Building Automation 201: Campus Control in Three Steps

GT commons night2Campus environments are a special animal when it comes to automation. While they sometimes behave like one large building, that is where the similarities end and automation becomes a challenge to all but the most skilled in the automation trade.

An educational campus, office park or any other gathering of buildings under single administration creates challenges that a single large building does not. Often times the campus is built out over long periods of time and because of the “low bid” process capital components often are generations apart and from multiple manufacturers. Along comes the company facilities visionary and what was perceived as a well oiled machine suddenly becomes a mismatch of technologies, cabling and protocols that are basically incompatible – much like expecting a laptop to not only communicate with but control a toaster, blender and postage meter.

From Building Automation 101: There are three things working against you in Intelligent Building Automation: Knowledge of what is actually possible, experienced designers and equipment compatibility. When automating the campus, compatibility of equipment becomes much more of a factor.

Step One: What you need to be automating on the campus:

  1. HVAC – Occupancy based control with triggers from Access Control.
  2. Lighting – Occupancy based in most rooms, and schedule based for some common areas and exterior.
  3. Access control – Linked into HVAC and Lighting.
  4. Audio Visual – Features based on Access Control Permissions and room scheduling.
  5. Video Surveillance – this is significantly more important on a Campus.

Step Two: Adding a Voice to all devices targeted for automation — Older equipment likely has no capability for communications, and if it does then it may be speaking Navajo Code-talk (Windtalkers was that Nicolas Cage movie about the Navajo). In either case you need to identify all non-communicating equipment and plan for an add-on module to let it communicate and take commands. Pull out your big wallet for this one because a typical campus has a Lot of Equipment that needs control, but the energy savings quickly pay this back.

While there are a number of industry prominent communications protocols, you should plan to use the ASHRAE “BACnet” communications standard.

Step Three: Connecting HVAC, Lighting, Access, AV and Surveillance — Once you have all the equipment capable of communicating you will find that most equipment manufacturers have software to run their systems, but they don’t do a good job of talking to other manufacturers gear (i.e. Access control or Lighting Control). While there are a lot of Master Control Software packages on the market you need to start your search with one application called Niagara from Tridium Software (sometimes you just cant be generic). Niagara (or what ever application you choose) is that one ring to control them all. It will bring all the buildings and all the systems and link them to one control location on a single PC.

At this point in your studies you are beginning to see the bigger picture and methods of bridging everything together in the Intelligent Building. There is still more to learn before graduation, and if you missed the previous classes here is a list of articles to catch you up: