While finishing up last month’s column on boiler issues and concerns, I began brainstorming topics to discuss in future “Tomorrow’s Environment” columns. In the kitchen, I overheard my grandson Dylan talking to Amazon’s personal digital assist (PDA) better known as Alexa. This got me thinking about building automation systems (BASs). So, I turned to Google and searched, “When were building automation systems invented?” It turns out the first BAS, a mechanical thermostat controlling a damper, was invented by Warren Johnson in 1883. I guess one could say it was also the first indoor air quality (IAQ) management system, too.

I am fascinated with how the younger generation applies PDAs to their everyday lives with requests, such as:

  • Alexa, add avocados to my shopping list;
  • Alexa, what is the weather at Rye Beach this afternoon; and
  • Alexa, shut off the lights in the basement.

You get the picture. PDAs are absolutely fascinating in their ability to accurately respond to a plethora of inquiries. In my research to draft this month’s column, I’ve learned that BAS manufacturers are beginning to integrate PDA technologies with certain pieces of automatic temperature control (ATC) technologies, e.g., “Alexa, turn down the room thermostat to 68°F. So, not too long from now, I envision facility managers using PDA technology to operate and maintain their buildings in sync with operation and maintenance (O&M) staffs.

Soon, we’ll hear a building maintenance manager say, “Alexa, notify the filter replacement technician to replace the air filters in central air-handling unit AC-1 because the electronic filter magnehelic gauge is reporting, via the BAS computer, that the maximum recommended ‘dirty filter’ set point has been reached.”

When the work is completed, the technician will report back to Alexa that the filters have been replaced and to have the BAS computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system update the preventive maintenance (PM) work order database for AC-1 filters.

Other Alexa requests may include:

  • Alexa, sample the space air quality on the third floor;
  • Alexa, is the building under a negative pressure, drawing in cold, unconditioned air into the facility; and
  • Alexa, are all the exterior doors and windows secured?

New possibilities are probably endless when PDAs are digitally interfaced with BASs. That said, some HVAC personnel will say, “Alexa is going to replace my job,” but that seldom happens. What happens is that Alexa PDA technology will inherently result in more changes/updates in job descriptions as well as new employment opportunities.

Technology seldom replaces employees. Instead, it requires them to adjust to progress, e.g., a maintenance person may have changed filters in the past because he or she was told to do so. Then, this person was given a work order printed out directing the filters to be changed. A few years later, this maintenance person received an electronic copy of the work order and, using a hand-held device, would then scan the bar code on the air-handling unit, confirming the correct unit being served. Closing out the electronic work order, the handheld device, probably a cellphone, would send a message back to the CMMS system, electronically updating the asset database. In not too many years, PDA technology will be managing the filter replacement process. And, Alexa, along with a plethora of familiar technologies, will be helping the HVAC building industry throughout the facility.

Change is good. And, I think I’ve just convinced myself to finally go out and purchase a PDA. Though, I’ll most likely rely on my 9-year-old grandson, Dylan, to help me set it up in my home.