Building automation thrives in three environments, which include residential, commercial and industrial; these environments overlap when it comes to automation functions and contractor skills, but the training, and even the types of automation that are installed, are particular to each industry.

Here is a brief description of each kind of environment, so you can see where they overlap:

  • Residential automation can be defined as the remote and automatic control of a home’s lighting, appliances, heating and air conditioning, entertainment components, security systems, communications, leisure conveniences and environmental services, plus all other systems in a home.
  • Commercial automation can range from high-speed Internet access, data services for hotels, corporate boardroom motion detectors, lighting, curtain controls, data cabling, video on demand, audio/video distribution to single or multibuilding access-control systems.
  • Industrial automation comes into play when computers (versus people) control industrial machinery and processes. The “hardened” computers are called programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that are used to synchronize the flow of inputs from (physical) sensors with the output to actuators. The goal is to reduce downtime, improve quality, increase productivity and flexibility, enhance safety, and reduce energy costs in the manufacturing process.

Features shared by the residential, industrial and commercial environments can involve lighting controls, security systems, heating and air conditioning, operation of appliances/devices/sensors and communications.

The contractor is on-site when a building is going up—a great advantage because as long as they are installing the electrical cable, they can also pull in the low-voltage cable (assuming separation requirements between power and low-voltage cabling are followed) to accommodate a building’s automation requirements. When a factory with an automated production line or other automated features is being built, the cabling for the automation network can go in. Note that for any environment, the same separation philosophy applies to installing power cabling and automation cabling. This also means that in order to wire or cable for automation, contractors must know the automation plans for a building.

Skills
Residential automation requires cabling installation skills and, if the contractor is qualified and wants to, the expertise to install and test out the automation hardware—otherwise this kind of work can be subcontracted out. Understanding of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) performance standards for the residential building is essential. This involves installation of a structured cabling system to each room to accommodate residential automation systems. Those requirements are found in the TIA standard 570-B.

When involved with a commercial building that will also have automation features, the architect usually provides the design skills for its infrastructure. That architect may have low-voltage design expertise on staff, or the architect could engage the services of a low-voltage systems designer. Glenn Sexton, president of Northwest Information Services, Portland, Ore., said design expertise must include “individuals knowledgeable of the overall requirements of low-voltage systems, ... fluent in reading building drawings, ...and, if required, [with] a professional certification that allows them to review and stamp a design.”

“When it comes to installation,” he said, “the installer must have expertise in construction methods, be able to read drawings and provide field updates for on-site as-builts, know test methods and operate test equipment, as well as be able to communicate in both written and verbal matters.”

In addition, “most manufacturers provide intensive training and require individual installers to complete such to satisfy warranty requirements,” Sexton said.

Here is a look at some of the latest commercial security-related offerings. In addition to the traditional components, (e.g., card readers, electronic door controls and/or video surveillance hardware), there are the following:

  • Components for biometrics such as retina scanners, finger and hand print readers, and DNA verification, using breath analysis
  • Proximity sensors/readers, which are made up of devices that use an antenna to detect an identifier, such as an ID badge that allows the person entry into specific areas
  • Blocking devices that sense the presence of cellular phones and block their operation in certain defined areas. The legality of these devices is still under debate.

Skills are also needed in designing and installing lighting systems because a scripted menu can set parameters, modified by time of day or occupancy or based on security concerns. There are also audio/video systems for paging and background music, and today, you can see programmable logic controllers (PLC) also in the commercial environment (used to be only found in industrial) to control consumer electronics in the office, such as the coffee maker, beverage dispensers, trash removal and vacuum cleaning systems.

Installing the network or features for industrial automation usually requires higher skills than those for installing a network for a smaller building or large commercial building.

Examples of some of the applications used in the industrial automation environment are for the following:

  • Energy management (This refers to battery-charging systems for electric vehicles during off hours.)
  • Waste-water management
  • Materials handling
  • Handling and improving plant operation
  • Reduction of manufacturing time and locating/repair component errors
  • Fuel monitoring at a gas station to avoid excess deliveries for which the owner would be responsible.

