Automated systems – top 10 tips for success
When installing automated building systems, including controlled lighting and energy metering systems, knowledge and preparation are vital prerequisites for success.
JOHN POWER speaks to the team at iAutomation about 10 things every facility manager should know about automated functions.
The business case for automated building functions is clear in the minds of most facility managers, with energy savings being the preeminent attraction. When we speak of automated building functions, we are referring to a range of electronic devices designed to enhance the efficiency of buildings, including sensor- activated lighting, reactive heating and cooling optimisation based on actual occupancy levels and preferences, as well as numerous other devices governing shading, passive or active ventilation, audiovisual functions and energy management. All automated functions are designed to serve as a facility manager’s ‘silent caretaker’ of a building’s efficient operations.
In this article, in consultation with the team at Melbourne-based automated systems specialist iAutomation, we’ll examine 10 of the main issues facing facility managers regarding the feasibility of automated systems in specific applications.
Perhaps the best place to start is with trends about current applications of automated functions.
1. Automated systems – major applications
According to Craig Gibbs, director at iAutomation, new technologies involving fundamental automated functions like lighting are being driven by the market’s desire for greater functionality at more affordable prices.
“Devices are becoming smaller and systems are becoming more integrated, so we’re seeing the integration of things that initially stood alone,” Gibbs says. A good example, he explains, is the increased synergy between energy-saving controlled lighting systems and metering devices.
“We’re seeing an interconnection between metering and power usage inside buildings, and for the first time we’re seeing the use of statistical data to guide energy consumption throughout a building.”
Gibbs says innovation is always reflective of real-world practicalities; price competitiveness is a powerful force influencing product development, as are end users’ cravings for user-friendly controls and more detailed information about building performance. These forces are collectively shaping trends towards higher levels of integration between different devices, lower prices and more sophisticated data collection software.
2. Automated lighting – compatibility with LED technologies Gibbs advises anyone installing automated lighting functions to be aware of the latest LED (light-emitting diode) technologies. However, even though companies like iAutomation already embrace LED lighting as ‘the way of the future’, facility managers should be aware that some LED technologies, notably units involving high wattages, continue to have limitations.
“We already have products based around LEDs,” Gibbs says. “Some of our current projects are using RGB (red, green, blue) LED. In fact, our new range of Bus switches, which we’ve just released onto the market, are RGB LED controls, so everything we’re doing regarding coloured lighting is becoming ‘standard’. People want tread lights and different hues at night-time and different ambient conditions during the day.”
iAutomation, Gibbs points out, has just commenced work on the façade lighting of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Victoria, comprising programmable, colour-controlled LED lighting systems.
Nevertheless, Gibbs says, fluorescent lighting still has a place in contemporary light fittings. He warns that LED systems for high-wattage floodlights, for instance, may not be as efficient as low-wattage internal LED lights, and may lose luminescence rapidly compared to fluorescents.
3. Automated systems – increasing functionality over time Cautious facility managers may wish to ‘start small’ and raise the sophistication of their automated systems over time. Unfortunately, a modular or incremental approach to new technologies is inherently inefficient, and may be more reflective of uncertainty than sensible precaution.
According to Gibbs, the best automated functions are programmed and engineered properly in the first place, with due care given to the precise parameters of the project, as well as its specific situational and environmental requirements. Facility managers who have confidence in the professionalism of their automated equipment specialist tend to accept that a comprehensive and thorough solution is best at the outset.
“We don’t see many upgrades on retrofits, in particular, because once these systems go in, the FM people are either happy or they’re not,” Gibbs explains. “Generally speaking, the only thing that peeves FM professionals is a high maintenance factor. So after that first year of warranty, if the system has not been programmed and engineered properly, then it’s always going to be a lemon.”
Gibbs says facility managers should check the credentials of their automated systems providers. Reputable firms will usually adhere to some form of independent compliance code. “For example, at iAutomation we adhere to the [British] CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) commissioning code, which is a commission standard that we apply to all engineering on large commercial projects.”
4. New automated systems – compatibility with existing systems Premium automated functions are operable in accordance with recognised open protocol platforms, which means devices from different companies will be compatible regardless of brand. Well-known open protocols like KNX and DALI allow building owners to source devices from different companies, safe in the knowledge that their centralised building management system (BMS) or Bus control system will function smoothly with the new units.
Billy Huynh, iAutomation project engineer, says high levels of integration (or ‘high-level interfacing’) are possible when matching new and existing automated functions. It is even possible to integrate a KNX system with an existing BMS system. Compatibility is not age-dependent, Huynh adds, so even a 10-year-old lighting system, for example, should maintain full functionality with a modern HVAC- based addition. Differing levels of connectedness are possible depending on need.
