Another year has passed for me as an avid observer and designer of BAS. These columns have generally focused on the present and near-term future, good or bad, along with how this has been influenced by the past. For this year-end, I’d like to look at my current vision for the future of BAS over the longer term. While pondering this subject, I found it interesting that while my vision has changed over the year, the information that I am basing this on has not changed by very much. Let’s hope this means that I am honing in on a more accurate vision of the future of BAS.
Controls/BAS Design, Programming, and Diagnostics
January’s column discussed the importance of ASHRAE Guideline 36P’s efforts to develop industry-standard sequences and point lists. However, a related DOE effort is working on the use of the Guideline 36P’s sequences as a high-level language that would be unambiguously translated into the machine language for download into BAS controllers. These two developments together will greatly improve the quality/consistency of BAS design while substantially reducing the effort required to both develop and implement the sequences.
Also, recently discussed in a column was the success of Facility Analytics software and the emerging trend of incorporating analytics diagnostics at the BAS level. This latter use of diagnostics will greatly improve the effectiveness of BAS control and maintenance.
BAS as the Hub of Integration
BAS continue to be integrated with an ever-increasing variety of other mechanical/electrical systems. Typically, the BAS acts as the client in this integration, or in other words, as the hub for building integration. This trend will continue since BAS are well-equipped to handle the high levels of integration needed to help buildings and building personnel operate more efficiently and participate in intelligent buildings. However, the extent to which future BAS are successful as the hub of integration will depend on how the future develops for some other important BAS-related issues, such as …
The issue of protocols is no longer about BACnet vs. LonWorks vs. Modbus. BACnet is clearly the dominant BAS protocol, with Modbus a necessary evil when integrating with equipment with stronger roots in the industrial world (e.g., electrical equipment). The future for BAS acting as a hub of integration will instead focus on the improvement of their web services capabilities. Web services is not a protocol per se, but instead a technique for developing custom IP-based integration using the web-based XML protocol for messaging encoding and various other protocols for message transport (e.g. HTTP) and applications (i.e., SOAP). BAS web services toolkits will develop further so that web-based integration using the variety of techniques available can become a simpler and more common task.
It is becoming clearer by the day that IP will become the exclusive communications data link technology for BAS. The next generation of BAS terminal controllers will use IP instead of EIA-485 (typically via BACnet MS/TP). This is the first step needed for BAS to become a more legitimate part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Another important step will be the growth in the use of wireless communications for terminal controls, which will also have the added benefit of simplifying terminal controls’ installation especially in retrofit situations. And finally, we will see the emergence of IoT-like BAS devices — namely, field devices (sensors, actuators, etc.) that will communicate via IP (rather than via analog point signaling). A BAS’s ability to manage its own IoT devices will further its “hub of integration” capabilities with the growing list of other building infrastructure IoT devices (e.g., Schneider’s “NetBotz” and other similar products).
My Only Big Concern
The double-edged sword of this BAS future is that improvements in the security of BAS user access and communications messaging needs to keep pace with BAS growth as the “hub of integration” … not a simple matter!