New BAS Developments: Exciting Or Good Marketing
Time will tell if the building automation industry is making revolutionary strides.
Manufacturers are touting some interesting new BAS technology developments on their websites. This is welcome news since BAS advances in the recent past have mainly been about web-server operator interfaces and interoperability.
Web servers have now become the de facto approach to operator interface, and the products continue to improve their ease of use across a variety of devices beyond PCs. Interoperability continues on a path of providing more functionality and becoming easier to implement across a greater variety of BAS and other types of systems. However, neither of these advances have made BAS easier to install and use overall or — more importantly — substantively better at improving building comfort and energy efficiency.
Are there any new developments that may actually improve the control that BAS provides while also decreasing installer and operator efforts?
What Makes a BAS Development Exciting?
BAS R&D has long focused on flexibility given the wide variety of applications involved. This has made systems harder to install and use. BAS manufacturers now need to focus on developments that simplify the installation/operation needed for improved comfort and energy-efficiency. This requires the use of AI and Big Data advances that have already revolutionized other industries.
Revolutionary BAS developments would include configuration tools that anticipate (e.g., pattern match) the project’s database and programming; self-document the programming; include data analytics (which can then perhaps even make self-corrections); and create the data relationships that are needed to support the features.
The BAS industry has not yet shown a full-out commitment to these types of revolutionary developments, so I am looking for “exciting” hints that they are going in this direction, even those that seem to only make a system a bit easier to install.
What Are Some Exciting New BAS Developments?
Controllers using Power over Internet (PoE) communications so that separate power wiring is not needed. This is more of an “easier to install” item.
Pneumatic ASCs. These controllers provide a much easier path towards completing the “last mile” in DDC retrofits, which represent a cost-effective replacement to the millions of pneumatic VAV box thermostats still being used in many buildings. They typically use wireless communications and interface with a box’s pneumatic volume controller and actuator to further reduce the cost. This solution isn’t perfect since the volume controller remains in place (a device known to readily drift or fail), but if it helps to get pneumatic thermostats finally out of our buildings, I’m all for it. I’d call this a revolutionary short-term fix.
Facility analytics (FDD) has become an important overlay for BAS, but it is costly and complicated to implement, so it may never see widespread use in most buildings. ASHRAE 90.1-2016 is now requiring some minimum levels of FDD (e.g., for detecting economizer operation problems). This type of smaller-scale FDD makes a perfect value-added, built-in feature for BAS. It is also something that can be seen as revolutionary if expanded sufficiently without increasing BAS setup time.
Database “semantic tagging.” This is a trend that is being forced upon BAS installers due to the use of overlay FDDs. It involves adding more information to the point/object database to allow FDD to be able to see the relationships between rooms, sensors, and associated terminal controllers along with the associated AHUs and central plants. Currently, this is generally achieved by imbedding the information in point/object names. However, some BAS are expanding their point/object database structure to include this information as separate items. This has the added benefit of allowing these relationships to be viewed by operators for easier troubleshooting purposes, which is something that has typically been only implied at best within a BAS installation. This definitely can be seen as revolutionary, especially if it also helps lead to easier sequence of operation programming (which is self-documenting) and maybe even some self-correcting (auto-tuning PID, anyone?).
The BAS industry has a bevy of technological advances to draw from that could allow for revolutionary changes in their systems. Are the above a first glimpse of these changes or are they merely exercises in checking off convenient marketing boxes?