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Not ‘smart’ enough!

While building management systems have been widely deployed, industry insiders suggest it’s a long road ahead for their full potential to be realised. Benwen Lopez of Climate Control Middle East has the story…

| | Jun 11, 2018 | 10:18 am
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Building management systems were created with the objective of being able to effectively manage the building’s utilities, such as the HVAC system, pumps, lighting and other equipment. However, industry insiders suggest that although companies have invested heavily in crafting sophisticated systems, they remain under-utilised, resulting in reduced energy efficiency and poor indoor environmental quality (IEQ). 

Market hurdles

While BMSs have been around for decades, the industry is plagued by challenges. Some of the roadblocks that industry insiders point out are incomplete specifications, wrong design, lack of specialised personnel and the issue of over-control of systems by manufacturers.

Explaining the issue of wrong design and incomplete specifications, Vijay Kumar, President, International Business, Cylon Controls, says that for proper operations, one has to be concerned about the design and specifications. “If the design is not right, all you can do is operate the BMS within its limitations,” he says. “If the design specifications are not efficient, the BMS operations will not be efficient.”

Explaining further, Kumar adds that if awareness needs to be raised, it has to be more on the design side, which is one of the most significant challenges, worldwide. “MEP consultants don’t want to give due importance to the awareness programmes offered by BMS vendors,” he says.

Voicing a similar opinion, Fady Fahmy, MEP Project Manager, Al Shafar United, adds, “A deep coordination needs to be acquired between the BMS vendors and MEP consultants for seamless integration of the MEP systems and BMS.”

Further elaborating on the lack of coordination, Arvind K Swarnkar, Managing Director, Sauter Middle East, adds, “While vendors are expected to customise the BMS to achieve the desired parameters of the HVAC systems, it becomes more complicated if the MEP contractor does not diligently connect the other equipment to the BMS.”

From an FM perspective, Rijo Abraham, Deputy Manager-Energy Efficiency, Farnek, explains that challenges crop up during the handover process from another FM company, or for a new building, where there may be a lack of commissioning documentation. “During the handover process, we notice that the field devices like the sensors and actuators are either not working at all or not working correctly,” he says. “The BMS is never utilised for its capabilities.”

Highlighting the issue of sensors, Charles Blaschke IV, Founder and Managing Director of Taka Solutions, an energy service company (ESCO), says: “We have come across cases where fake sensors are embedded in the BMS to display the desired temperature (23 degrees C), but in reality the temperature is either much lower or higher. That is also when we find the air conditioning unit is not cooling and producing heat. We have observed that as long as all the points are at face value, it’s commissioned. The system has been merely installed and left to operate on its own.”

As an ESCO, Blaschke further adds that during retrofit inventory procedures, it has been observed that sensors were not installed in ducts or the rooms, yet it has been signed off and paid for. “It’s a systemic issue across the industry and the different stakeholders, which include consultants, MEP contractors, commissioners, owners and FM companies, do not care,” he says. “Fake commissioning and fake installation is rampant, and there is nobody to look into this detail and rectify it.”

Apart from the issue of fake commissioning and installation, Blaschke speaks of cases where MEP contractors altogether bypass the BMS. He explains that in order to effectively run a building, all the systems need to be connected to the BMS, but in a lot of instances, it is completely ignored for various reasons. One among them is the situation where the BMS is either broken or the MEP contractor does not know how to connect the system; such instances ultimately affect the performance of the building.

Further elaborating on the issue of bypassing the BMS, Kumar adds that it is a pervasive issue, and while it goes back to the design issue, it is also the case of operations. “Bypassing the BMS could be because the contractor is unaware of how to connect the system and, therefore, bypasses it,” he says. “Moreover, at the design stage or an operational side, nobody perceived that it would happen, which is why these issues need to be documented specifically. Many people are looking to cut corners to make a profit, and if someone is not looking, the BMS is bypassed.”

Kumar further adds that to overcome such a problem in the specifications it needs to be mentioned that if a pump has failed, the BMS needs to send out an alarm to the entire team, so that if the ground engineer has not fixed it then the matter is escalated till it is fixed; in this way, it can be identified if the pump has been connected to the BMS or not.

The drive for energy efficiency and IEQ

Sharing his thoughts on how the BMS plays a role in striking a balance between energy efficiency and IEQ, Swarnkar says, “If IEQ is maintained by using natural cooling, energy efficiency is maintained, and the BMS should be using weather station data to choose and implement the correct control algorithm.”

Voicing a similar view, Fahmy adds, “While BMS plays a strong role in controlling the lighting and HVAC system, it also plays a role in controlling the CO2 levels and air changes per hour in basements as well as the adequate fresh air changes in floors.”

From a retrofit perspective, Blaschke adds that the BMS plays a critical role, because it affects IEQ, energy efficiency and reliability, so the retrofit teams need to know what is going on with the system in real-time to guarantee the savings.

He further says: “Some building owners do not spend much on the BMS, because they do not really care about IEQ and hardly care about energy efficiency. They run everything in the manual to save energy, but they sacrifice IEQ. If you want to run it the right way, where IEQ and energy efficiency are a top priority, you need a comprehensive control system, and that’s the issue that owners cannot see. If you just run the system to save energy, then in the long run, you do not save enough, because IEQ is compromised.”

