Smart solutions extract value from building data

Daniel Lilley, Engie, smart buildings, controls, data, analysis, connectivity, IoT

Smart buildings can deliver a whole host of benefits for any business and open up a wealth of opportunities. Daniel Lilley explains

There are the obvious benefits to optimising energy use, reducing costs and freeing up facilities-management resources, but smart buildings implemented properly can do so much more. They can improve operational efficiency and environmental performance, enhance working environments, increase productivity and even improve the health and well-being of building users.

Gathering data from diverse systems

To operate effectively, any smart building system needs data - the more data the greater the benefits that can be delivered. All buildings contain systems and assets that produce a vast amount of data. These include building management systems, utility meters, security access systems, weather monitoring stations, air-quality sensors, CCTV networks and a whole range of other meters, monitors and sensors. In a typical building, these systems often operate discretely from each other, producing data in isolation on a specific aspect of building performance or operation.

The first step of making a building smarter is to connect this disparate data from diverse systems onto a single platform where it can be analysed to create meaningful insight on which building-management decisions can be based. Smart systems are designed to extract the maximum value from the data generated by a building. A smart building platform that can be augmented with widely available Internet of Things (IoT) technology, integrates all data produced by a building and its assets. It then applies software-based analytics, machine learning and AI-based programming to mine that data for value.

Improving the work environment

There are many ways this data can be used to improve the efficiency of a building, as well as the experience of building users or visitors. For example, by monitoring CO2 levels in real time and connecting this data to air-exchange system controls, smart buildings can maintain good indoor air quality and ensure rooms are always kept fresh and comfortable. Furthermore, connecting this data to room booking systems or space utilisation data enables room conditions to be adjusted according to occupancy and the nature of work being carried out.

Integrating mobile data

Data from mobile ‘phones can also be integrated into a smart building system. This offers huge opportunities for efficiency innovations, such as enabling employees to use their ‘phones as security passes to access the building. Mobile ‘phone data can also provide an efficient way of managing visitors, allowing them to use their ‘phones as a visitor pass, and alerting their host automatically when they arrive at the building. Access rights can be set to ensure visitors may only enter certain areas, preserving the security of the building.

The same technology can be used to provide wayfinding services for visitors to any large building or facility. For example, at a sports stadium a mobile phone app connected to a visitor’s e-ticket could help them to find the right entrance and locate their seat. Once in the venue, Bluetooth beacons can track the individual’s location, enabling information to be provided to them on the nearest food vendors or toilet facilities. Using location data even allows smart building systems to direct people to outlets or toilet facilities with the shortest queues.

In a multi-storey office block, the same technology can be used to track people within the building. For example, lift locations can be altered in real time to more efficiently move people around the building. Similarly, toilet usage can be monitored to determine the optimum cleaning regime, making the most efficient use of the resources available.

Optimising building assets

As well as optimising building conditions, smart technology can help to optimise the management of the whole building as an asset. Smart building systems can use data from a whole range of assets to determine the most efficient operating parameters for each asset. This helps to prolong the lifespan of the asset and enables maintenance regimes to be tailored according to demand – rather than to a predetermined schedule. It’s another way in which smart buildings help to optimise the deployment of facilities management resources.

As well as enabling such condition-based maintenance, smart buildings offer a more intelligent way to monitor critical assets such as air-handling units, pumps and chillers. For instance, vibration and temperature sensors can be used to gather data that indicates how well an asset is operating. If vibration signatures, temperatures, electrical load or other measures show patterns trending away from typical baseline operation, the system can raise an alert for an engineer to investigate. This enables maintenance interventions to be timed to prevent breakdowns before they occur, rather than responding to potentially disruptive breakdowns after they happen.

Endless possibilities for smart applications

When data from multiple building systems is collated and connected on a common smart building platform, which in turn is connected to control and automation systems within the building, the applications are almost limitless. By connecting diverse data, smart technology can put it into the context of overall building operation. It can determine how activity in one area influences data in another, creating a dynamic system that enables real-time adjustments to be made to building controls and systems.

In one world class venue maintained by ENGIE, data was extracted from 800 data points for monitoring and analysis. This picked up an unusually high baseload, originating from the chiller plant. By examining up to 20 air-handling units, ENGIE was able to identify one rogue valve actuator with incorrect control settings. This small control issue had caused the abnormal baseload and meant the reception atrium was overheating during the day and being cooled at night. It was a simple fault to fix, but without the smart data analysis it may never have been identified. This single fix resulted in an immediate saving of 25%.

To enable data to be gathered from so many different building systems, meters and sensors, it’s important that any smart building platform is technology agnostic. Only by accepting data feeds from disparate systems from various manufacturers can smart building technology deliver the full range of benefits that are possible. Technology-agnostic systems can be tailored to the specific requirements of each facility or building, harnessing all the data needed to optimise the benefits for the business, facilities managers and building users.

* Daniel Lilley is ENGIE Smart Buildings & Data Solutions director

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