If you build a BMS, will they install?

May 2013 Integrated Solutions

Building management systems (BMS) are touted to be excellent efficiency and cost saving solutions that can deliver measurable value to companies that implement them. They are also complex systems that of necessity need to incorporate multiple areas of speciality into one management interface – not the easiest task at the best of times.

To find out more about what BMS systems today are all about and their effectiveness and popularity among South African corporations, Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Neil Cameron, GM: Systems & Service Africa at Johnson Controls SA, as well as Artur Socha, Buildings Business, Schneider Electric SA. Our focus in speaking to them was to find out what was happening in the BMS field specifically in South Africa, but also to ascertain what actually is possible with today’s technology.

Socha says that with the ever-increasing electricity tariff hikes more consumers are being made aware of the need to reduce consumption, thus efficient implementation of the correct BMS offering can provide the required solutions. Companies are seeking methods of reduction with the best ROI (return on investment) possible. He adds that this excludes a basic retrofit, for example, swapping out lights etc, and then claiming energy savings by rule of thumb.

“Sure, the customer may save a small percentage, but do they have the knowledge or data in front of them to prove the reduction and how has the replacement of lights affected the efficiency of power usage in the buildings? This is where a true BMS plays a vital role, providing the correct reporting and control methods to the end client to empower them to make conscious decisions in the energy management of their buildings.”

He adds that current construction and planning methods for new buildings are still providing hurdles for providing cost effective and efficient BMS systems to end clients. This particularly lies with the disparate subsystems that are being installed. Often, they may not be up to standard or may not have included the correct interface to enable the effective management through a BMS system.

“The only way to improve on this is spreading as much knowledge as possible to engineers, consultants and end users to improve the awareness of the functionality that is available and the true benefits thereof,” Socha says.

When generally comparing South Africa to First World countries, Cameron says this country is somewhat behind the leaders. This is due to two primary reasons, the one being economic and the other educational. The spend required to install a fully functional BMS system scares all but the largest corporations, while the benefits, capabilities and scalability available is often unknown, requiring education across the board.

He adds that the way facilities are handled in South Africa is also different in that more buildings are leased than owned, resulting in occupants not wanting to invest too much in their buildings. When you lease a building for three to five years, the value obtainable from a BMS is not as great as when you own the premises for the long term.

There are, however, large commercial sites in South Africa, Cameron notes, but in these instances a BMS system is primarily used for energy saving, such as air conditioning and environmental control. Few companies extend their BMS to automated lighting or generator and UPS controls.

What makes for a good BMS?

A BMS should provide easily accessible data to specific users in a format that they are comfortable with, says Socha. The CEO requires a report of the buildings performance, while the HVAC engineer or plant manager requires effective performance reports and alarm events.

Moreover, he adds that the BMS’s scalability should be achievable with minimum costs by ensuring they are truly open to third-party vendor systems and not be limited by items such as licences for 'X' amount of devices. “This can be hidden costs in many BMS systems”, Socha warns.

An interface into the IT layer via Web services should also be standard as this allows for easier transport of data for all future applications. Weather forecasting is a good example. Data available on the Internet can be pulled into the BMS system, allowing it to adjust the conditions in the building before they actually happen. “Peak demand management is also a must and should be easily implemented.”

A good BMS, says Cameron, can support third-party devices and extend well beyond air conditioning and energy savings to include functionality, among others, such as UPS control and managing multiple buildings. And while smaller BMS installations can and should be controlled from a computer, larger installations should be controlled by Digital Distribution Control (DDC), a master controller for the entire system. Computers can freeze and crash, making the DDC a better option in larger installations.

A BMS also gathers an enormous amount of information on what is happening in a building or buildings. This data can be presented in reports or graphically for easy reading, but the manner in which the data can be accessed is key. Cameron says Web-based access is becoming more important as it allows managers to view their BMS status from anywhere at any time. It also provides remote users with access to the functionality of the system without having to be in a specific place at a console or computer with the software installed on it.

Open vs. proprietary

The question of open versus proprietary systems is an important one in the BMS market since it is sure that the management system will have to be integrated into various third-party solutions. Fortunately, Cameron says almost all of the latest BMS products support open standards and will be able to integrate into any other systems running one of the common open protocols, such as BACnet, LON, Modbus etc, as well as more modern Web services.

However, both Socha and Cameron warn that the capability of the products to integrate does not mean it is a simple task. Customers need to ensure that they find installers with proven capabilities in working with these protocols. Inexperienced or untrained installers can create more problems, even with an open system, if they do not know what they are doing.

What they offer

Both Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric have long experience in the BMS market. Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked them to tell us what differentiates their respective products in the market.

Socha says with the introductions of Schneider’s latest BMS offer, SmartStruxure and SmartStruxure Lite provides a truly scalable and customisable offer to the end user. It offers a range of capabilities straight out the box, with all the industry standard protocols supported without additional costs.

It is a centralised system with distributed intelligence that optimises facility performance. It is easy-to-use with robust functionality that leverages prior investments with Schneider Electric, and it is part of an EcoStruxure architecture which unites Schneider Electric’s expertise in power, data centres, process and machines, building control and physical security to enable intelligent energy management solutions for customers seeking to optimise energy efficiencies across multiple domains of their business.

EcoStruxure is a framework for creating simple intelligent energy management systems that save money and, more importantly, reduce waste. This agile architectural approach makes optimised systems accessible to a wider audience thanks to its compatible product designs and open-platform software. It provides end-users with the tools they need to reduce their time to design and integrate, as well as their capital and operational expenditure.

Cameron says Johnson Controls also includes a range of common open protocols in its system, however, he notes that in traditional BMS installations, the system generates an enormous amount of information that is not always optimally used. To empower its customers to get the most out of their software, Johnson Controls has released Panoptix, a suite of cloud-hosted building efficiency applications that work with any building management system, including Metasys (from Johnson Controls).

Securely storing customers’ data in the cloud, Panoptix includes live guides that offer advice as to how a customer can improve its BMS’s performance. It also provides access to experts in the field via telephone, e-mail or instant messenger and creates a community of like-minded people where users of BMS systems can interact, share best practices as well as see the latest news and resources relating to their field.

BMS systems have been with us in various forms for many years. Not always lauded for their openness and ease of use, these systems have had to adapt to the realities of the 21st century and adopt an open architecture, while still offering value within the functionality and capabilities of the different solutions. Today, as more vendors embrace cloud computing, we should see more solutions incorporating cloud-type services, all with the goal of delivering the optimal results for clients. And while the primary use of the BMS in South Africa may be energy reduction at the moment, optimising a building or multi-site environment can, and possibly should be done via this software with the resulting lower costs, improved efficiencies and tighter control.


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