BMS manufacturers are addressing the issue of energy efficiency and IEQ through software innovations, explains Kumar. However, he draws back to the point of incomplete specifications and poor design, which do not specify these particulars. “While a BMS can track the IEQ and energy efficiency of a building envelope, tender specifications are not watertight, and every contractor will try to cut corners,” he says. “So, if the design is not correct, the project management team will not understand, and it will not be enforced on site, resulting in energy loss and poor IEQ.”

Lack of specialised teams

While a BMS may seem to be a system requiring standard operating procedures, it still requires skilled personnel to install, commission and service it. Voicing his opinion on this issue, Kumar says: “The BMS had always suffered owing to the lack of core competency concerning design, when the building was being conceived and when the electromechanical systems were designed. Very rarely do MEP consultants have BMS specialists on their teams, and even if they do, it would be an engineer who is more competent at handling only the air conditioning design, and the BMS is just an add-on responsibility. The BMS is a completely different entity, and one needs to have a specialised competency within the design agencies to understand and specify an efficient BMS.”

Mirroring Kumar’s views, Fahmy adds that companies come up with contracts, but none of these contracts specifies the need for a BMS specialist, which is crucially essential, especially for effective BMS management.

Swarnkar adds that while the scenario of the need of BMS specialists in the UAE is improving, MEP companies have a long way to go to adapt their designs with the fast-changing BMS technologies.

Locked-in

While it is a plethora of challenges from the operations perspective, the flip side is the commercial aspect, where certain BMS manufacturers decide which brands of lighting, HVAC and pumps are allowed to be connected to their systems, which propels a customer lockdown. As Kumar points out, the end-user must not succumb to the commercial underplay. “Specifications written by consultants must specify to the manufacturer,

exactly the brands of their choice, even if they are not on the approved list of the BMS manufacturers, and the manufacturers must adhere to these specifications, he says. “The attitude of market control must change, and consultants need to step up and ensure that there are no backdoor entries, who will say that this brand will not work, even before it is tested.”

Echoing Kumar’s views, Blaschke says that most BMS manufacturers follow the antiquated business model, which is centred on locking the customer from doing anything. “You have a building owner who has invested in a robust BMS, but then the manufacturer tells the owner which brands are allowed to be connected, and this puts the building owner in handcuffs to these companies, because they are only allowed to connect certain brands, which are either manufactured by the same manufacturer or a specific approved company.”

Changing tides

Sharing his thoughts on the changing trends of the BMS industry, Blaschke says that with BMS manufacturers following the conventional business models, companies like Tridium, the developers of the Niagara Framework, are spearheading the way for change. Explaining how the change is coming in, he adds, “Tridium gives building owners, FM companies or ESCOs the freedom to connect their own devices to the Niagara platform, and this is going to bring in the change in the industry.”

Blaschke further elaborates that control companies have adopted the Niagara Framework to customise their solutions and sell them to the market, and such a practice creates a new opportunity.

Elaborating on how the Niagara Framework can prove beneficial, Roger Woodward, Vice President and Managing Director, EMEA region, Tridium, says, “Niagara brings the whole connectivity to one platform and allows the experts to make a difference using a simple and an open method, which allows the end-users to choose what they want to connect. Currently, the framework is being used to service the airport terminal three of the Dubai International Airport and the Singapore Changi Airport and close to half a million buildings across the world.”

Offering a counter view, Swarnkar says that with the technological advances made in BMS software, multiple communication protocols can now be accommodated on the BMS, which is why he believes that “the Niagara Framework is not the only software to embed these functions”.

Concurring with Swarnkar’s views, Kumar adds that there are misconceptions that like open-ended frameworks, the BMS is the front-end of the building, whereas it is the opposite.

“The heart of the BMS is spread across the building, because it is not a central computer which is in a room. The BMS is fragmented and distributed across the building. Therefore, the core-BMS will never die,” he says. “Without the core-BMS, which are the components that are spread across the building, the purpose of an open-ended framework is rendered useless.”

Innovating ahead

With the focus on energy efficiency, companies like Honeywell have recently launched the IQ Vision, a new-generation building energy management system (BEMS), which was developed by their independent entity, Trends Control Systems. Explaining the objective of the product, Yashdep Sule, Director, Strategic Marketing, Middle East, Turkey, Africa, Honeywell Building Technologies, says: “The centralised software platform is designed to help building owners and managers optimise energy usage. The functions include centralised data logging, archiving, alarming, trending, master scheduling, system wide database management, and integration with enterprise software applications, all of which can be used for highlighting and investigating energy use within buildings. “Building managers, operators and owners in the region are increasingly leveraging advanced technology to save energy, optimise building systems and, ultimately, reduce costs.”

Explaining the baseline of the new product, Sule says that the IQ Vision is configured using the advanced Niagara 5 interface, which utilises HTML5 to provide an array of rich features, which are in tune with the evolution of the Internet of Things.

Summing up

Whether open-ended frameworks outplay the BMS industry, it is a no-brainer that the industry attitude has to change towards the BMS segment and become smart enough to utilise it as an asset. BMS manufacturers need to unshackle their strategy of locking-down end users to particular brands. End-users need to step up their role in maintaining and repairing BMSs, instead of blaming manufacturers for problems of the system that have been caused, owing to wrong installation and commissioning.

As Blaschke explains, many leading manufacturers have developed excellent and robust BMS products, but the problem is that owing to the lethargic attitude of the building owner towards the BMS, the system is a failure and causes more risk to the building than being a solution, due to a degradation of energy efficiency and IEQ, which ultimately increases costs.


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