All Together Now

According to the continental automated building association (CABA), Ottawa, Canada, intelligent buildings apply technologies to improve the building environment and functionality for occupants while controlling costs, increasing maintenance efficiency, and increasing the return on investment for the building owner. Intelligent building campuses take the technology one step further to provide greater control capabilities among two or more buildings.

“Colleges and universities began implementing energy management systems and some central monitoring and building operation control capabilities 30 years ago,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of Building Intelligence Group LLC, St. Paul, Minn.

Over the years, the technology has shifted from proprietary energy management systems to open architecture and communication protocols.

“An intelligent building campus begins with a robust cabling and network infrastructure that supports both current and future applications and systems,” said Darryl Benson, global solution development manager for Panduit Corp., Tinley Park, Ill.

Systems integrated within an intelligent building campus include electrical, lighting, security, computer, voice and data communications, life safety, building automation and control, energy management systems, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC).

“What makes the building campus intelligent is the integration, interoperability and ability to manage the data from these systems, creating a campus that is safer, more productive and that has long-term sustainable value,” Benson said.

Creating an intelligent building or campus, however, is not the end goal. Rather, it is a way to use technology to attain higher asset use, better cost structure and directly support the owner’s strategic goals, according to Tom Shircliff, co-founder of Intelligent Buildings, Charlotte, N.C.

“Having said that, the principles involved in an intelligent building campus include a common backbone, centralized management, flexible pathways, open communication protocols, security, reliability and organizational alignment that allows for continuous improvement,” he said.

Products, technologies and expertise

Nearly all of the technologies and products required for an intelligent building campus already exist, are reliable and are proven, and most good design, engineering and construction teams are able to make them work, according to Intelligent Building’s co-founder Rob Murchison.

“The missing link is a key consultant, progressive architect or chief information officer to lay out the approach and communications plan,” he said.

However, some real estate investment trusts, large universities, and corporations have begun moving technology executives into roles that include facility and property management responsibilities.

“The expertise required for creating an intelligent building campus includes all of the traditional disciplines, such as mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, registered communications distribution designer, networking, design, and financial, construction and management skills. That is why intelligent building campuses need more of this top-down strategy that utilizes traditional team members and their expert skills,” he said.

For optimal control and for communication between different building subsystems and with the building management system, integration protocols are required. Integration protocols include LonWorks, BACNet, Modbus and object linking and embedding for process controls (OPC).

“OPC has historically been used in industrial facilities but is now migrating to commercial buildings,” said Greg Turner, director of global offerings for Honeywell Building Solutions, Minneapolis.

Historically, devices in a building communicated only to a central location for management purposes. The open communication protocols, such as OPC, BACNet and LonWorks, have enabled devices and building subsystems to also talk to each other.

“Security systems can talk to elevators, or video systems can talk to security and life safety systems and provide real time video in case of an alarm event,” Turner said.

Networking expertise is key for an electrical contractor acting as the integrator of an intelligent building campus to work with these different protocols and connect the systems.

Intelligent building campuses now also include Ethernet or Internet fiber cabling, according to Ehrlich. Some campus owners are connecting buildings through a dedicated facility network, which is operated separately from the information technology (IT) division, while others are combining the two for a campus-wide, single network.

“A single IT backbone across a building or a campus with systems and controls designed around it can be made as reliable as necessary using dual power supplies, alternate paths or backup power generators,” Shircliff said.

Broadband and wireless connectivity

Having a wireless strategy is part of the required robust infrastructure for an intelligent building campus, and all of the owner’s wireless connectivity needs must be considered in the design phase to ensure that the solutions are appropriate to the building’s needs, Benson said.

“Wireless connectivity plays a critical role within an appropriately designed strategy and must maintain coverage, ensure life safety and security, and enhance the occupants’ utilization of the building,” he said.

These days, broadband connectivity is practically a requirement in an intelligent building campus. It is necessary for remote access and for managing most applications, especially Internet protocol security surveillance.

