Building Automation: A Digital Pivotal Moment
In my article in the February 2001 issue of ES "The Componentization Era is Here," I exposed the potential for manufacturers to provide fully integrated Web-enabled equipment/solutions with the use of componentized controls utilizing existing communication standards. The "Letters To The Editor" section in the May issue pointed out that much restructuring of the industry was required to make my ramblings real. I agree completely. Hence, I intend to address these concerns plus others, in the October issue.
In interviews on our website, we have been asking automation industry leaders to share their thoughts on restructuring.
Well, Is It?We asked Thomas Hartman, P.E., principal, The Hartman Company; and Tom Zaban, vice president of marketing, Reliable Controls Corporation, if the industry is currently experiencing a restructuring phase.
Hartman: "It is. The first steps have already been taken as large multinational firms have penetrated segments of the hvac industry and look to move forward with product and service offerings that have been successful in other industries in which they participate. This will be a slow process, as these firms will deal thoughtfully and conservatively with this industry. But such firms are spending significant resources developing approaches to improve their penetration or market share in this industry. This first step is quite invisible to those working daily in the industry. But once this step is completed, the second step will begin which will configure new and existing product and service technologies that fit the marketing approaches they are now developing. This stage will begin the public view of the restructuring that is already under way."
Zaban: "Let's see, from a controls perspective in the last two years, Seimens buys Landis, Seimens buys Staefa, Electrowat buys Seimens, Siebe buys Ranco, RobertShaw, Paragon, etc. and becomes Invensys, Honeywell gets bought by Allied then is chopped up and sold off, CSI gets gobbled up by TAC and disappears. I see the controls industry going through a major shake down. Those who made incorrect technology investments or no technology investments are being harvested then digested. Think of the amount of computers we've all purchased in the last 10 years. We are all investing and restructuring to keep up."
Who Will Lead?The concern is that restructuring is just that, a complete reconstruction of the existing control procurement process and methods of doing business. I feel that many players in our industry sense that only minor changes are occurring; both Hartman and Zaban point to major restructuring, that will change who we are and for whom we work. Equipment manufacturers are not willing to adapt new technologies unless the purchasers of their products drag them kicking and screaming into radical evolution. Their concerns are well founded - what if we lead in the wrong direction and markets do not follow our lead? Do we have enough of the big picture to lead?
Leading will occur by large design-build organizations with deep pockets whose systems analysts will approach comfort control and energy integration at a new level. We are not talking about viewing our old systems through a Web browser, we are talking about total client, design, control, and mechanical/electrical equipment integration. These new projects will be design-builds for the clients and will completely change the existing control procurement paths. Features will include self-diagnostics and maintenance of equipment and the client interface from anywhere. Energy usage of all the integrated components will be available to all. Interactive links to each client and his/her comfort will exist, plus feedback on the consequences of his/her actions. The real cost of housing the new technology-empowered network-savvy clients will change how facility providers view building infrastructure economics.
These new breeds of systems will successfully demonstrate the need for complete restructuring and will cause even wider spread restructuring to imitate this success. The capability of today's building automation systems far exceeds the present understandings of the existing implementers. The fact that all our building clients are also in rapid transition as to the nature of their business greatly complicates the process. Radical changes will beget radical changes and these changes will move us to the next level as an industry. ES