5. Building efficiency – measuring energy performance Regardless of the degree of sophistication of automated systems being used in a building, there is always great value in being able to assess and scrutinise different elements of a building’s performance. Huynh reminds facility managers that legislation mandates the use of energy meters in certain circumstances.
“The most basic meters will just measure consumption or kW (kilowatt) hours for a whole building. For smaller buildings there is typically just an authority meter for a whole site or building,” he says. “However, current legislation means there is a minimum requirement that all commercial buildings with a net lettable area greater than 2500 square metres be equipped with a meter to individually measure different services like lighting, power, mechanical, lifts and so forth.”
Most meters show lighting and power components of energy consumption, but more advanced systems allow anything from daily to annual readouts of performance data according to separate devices.
“The facility manager might look at the total figure, or drill down and look at monthly or daily usages and see what the actual tenant is doing on any specific day and try to find a pattern.”
The most advanced systems will present energy consumption in terms of a power factor (perfect = 1); readings of 0.6, 0.5 or worse generally signal a mechanical or structural fault, allowing the facility manager to identify how separate building modifications, for instance, have affected overall energy performance over time.
6. Automated functions – calculating expected savings As a rule of thumb, Huynh says, greater levels of building automation will result in greater cost savings.
“So, for example, systems that make the most of motion sensors across an entire building are the ones that will save more energy,” he says.
Less sophisticated automatic functions, such as clock- based systems to deactivate certain functions at the end of a business day, will result in lower savings because of obvious inefficiencies during the day. Similarly, excessive use of override switches may compromise programmed levels of automation.
But if automated functions are adopted and applied in a disciplined way, the savings can be outstanding.
“When you have sensors tied in with everything associated with an area, including lighting, air-conditioning, audiovisual system, and whatever else you have in the room, energy savings will always be greater – with savings as high as 30 to 50 percent compared with equivalent non-automated spaces,” says Huynh.
7. Automated systems – upfront costs: new versus retrofit projects Facility managers with responsibility for older or Heritage- listed buildings often assume that automated systems may be costly to install due to poor access or limited design parameters. Huynh, however, says hardware costs are reasonably consistent regardless of new or old building applications. Importantly, given the hundreds of manufacturers currently producing products with KNX compatibility, for instance, clients have plenty of options regarding the style and appearance of devices.
“Of course, with existing or Heritage buildings, costs will be somewhat higher than for a brand new build, mostly because of access issues, but differences in cost between new or old buildings usually relate more to installation issues than equipment,” he explains.
At present, Huynh estimates that approximately 60 percent of iAutomation’s projects relate to new buildings, while 40 percent involve retrofit work.
8. Specialist training – using automated technologies There are three main ingredients to the successful use of automated functions in buildings:
● the ability to program day-to-day functions for optimal performance in specific circumstances, including the capacity to communicate usage guidelines to occupants
● the ability to understand and interpret any usage data, if appropriate, to identify and diagnose performance problems, and
● the ability to maintain systems over time. Jason Wong, iAutomation’s engineering manager, says some facility managers require basic systems with straightforward, manually readable displays of energy consumption. Others may need more comprehensive diagnostic and interpretive tools.
“Normally, we will give a demonstration to the client to show them how to use the system,” Wong says. “With maintenance, since one system can affect another, we recommend that software maintenance, in particular, be undertaken by a professional agent – problems might have more to do with an internet provider than on-site equipment.”
9. Automated systems – benefits beyond cost savings Facility managers often investigate the use of automated systems in order to minimise operational costs, but additional benefits can include: increased occupant comfort, superior worker productivity and retention levels, greater appeal to existing or prospective tenants, as well as the capacity to maximise rental returns based on all the above factors.
“A good automation system can enhance comfort and productivity,” Wong says. “But it’s also important to customise the functions of a building according to actual need – the practical requirements of a hospital will not be the same as those for an office.
“If you have a comfortable and practical environment, then people will appreciate that,” says Wong.
10. Developments and upgrades – automated systems Building usages may change dramatically, depending on individual circumstances. For example, the placement or number of workstations may alter with a change of tenant, or a business unit may expand and require more staff. The greater the level of flexibility and adaptability built into automated functions, the easier it is to accommodate system changes or upgrades.
“As far as upgrades are concerned, I think KNX- and DALI- based systems are the way to go, because they are open to any manufacturer,” Wong advises. “It’s certainly easier than choosing a proprietary system.”
A reputable automated systems provider, he suggests, will always take account of existing and prospective client requirements.
For more information on automated systems, please contact iAutomation on 03 9572 0144 or visit www.iautomation.com.au. John Power, a former editor of Facility Management magazine, is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne.