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Renaissance for the Automated Buildings

The integrated systems contractors are working diligently to create the automated buildings and campuses networks that will usher us into a 21st Century renaissance.

For the past decade and half, facility managers and systems contractors have tackled the challenges of the new technology with a stubborn “silo” approach. From electrical contractor, telecommunications contractor, IT/datacom network contractor, security and fire alarm systems contractor, and a host of other subspecialty contractors, each has approached the needs and wants of their customers from different perspectives and methodologies. The result is a group of systems that may be unable to communicate or integrate functions and/or services.

Whether these integrated systems are maximizing energy utilization, lighting control, HVACcontrols, security, safety, IT management, or telecommunications, the result is a structure that responds to our needs and keeps us comfortable, productive, and efficient, while keeping us safe and secure. Productivity is the brass ring, but efficiency is a close second. 

For example, Bob Smith, operations manager, uses his employee access card to enter the building. The master system recognizes his location and logs him in, so he may be given access to his office, phone, computer, IT network, etc. If someone else tries to remotely access the central IT network as Bob Smith, security protocols will be activated.

Recent data has revealed that predictive analysis of crime statistics can enhance security by forecasting crime before it happens. Just another epiphany of the mind to broaden the use of technology.

The 21st century infrastructure contractor must coordinate a host of new and old tasks to implement the infrastructure that will take the building from a dumb “cave” to a charming “smart building.”  The following are some of the hats the contractor may now have to wear:

  • Master systems integrator
  • Energy solutions/services provider
  • Commissioning agent
  • BIM modeler
  • EMS provider
  • Building energy model expert
  • ESCO
  • Fire/security designer
  • Control systems integrator
  • Lighting systems designer
  • IT and telecommunications network expert

The flood of new technology threatens to overwhelm us. Many of the latest technological breakthroughs are underappreciated and not fully understood when it comes to possible applications. General Motors installed its first production line robot (to spot weld some small items on the auto body) in 1961. Robotics are creating and killing jobs in many areas outside of manufacturing.

Low-voltage cabling (once the domain of the telephone company) has become a sizable revenue stream for the specialty electrical contractors. This area has expanded to assimilate access controls, security cameras, HVAC sensors, telephone and data networks and a host of other signaling dependent systems (including fire alarm).

The 11th Commandment should be “Thou shall not get away with it.” When it comes to life safety systems, cutting corners or using substandard materials may cause the entire system to fail.

With energy costs rising to new heights, the building owners and managers are looking for a contractor to help them design, implement and maintain systems that will maximize the efficiency of the power systems in their structures. In the realm of HVAC, keeping the tenants happy and productive is a mandatory consideration for these flexible systems. An empty building is just a storage box, and the mortgage lives on.

According to James Carlini, a long-time advisor on intelligent amenities in intelligent buildings and now intelligent business campuses, "Everyone involved in the building process, from the property owner to the architect, and from the mechanical engineer to the electrical engineer, has to take on a broader perspective outside of their own expertise to make these new 21st Century facilities successful." 

With all the systems converging, as well as the consideration of the cornerstones that supports what Carlini defines as "the platform for commerce" (real estate, infrastructure, technology, and regional economic development), “It is not enough to have single focus skills.” 

Today, we need multi-disciplinary focus.  As Carlini said, "You cannot solve 21st Century challenges with 20th Century solutions."  Understanding how all the building blocks go together is a new skill that has to be added to the individual skill sets already developed.

Upgrades are never simple
A new VOIP unified communications system may have a specification for Cat 5e or 6 cabling. However, in the facility that will be upgraded with the new communications system, the actual installed cable runs are shorter than the maximum distance (TIA 568 standard - 100 meters). The installed cables (possibly Cat 5) are tested to verify that may deliver the required performance of the new system without the need for replacement. Sometimes, just upgrading the jack delivers the performance needed. These simple steps can extend the functional life of the infrastructure and reduce the project costs. Remember, nothing goes to the bottom line faster than reduced expenses.

Installed cables with lower performance may also be used in the future to connect sensors to other systems like HVAC, lighting controls, or security/life safety.

Structured wiring systems are making great strides in speed, distance and bandwidth. With fiber optic cabling, we may have to reboot the entire concept of low-voltage structured wiring.

“Everything is moving toward fiber optic cabling,” said John Culbert, president, Megladon Manufacturing, the maker of the ScratchGuard HLC Connector. “With lower costs and higher performance, the future looks like fiber to the home and desktop.”

Within the world of commercial real estate (CRE), there have been numerous reports of new business ventures that plan to provide infrastructure capable of delivering a broad spectrum of sophisticated services to the multiple dwelling unit (MDU) world, such as apartments, condos, assisted living, and multitenant facilities, etc. These programs will require some visionary staff who are not afraid to go boldly forward. Continental Automated Building Association’s (CABA) president, Ron Zimmer, reminded us that the future of smart buildings includes residential in all of its configurations.

Do you need more examples of future-shock? Virtual reality is here, and it can have myriad applications.

One thing is sure. The integrated systems contractor is in an enviable position for sustainable growth without regard for the state of the economy. New applications and technology will be expanding into our world in ways that we haven’t considered yet.

Some day the complexity of the machine will exceed the capabilities of the human brain.

What could possibly go wrong? 

BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.

About the Author

Frank Bisbee

Freelance Writer

Frank Bisbee is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.

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