Industrial automation involves “ruggedized” PCs or PLCs that automate processes or control assembly lines. For example, a PLC can control the machinery on factory assembly lines, and/or it can control switching, temperature indications or the driving of an electric motor. The devices appear on the industrial control network as network addresses.

Bob Lounsbury, a principal engineer with Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com) and chairperson of the TIA Industrial Cabling Committee (TR 42.9) said, “The contractor needs to be aware of the differences between commercial and industrial topologies… . They need to be very much aware of the [environmental] issues and how to select components that match the environment and/or provide proper mitigation… . Industrial control networks are designed and built considerably different.”

In industrial automation, a fieldbus network is a control network protocol used in different industrial networks that has been developed and supported by particular PLC manufacturers. The open systems for connecting industrial devices in the United States that you most often hear about are DeviceNet, Profibus DP and Foundation Fieldbus H1. Different fieldbusses vary in the type of physical media they work with, their effective distances and a differing number of nodes they support. Many PLCs now offer Ethernet as a standard networking option (Ethernet/IP) in addition to their fieldbus of choice, which links the industrial floor to the company offices where production information can be reported. There are also Echelon-enabled control networks that can monitor/control activities from air quality to wastewater management to materials handling and Web processes.

Requirements
“Many states now require licensed journeymen to supervise the installation of low-voltage systems with a very strict ratio of journeymen to apprentices,” Sexton said.

Of course, there are generic performance requirements for the installation of all kinds of cabling to connect automation systems. Those requirements are found in the TIA standards (TIA-568-B.1, 2 and 3, 569-B and 570-B). There are specific life/safety requirements you’ll find in the National Electrical Code (NEC) that are enforced by each jurisdiction. Be sure to verify what applies to you with your authority having jurisdiction.

Installing commercial and residential is fairly straightforward. The industrial automation network is meant to control industrial devices with the aid of PLCs. The residential network can include a small office/home office (SOHO). Soon, contractors can check out new coaxial cabling performance standards to come out of the TIA that will specify how to accommodate and test the performance of coax cabling when delivering multimedia, satellite and other services into the home.

Training
For training in residential automation, John Pryma, director of structured cable for Honeywell Cable Products, the manufacturer of Genesis Series Cable, said, “There are many ways to prepare and train for the installation of residential automation. First, the installer needs to follow the TIA standards and consider BICSI training. And, attending BICSI and the Electronic House Expo (EHX) shows along with those by the NAHB [National Association of Home Builders], CEDIA [Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association] and CEA [Consumers Electronics Association]... ” can prove extremely valuable.

Cabling product manufacturers provide training for all kinds of installations. A training program can lead to certification of the contractor; certification means the contractor meets the standards set by that manufacturer for installation of their hardware/cabling. These types of programs can be offered to contractors, consultants and end-users. A very important side benefit of being certified is that the customer then may have their cabling warranty honored if there were problems because the contractor was “certified” when he or she did the installation. Being able to satisfy warranty requirements is good insurance for the customer.

In the industrial automation arena, there is currently no general education available. More specific training for industrial automation is available through organizations such as ODVA and IAONA and from manufacturers of industrial equipment/networks, as well as from the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC).

In short
The first step is to find out if you have a market for automation where you work. If so, find out which type of automation is more in demand, and then you can decide if it is in your interest to gain the expertise and training recommended. Having this expertise can help your new customers by giving them a way to ease into automating their home/building. Keep two things in mind: it’s easy for the customer to use you when you are already on the premises pulling the power cable, and you can make their life easier when they want to upgrade their building/home and you’re able to handle it.     EC

MICHELSON, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Business Communication Services and publisher of BCS Reports, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards. To contact her, visit www.bcsreports.com or e-mail randm@volcano.net.