Intelligence in the network

Andy Bartlett, Belimo UK, distributed intelligence
Andy Bartlett

Andy Bartlett explains why the market can expect to see controls intelligence pushed further out into the network beyond the head-end, and what this means for end-users.

We often view a BMS as having a single point of intelligence, known as the head-end. This has traditionally been a PC that the FM can access to view the building’s control system, and to make adjustments to the building services.

While a central point for collecting and viewing information will always be required, a BMS should no longer be regarded as a series of ‘dumb’ devices linked to a single ‘brain’. Intelligence can be distributed throughout the system, bringing numerous benefits to designers, installers and building managers.

We’ll all have heard of the ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘IoT’ by now, and distributed intelligence is one of the impacts that this is having on buildings. The controls industry has embraced digital technology and in the past decade alone, we have seen numerous products come into the market that make use of communications via the Internet. Open controls protocols such as BACnet, Modbus and MBus have also helped to drive the development of smarter peripheral devices such as actuators and sensors, for example.

The IoT is making an impact in the domestic environment where homeowners are increasingly using internet-based systems such as NEST for controlling their heating via smart phones, giving them greater control over comfort and energy use. Commercial building owners are seeing some equally exciting innovations. Devices which were once ‘dumb’ are now smart and connected.

Because the intelligence of a building management system is now distributed, with reduced emphasis on a single brain, costs are saved because there is less wiring required back to a single base. What’s more, distributed intelligence means that the building can be more responsive overall to changes in internal and external conditions. It can also, to varying degrees depending on the project, be self-adjusting.

One example of this type of product is the Belimo Energy Valve. This goes beyond the standard performance of a pressure independent control valve (PICV). It consists of a two-way characterised control valve and volumetric flow meter. It includes electronic flow measurement, temperature sensors and an actuator with integrated logic that can measure, control, balance, shut and monitor energy.

The valve links to the Cloud, where users have their own account to see energy consumption from anywhere they want; and which also enables automatic updates of the valve’s software.

By delivering intelligence out into the system, the power consumption of pumps and chilled water plants is reduced by optimizing coil operation. At the same time, the valve provides coil performance data that will allow continuous re-commissioning of the coil over its lifetime

This sort of product shows where distributed intelligence and the IoT are taking building controls, and why they’re increasingly popular with building managers. For example, the Energy Valve collects 13 months of energy data that can be downloaded and analysed.

And this points to another important aspect of greater intelligence in controls. The output of smart devices creates a proliferation of facts and figures, often referred to as ‘Big Data’. The question for building managers is how best to use this output. Other sectors such as marketing and finance have learned to come to grips with ‘Big Data’, and now the FM and energy manager must do the same.

The benefits of data from intelligent controls include a very clear understanding of building performance, right down to the individual heating and cooling systems, if required. It is now possible, for example to compare energy performance across entire property portfolios, and this is certainly being done by the large retailers. Big Data makes it more possible to spot areas of under-performance in energy use, and a lot more likely that underlying causes can be rectified.

Controls manufacturers are investing in development of products that can bring the benefits of distributed intelligence to end users. We believe that innovation is the key to success, and to achieving truly intelligent buildings.

With this in mind, specifiers must be aware that it’s highly probable that whatever data they want collecting can be gathered by intelligent actuators, valves and other peripherals. The key question they have to ask themselves is why they’re gathering the data, and what they really want to achieve with it.

Andy Bartlett is Managing Director of Belimo UK

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