The Internet of Things (IoT) is the new hype that is quickly transforming many industries, and building design and construction is no exception.
As part of this trend, three things are happening:
- Edge devices now have embedded computing, communication and data storage capabilities. This allows them to have built-in processing and control functions like small computers, thus making them smart. Miniaturization of electronics and rapidly reducing costs are enabling this transition.
- Cloud technologies are being leveraged extensively to store, process, analyze and interpret data collected from a vast array of devices and sensors in an efficient, secure and cost-effective manner.
- A number of new services and offerings based primarily on data and analytics are getting created, like predictive diagnostics and condition-based retro commissioning.
For a very long time, buildings have had sensors in them and data was collected from those sensors to make control decisions. So, in a way, IoT has been present in the buildings industry for the last 40 years. However, new technology capabilities and economics are allowing for rapid proliferation of IoT technologies in the buildings industry. The smart building systems market is expected to exceed $180 billion in the next few years. Increasingly, smart capabilities are being pushed to edge devices, be it chillers, pumps or lighting fixtures. This transition is helping in many ways:
- Equipment and systems in buildings can be monitored to better understand their operational performance. This data can be gathered and used for predictive diagnostics to forecast future performance. This helps maximize the life and value of the asset.
- More targeted energy conservation measures can be identified, implemented and tracked because we can now collect and analyze data at a very granular level.
- Operating costs of building systems and facilities can be reduced because we can now better optimize functions and systems at multiple levels. We can optimize the working of an individual hydronic system or a chilled water system or a space or any other dimension of a building. Because we can now understand the interoperability of sub-systems better, we can diagnose and address the root cause of the problem better, e.g., instead of just looking at a chiller’s operation we can also optimize the pumping network serving it.
- We can better implement life safety and health measures by integrating multiple mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems together.
- Occupants can now interact with building systems to provide real-time feedback. The job of facility managers becomes easier because there is more automation and intelligence in the systems. Productivity of people working in the buildings also improves with more smart applications.
IoT technologies help simplify the installation and commissioning of MEP systems during the construction phase of a building. The configuration process for devices and systems can be simplified with more plug-and-play capabilities. For example, now your chillers come with built-in connectivity and self-describing capabilities. Once you commission and connect the chiller, it can start communicating with a cloud-based analytics platform that will provide operational insights and predictive diagnostics capabilities — all of this done with negligible effort and little extra cost. You can implement smart valve-actuators with smart air-side systems connected to a configurable control system and complete the project much quicker.
During the operating phase of buildings, the maintenance activities become much simpler because now you can identify problems and opportunities based on data, and do it quickly. Because you have more intelligence built into your systems, your dependence on rare-to-find technical expertise is reduced. You can now become more proactive, predictive and responsive.
There are also several long-term implications for MEP contractors and service providers. Here are some examples:
- Devices and systems are easier to connect to and self-configuring; complexities are getting reduced. The amount of labor required for activities involving installation and commissioning of extra-low voltage (ELV) systems and IT networks will get reduced.
- Companies in MEP must train their staff to be more conversant with communications networks, cybersecurity and wireless technologies. All MEP devices and systems will be impacted by IoT. The transition is well underway for large mechanical systems and ELV systems.
- There might be a convergence between trades. For example, it might become easier for mechanical contractors to install some ELV systems because the devices and systems now come with built-in plug-and-play connectivity, computing and data storage.
It is important for MEP contractors and service providers to stay ahead of the curve and benefit from the new technical capabilities. Start by working with OEMs to better understand how they are implementing IoT technologies in their products and services, and how your life will be made simpler by them.
Companies with extensive experience in the markets and with a wide range of smart products are helping to make buildings more efficient. Contractors and service providers should focus more on building long-term relationships with these OEMs and technology companies, because a strong collaboration will provide a smooth ride through this transformative journey.
Sudhi Sinha is a business leader with 18 years global experience in technology and general management. He started his career designing and developing database management systems and business intelligence systems. Currently responsible for global engineering and product development for building technology and services for Johnson Controls as vice president of Product Development, Sinha is also responsible for the various Big Data initiatives in Johnson Controls in this role. He has written extensively on various technical and management topics including applying Big Data in different aspects of business. His book titled “Making Big Data Work For Your Business” was published in October 2014 by Impackt Publishers of UK. Sinha holds a degree in Production Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He currently resides in Milwaukee, USA.