Integration: Easy Does It

All or nothing doesn't necessarily cut it in integrated systems. Now, end-users can integrate all or some of their building management and security functions-letting the level of integration fit the facility.

Manufacturers have been hard at work making integration simpler, more effective and super-intuitive. Over the years, it has become easier to adapt newer systems to existing or older legacy controls. The computer has played a key role, and the network has evolved as a big player in integrated building solutions. From simple to complex, there is an array of communications and control systems suited to various applications that meet the needs of the end-user in a variety of vertical markets.

Think about the solutions that are the right fit for the customer, and let the products do the work. A massive automobile manufacturing facility desperately needs energy management to regulate heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or lighting in vast landscapes during off- or nonpeak hours. A water treatment plant finds it necessary to mesh access control with closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV).

Integration is rarely single solution, but that does not mean it is less effective. Electrical contractors have to know how to approach the market effectively by custom-tailoring the system. The first question to ask the customer: What do you want to accomplish?

Legacy meets integration

Case in point-a recent installation at East Los Angeles College in California. The community college had an older security system that consisted of components from several different manufacturers. It didn't provide the detailed levels and security access and monitoring the school required and several buildings had no access control or card readers. The institution opted to deploy smart card technology, integrating old with new.

“We're in a new school environment today. We not only need to increase security, but also our safety levels in terms of who has access to buildings and at what time,” said Richard Guy, East Los Angeles College director of facilities.

To do that, the school had installed an enterprise-wide networked system that integrates the alarm system with access control. Several Honeywell, Syosset, N.Y., products were installed by Stewart and Associates, a Los Angeles-based security contracting company, including an integrated access control system, smart card readers and high-security smart cards. The seamless integrated system allows the college to monitor problems with any of its alarm points, obtain a record of incidents and establish various access levels.

Open, not shut

One of the biggest benefits of the solution from Honeywell was its open standards with smart technology, Guy said. The college had more than 100 non-Honeywell readers installed. With open standards, existing readers can be modified or converted to be able to read the frequency. Instead of replacing a control panel, the smart technology allows for legacy integration.

The need to meet new, strict energy codes also fuels the push for building integration. Occupancy sensors (similar to motion detectors) can be configured to work with existing open relays in HVAC systems to turn HVAC systems on or off. It is simple: if motion is sensed, HVAC turns on. After a preset time, or when motion is no longer in the area for a certain period, the system shuts down or to a lower temperature. Lighting is another important part of integrated building systems and can also be tied to occupancy and motion detectors in the same way, permitting energy savings.

Much of the interest in integration, especially in energy and lighting management, comes from increased awareness and a proliferation of codes, said Tom Leonard, director of Marketing and Product Development for Leviton's Lighting Management Systems Division, Portland. In fact, the newly revised commercial-energy conservation standard of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1 serves as a “launch pad for integration” and for the first time addresses lighting requirements with occupancy sensors, Leonard said.

ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1-2001, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, provides minimum requirements for the design of energy-efficient buildings. Addendum 90.1ae, released in 2004, added an occupancy sensor control requirement to the standard. This requirement mandated the application of occupancy sensors to provide additional energy savings above-and-beyond automatic shutoff control.

These types of energy-mandated codes and trends are a “true harbinger of where the market is headed,” Leonard said.

“Occupancy sensors and the ability to integrate is 'already there' via switches and relays in many HVAC products,” Leonard said. “It's very real and reasonable to integrate these building functions. The bits and pieces are there. Technology presents an opportunity for the contractor to cast how deep they want to go into integration.”

Technology companies like Leviton now build in as much open gateway connectivity in systems as possible to allow the installer to set up simple connections.

“It's all about seeing how many different pieces can work together. Our big push is to offer straightforward solutions. Not everything has to have that high a degree of complexity in order to work well,” he said.

What customers want

End-user customers are demanding their integrator or dealer understand their business and their infrastructure. That means that contractors need to become well-versed in computer-aided building controls and integration or hire an information technology and communication technology person to handle this work. Integrators must quickly decide whether they want to be part of this or slowly wither away, providing traditional stand-alone solutions, said Jim Clark, vice president of Global Marketing, GE Infrastructure-Security, Austin, Texas.

“Successful implementations require greater technical knowledge of systems than ever before, along with products that work together more easily, while simultaneously providing better ease of use to end-users,” he said. According to Clark, integrators who want to be positioned for continued success in this evolving marketplace need to choose not only the right products, but align with manufacturers who heavily invest in both new scaleable technologies for their products and support programs.

“We increasingly hear the major trend to permeate access control now and for the foreseeable future is the growing connection between physical and IT security,” Clark said. “Because of this, there is a growing demand by organizations for migration of computer-based systems to a common software platform or to standards-based platforms that can be easily and seamlessly integrated. Leveraging technology breakthroughs and a need for increased security, end-users will also more rapidly adapt to smart cards, biometrics and intelligent video.”

Integrated building systems in commercial, industrial and institutional projects are being deployed in scenarios that include the simplest on and off control of lighting to in-depth and intuitive management over the network and personal computer. Custom-tailored solutions are a must, but complexity is not. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or 


About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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