For the last decade, I have had the privilege of being an Engineered Systems columnist. The magazine selects columnists who are actively involved in project design and implementation. My career is shifting from being actively involved in the development of projects to research on new areas for building controls and the interaction between buildings and the electrical grid. In January, there will be a new columnist, so this month I will focus on looking back over the last decade of controls and building automation. Then next month, I will offer my perspective on the future.

When we look back at the last 10 to 15 years, there have been some positive changes that have occurred with controls and building automation along with a number of industry challenges.


Positive Movement

There are a number of positive changes that have occurred in the area of controls and building automation. These include:

  • Open protocol support. While most suppliers are continuing to offer support for older proprietary systems, almost all new products are based on a choice of open protocols. While BACnet is still viewed as dominant, there is still strong support for LonTalk-based systems as well.

  • Web-based systems. It is now easy to find options for user interfaces that can run in a web browser, making access to systems simpler and more flexible.

  • Systems integrators. In addition to the traditional “company stores” from the large control companies, we are seeing more and more capable, independent controls contractors and systems integrators.

  • Analytics. Many new products and services have been introduced over the last decade for evaluating and analyzing building automation systems. This is probably the area that has had the most innovation and growth.


Industry Challenges

Probably the biggest challenge for the buildings industry as a whole was the great recession of 2007-2008. This dramatic collapse resulted in a plunge in new construction and retrofit activity and significant financial challenges for system designers, contractors, and suppliers.

In the years prior to the collapse, BAS suppliers had gone through consolidation, with smaller firms being acquired by larger firms. These large, multinational suppliers managed to weather the economic storm, but they also were limited in their ability to invest in new products or systems. As a result, over the last decade we have seen little in terms of innovative new systems and products.

Next month, I will dig deeper into some of the innovation that we need to work on as an industry. ES