The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) is a well-respected institution with a combined student population of 15,000 - midsized in comparison to larger universities. But the Carnegie Foundation ranks UMBC in the top tier of national research universities, and UMBC consistently places among the top five research universities in production of bachelor's degrees for Information Technology. Its well-earned prestige is one reason for the rapid growth UMBC has experienced over the years.

In planning for anticipated growth in new buildings, the university was concerned about the cost of installing and servicing the HVAC control systems in each of its facilities. It wanted one point of access for building controls rather than multiple systems that would not interact. This was especially true with the fume hoods that dotted the science and physics labs.

Seeking Total Fume Hood Control

"We began working with UMBC about seven years ago when James Donlan, director of physical plant, wanted to have more than one vendor serving the campus' controller needs," said Bill Woolford, president of TFC Automation, Inc., a building automations and controls contractor located in Essex, MD.

"At that time the university was searching for an alternate vendor that could supply a laboratory and fume hood control system for the physics building that was fully integrated with the HVAC building control system," Woolford said. He added that the Auto-Flow(r) laboratory control system manufactured by American Auto-Matrix is unique because it provides a total fume hood control solution.

The system measures actual fume hood face velocity in the plane of the sash. The fume hood controller reads this face velocity input and updates the output signal 20 times/second. A multi-point measuring system across the face of the hood even responds to airflow obstructions, such as someone standing in front of the hood.

The Auto-Flow system features the ability to seamlessly integrate into an American Auto-Matrix HVAC BAS, which provides a complete system integration of the building's central mechanical operations and automation of all nonlaboratory environments within the facility, such as office areas. Because this system uses DDC, it allows for maximum efficiency and increased energy savings while also providing precise temperature, humidity, and pressure control throughout the day for students and faculty alike.

A Foot In The Door

With the successful completion of the first project, TFC Automation became an accepted UMBC vendor enabling them to bid and win contracts on nine other facilities. These include a variety of building types such as the bioscience and chemistry buildings, a satellite plant that supplies heating and cooling to the campus, the field house addition, and four resident halls. Each building was fitted with an American Auto-Matrix SAGEmax network manager and a series of field unitary controllers for mechanical operations.

"The American Auto-Matrix controllers were initially different, but we found them to be very user-friendly," commented George Alinsod, manager of construction services at UMBC. He noted that he experienced fewer maintenance issues this equipment than with other control systems on campus. UMBC requires a full coverage service contract to ensure the systems remain up and running, but the university found it had less service calls since the equipment has been installed and online. This point is echoed by TFC Automation's Woolford who noted their technicians value this equipment because it's so easy to program.

Sacking The Hackers

Recently, hackers infiltrated the UMBC computer system. Among the confusion, hackers caused a sizeable amount of programming damage to the BAS for several campus locations. This was accomplished because much of the building control software resides on the main computers, making them vulnerable to outsiders. Not so for sites equipped with the American Auto-Matrix system.

"Buildings with SAGE controllers were unaffected because there were no servers for the hackers to access, meaning each building had its own independent system," said Ken Joy, HVAC mechanical trades supervisor for UMBC.

Alinsod went on to say that the end result was that every building with American Auto-Matrix equipment continued to run problem-free the next day, in contrast to systems at other sites that had to be reprogrammed. "It's a tremendous product," Joy said, "because, like most state-run universities, we've had to reduce staff and still maintain each facility cost effectively."

He concluded, "We are able to control room temperature, chiller settings, and make adjustments from one of three monitoring stations. And because of this, we essentially have an unmanned boiler room since we can handle many jobs simultaneously."ES