“Wireless is nearly the same. Besides the convenience of using Wi-Fi for traditional connectivity, there are some building systems that can use the technology to transmit information and images,” Shircliff said.

Additionally, wireless as a whole has moved into building infrastructure with distributed antenna systems (DAS).

“A DAS is a single wireless infrastructure that can broadcast multiple types of wireless signals, including Wi-Fi, cellular and first responder. It would be inefficient to install separate infrastructures for each wireless need,” Murchison said.

Using wireless technology in creating an intelligent building or campus also reduces cost, particularly in retrofit applications.

“Campus managers can use the technology to transmit operational and system data with fewer disruptions or changes to the existing wired infrastructure,” Turner said.

Wireless technology also enables managers to monitor buildings operations remotely from mobile devices, such as laptops, PDAs or smart phones. With operational information sent to a centralized location, facility and maintenance managers can better determine and resolve issues more quickly, efficiently and cost effectively.

“An important value of wireless broadband communication is a more mobile and flexible staff,” Ehrlich said.

Engaging the market

Generally, electrical contractors need to understand that all the systems in intelligent buildings and campuses are converging at different rates.

“Different industries, such as HVAC, controls, security, etc., are advancing their products’ network integration capabilities at various paces, so it’s important that the physical infrastructure take that into account,” Benson said.

Contractors also need to begin to understand, he said, the networking requirements of all the different building systems, endpoints, and devices, and the implications of their integration.

Turner said electrical contractors engaged in this market need to understand that while the underlying IT infrastructure is the enabler of building integration, the electrical, lighting and other building systems are the core intelligence of the campus.

“Technology doesn’t diminish the electrical contractor’s role but can actually increase the number of devices required,” Turner said.

This presents an opportunity for the contractor to use its core business expertise to install devices and then use specialized divisions to integrate them into an intelligent system and increase value for the owner.

One of the more interesting opportunities today for electrical contractors in this market is more active control of lighting systems, according to Ehrlich. Contractors are already installing and wiring the lighting and, as the control systems become more sophisticated, active control will be used in an effort to save energy.

“Building owners will want the electrical contractor to be a single source of installing lights, controls and integrating them into the campus’ automation system,” he said.

Contractors should gain the necessary knowledge of each building systems’ changing technology and how they

are manufactured, installed and managed. Go to conferences, research online, talk to manufacturers’ reps, and determine how the company can adjust to technological change and customer demands.

“An aware, cooperative contractor will be viewed very favorably by owners, architects and general contractors in this market,” Shircliff said.

The next step

The more intelligent a building campus, the more payback the owner receives from energy savings and increased productivity; integrated systems enable better operational management.

“As the technology continues to advance, the network infrastructures will allow a multitude of different devices to supply information to the appropriate people more efficiently and accurately, allowing them to make even more effective use of their systems, increase sustainability and drive energy costs down,” Benson said.

Murchison said IP is becoming the universal data standard toward which nearly all communication is heading; it is the future of all the systems in intelligent buildings and campuses.

“It’s only a matter of time before building system data is all just universally formatted packets of information, and the IT network doesn’t care what’s inside those packets, whether it’s e-mail or set points, temperature readings, light levels, meter readings or system status,” he said.

Ehrlich said there will soon be dramatic changes in how buildings in an intelligent campus are designed and operated.

“The building sector today is the largest contributor to global warming in the U.S. Buildings will have to dramatically change how much energy they use,” he said.

There is, in fact, a broad commitment from the building industry to the concept of net-zero energy buildings, which are up to 70 percent more energy efficient than today’s facilities and, on an annual basis, consume as much power from the grid as they generate from on-site generation technology, such as photovoltaics.

“Such hyper-performance buildings are a response to the need to be carbon neutral as environmental concerns increase worldwide,” Ehrlich said.

Intelligent building campuses require an interesting mix of high- and low-voltage systems to be successful.

“Electrical contractors are in an excellent position to leverage their expertise and to be both the installer and integrator of both,” Turner said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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