Once upon a time, a building was considered to be just bricks and mortar, but in today’s technologically-advanced times there’s a lot more that a site could, and indeed should, offer. Erwin Deeben, product manager at Brand-Rex, gives you the low-down on the high-tech you need to consider.

At the most fundamental level, Smart Buildings deliver useful and flexible building services that make occupants productive (great working environment), offering adequate lighting, ventilation, air-conditioning, sanitation, and security at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building’s lifecycle. The owners have control over all the characteristics of the work environment, almost as though it were some kind of home entertainment system.
However, building owners today are beginning to look outside the four walls and consider the impact of their building on the electrical grid, the Emission of their organization, and the global environment. To meet these objectives, often set by local rules and building regulations, it is not enough for a building to simply contain the systems that provide comfort, light, and safety. Buildings of the future must connect the various pieces in an integrated, dynamic, and functional way. This vision is a building that seamlessly fulfils its mission while minimizing energy cost, supporting a robust electric grid, and mitigating environmental impact.
How can this be done? “Reaching this vision requires adding intelligence from the beginning of the design phase through to the end of the building’s useful life,” recommends Deeben. “A Smart Building needs to use information technology during operation to connect a variety of subsystems, which typically operate independently, so that these systems can share information to optimise total building performance.” A good example of this is how a building doesn’t just need to be connected to a power grid these days, it needs to be reactive and responsive.
The payoffs can be significant and there are numerous ways that a Smart Building can save money; most involve optimized operation and increased efficiency. Dynamic modelling of cooling and ventilation equipment can minimise the spend whilst providing the desired comfort level. Power usage can be adjusted in line with the occupancy of the building and by taking signals from the electricity market and altering usage in response, a Smart Building ensures the lowest possible energy costs and often generates revenue by selling load reductions back to the grid.

The backbone

“There are two vital components to a successful Smart Building,” says Deeben. “You need to make sure that you have the appropriate level of middleware, to make sure all of the building’s systems can share data and give an overall view of all operations. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, you need a fast, future-proofed network with enough outlets to support all the systems you’d like to use now and for any subsequent equipment you might want to integrate.”
Imagine if every system, such as data, building management system (BMS), lighting control, CCTV, Access Control, etc., had its own cabling network. That would mean at least four or five massive systems of cabling and containment to purchase, install, and maintain - all with installers trying to work in an already overcrowded building site with all the scheduling plus health and safety implications.
It would also be a planning nightmare. The planners would need to be very sure for each separate, dedicated cabling system of where every single CCTV camera or sensor would need to be at the time of installation - and for the next 20 years. On top of that, the carbon impact figures would be dreadful.
“What you need is a single converged IP-based network,” proposes Deeben. “It’s now possible to install a single, Category 6, or Category 6A network and make a massive overall saving. Plus, if you flood-wire the ceiling voids, then whatever your next 20 years’ requirements for sensors, lighting controllers, window blind or shutter controllers, IP-CCTV cameras, door locks, ID-readers, RFID devices and devices we’ve not even yet imagined – all the technicians have to do is plug in to a nearby RJ-45 outlet and the device is operational.”
Another keen bonus is that with modern networks it’s possible to use power over Ethernet (PoE,PoE+ or PoE++), avoiding the need for dedicated power sockets and also for a skilled electrician to install or move items.

Bringing it together

“Once all the devices around a Smart Building begin sharing an Ethernet LAN - that’s where the magic really starts! Because, now, these previously disparate systems can start to talk to each other,” says Deeben.
Thanks to the voluntary collaboration over the past two decades between many parties, lots of whom are historical business competitors, it has led to the adoption of open standards such as BACnet, Modbus,IP and LonWorks1, levelling the playing field by enabling every manufacturer and contractor to make their contribution to a functional whole. It’s then possible for translation software called “middleware” to gather data from all of the automated systems throughout an enterprise - regardless of manufacturer or communications protocol - and merges it into a common platform for analytics and reporting. One result is the emergence of web-based dashboard displays that offer a visual snapshot of which facilities are experiencing high energy usage, abnormal maintenance costs, and many other situations that deserve prompt attention.
This provides the executives in charge of sustainability and carbon footprint management with the visibility to see the big picture of their organization, no matter how many buildings or geographic locations are involved. When information is available quickly and can be accessed anywhere, managers are able to make better decisions that have an immediate impact on profitability.

Astute purchasing

Despite all of the benefits, no company wants to spend more than it has to on its infrastructure. So how fast does the network cabling actually need to be?
“All of the systems I've mentioned so far will work quite happily over Cat 6, 1Gbps is enough,” says Deeben. “But the real game-changer here is the new Wi-Fi standard IEEE802.3ac and it’s the first application that demands Cat6A or 10Gbps connectivity. In practice, our day-to-day experience at Brand-Rex shows that around fifty per cent of the converged network installs we’re completing at present are shielded 10Gbps Cat 6A with the other fifty per cent Cat 6 or Cat 5e.”
Deeben also suggests that the majority of sensors and systems for Smart Buildings would be provided in ceiling voids and plant rooms of various types. “I’d recommend a ‘zone’ approach to cabling with multi-outlet consolidation points being provided on a grid basis with the current recommendations being 24 ports per consolidation point, initially 50 per cent used and 50 per cent spare, on a 13 metre grid as suggested in TIA-4966.”
Many installers could also choose to use an underfloor zone-based approach too with outlets in floor boxes connected back to nearby consolidation points - allowing for very easy reconfiguration of office space because using this approach means that floor boxes can be very easily moved.
Finally, in the long term an IIM (intelligent infrastructure management) system will pay for itself by supporting an increased network uptime as well as making ‘moves, adds, and changes’ much easier and integration all environmental information in to one cockpit display. Isn’t it time to smarten up your building?