Over the years, building automation systems have evolved in technology and Design. We have witnessed a decentralization of hardware and Software, which has significantly reduced the complexity of use and maximized flexibility. Let’s see specifically what it is and how we can approach the Design of a building automation system. Over the years, building automation systems have evolved in technology and Design.
We have witnessed a decentralization of hardware and Software, which has significantly reduced the complexity of use and maximized flexibility. On the one hand, this has allowed for an increase in interconnected devices, facilitating an increasingly similar approach to the concept of ” plug and play ” and, on the other hand, has increased the need for interoperability and synchronization. Let’s see specifically what it is and how we can approach the Design of a building automation system.
What Is Building Automation
When we talk about Building Automation, we refer to interconnected systems that include hardware and software components. They are aimed at managing and supervising the processes of a building and making it possible to evaluate their performance and maximize uptime (time for the correct operation of the systems compared to the desired time for operation). A building automation system consists of the following:
- Sensors: devices capable of detecting a quantity by interacting with it. They are deployed in the environment to capture parameters and send them as data.
- Controller: devices for collecting and processing the data sent by the sensors so that they can be sorted towards the individual connected users
- Output Devices: actuators of the commands received from the controllers so that the utilities perform what is requested
- Communication Protocol: a language that allows the various users to communicate with each other and with the system
- Operator Interface: the user interface that allows the operator to interact with the system (usually, we mean a centralized control unit or a web interface that allows access even remotely)
- Utilities: single technological devices, plants and connected systems
Design The Architecture Of A Building Automation System
Let’s explore the three types of approaches to the Design and implementation of these systems:
- Centralized hardware and Software
- Distributed hardware and centralized Software
- Distributed Hardware and Distributed Software
Centralized Hardware And Software
In a system in which hardware and Software are centralized, there is a single central unit containing almost all the hardware and Software required for the plant. This system was initially the most popular as it is very simple to design. On the other hand, it could be more flexible during its useful life.
- ease of Design and maintenance (few components, almost all at the same point)
- no interoperability problems
Points Of Attention
- need for massive incoming and outgoing cabling from the central unit (to reach all points of the field)
- need for huge masonry works on existing buildings
- very little flexibility in case of need for expansion
- impossibility to implement scenarios of functioning (e.g. “day” or “night” mode in which fixtures and lights are automatically set in a certain way).
Distributed Hardware And Centralized Software
In a system where hardware is distributed, and Software is centralized, there is a central controller, typically a computer, which runs some software. This computer (sometimes even just one processor) is connected to various peripheral units with no operating system. Each peripheral unit performs its function.
- ease of updating the Software
- greater ease of expansion (basically with components of the same brand)
- the possibility of customization (implementation of commands) and creation of scenarios through software programming
- less wiring (although still present)
Points Of Attention
- more complicated Design
- higher cost
- need to wire each room (from the room controller to the utilities to be controlled)
Distributed Hardware And Distributed Software
These systems are the most current and can be found in public, industrial and residential buildings. Each system comprises several subsystems (each of which has its controller), and their effectiveness depends on the presence of a stable internet connection and a wireless interconnection of all the users to be controlled using protocols that ensure interoperability.
- ease of updating and customization
- greatly reduced wiring: they are perfect for existing buildings
- the possibility of a single controller for large numbers of users
- high user experience even for non-technical users: the possibility of controlling the various users via the APP
- uptime: in case of failure of a controller, only the relative subsystem will stop
Points Of Attention
- more complicated Design
- possible interoperability problems between users
- need for a single APP/controller as a single user interface point (which otherwise finds itself having to use too many apps and risks creating confusion)
- exposure to vulnerabilities of cybersecurity
Which System Is Better To Implement?
For several years I have also been involved in the setting (management and non-operational) of building automation systems, and I was lucky enough to see all three of the types described. The first type is the one that has always created more problems, mainly related to flexibility, both in terms of the possibility of expansion and innovation (upgrades and new features). At first, the customer is enthusiastic, but with each request for change or implementation, being told no or the need for high costs makes using the system frustrating.
In my experience, the third typology is by far the best for issues of flexibility and customization, two keywords for interacting today with both residential and industrial users: the idea of a system with very low wiring and high customization fits all needs and allows us to ask for higher fees in the face of undoubtedly greater benefits (but let us remember that unfortunately in the customer’s perception, these two factors are never linearly interdependent). Furthermore, this type of system does not require the customer to have high technological skills.
The customer can delegate the maintenance and operational part to the supplier (who often offers technology with the SaaS = Software as a Service approach), keeping the experiential setting phase for himself (which often interests him the most). The approach is that of the driver, who wants to enjoy the car and relies on the mechanic for any other matter.
The third type is, in fact, very simple to manage thanks to a front end with a high user experience. The idea of managing/monitoring one’s building from a smartphone via an APP tickles anyone and gives a strong sense of control (having everything under control even if one is not technically an expert) combined with a sense of freedom (I can access my building automation system even if I’m on the other side of the globe).
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