have their own IT personnel on staff to assist in system design and implementation. This interaction is in its early stages and is being revised continuously.
Greg Fitzpatrick - Now that GMB has designed a few projects with IP devices and OT networks, do you see your firm moving towards making IP technology a standard when designing and specifying building management systems? If so, what is your anticipated timeline to make this a standard? If not, explain what you need to see from our industry to make GMB more comfortable with going all in?
Tony Peerbolt - We have recently decided to specify IP technology and topology as a default for our Temperature Control/Building Management Systems. There may be exceptions based on client preferences or existing conditions, but the standard will be IP based systems. Interestingly, we have had a few Direct Digital Control (DDC) system providers inform us that they are changing to IP based control systems even if not required. They have concluded that IP based systems are faster and more reliable. The hardware may have a cost premium in the short term but they can be competitive with reduced programming, installation and commissioning costs.
We also specify all integrated systems have an IP based interface. Not all industries are up to that standard currently so there will be some exceptions, but that is our standard.
Thank you Tony and Greg for sharing his expertise regarding this pivotal industry technology and the role consulting engineering will play in the use of IP technology in the design of BAS systems and their supporting networks.
This article was originally published on AutomatedBuildings.com, October 2021.
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With more than three decades of experience, Tony has enjoyed creating and improving working and learning environments in hundreds of buildings. His passion is optimizing and maximizing energy efficiency and comfort and that is obvious when you speak to him. As a commissioning engineer, he works with our design teams through all phases of the project and he ensures a safe and orderly handover of mechanical and electrical systems to our clients.
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