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Putting Open Systems To Work

Facility executives report success with LonWorks technology

By BOM Editorial Staff   Building Automation

Special Report Prepared for LonMark International

A little more than a decade ago, the idea that building systems from disparate vendors could communicate and interoperate was something that facilities executives merely dreamed about. Today, that dream is turning into a demand as these same facilities executives are taking vendors up on their promise to deliver more open systems.

To meet the market expectation, systems vendors are turning to LonWorks technologies to help customers automate operations and reduce costs.

LonWorks — “Lon” stands for local operating network — is an open platform for connecting building systems to each other and the Internet, regardless of manufacturer. The concept is similar to how computers connect with each other and the Internet. The LonWorks networking technology eliminates the need for custom hardware and software interfaces among systems, meaning that facilities executives can select the best equipment based on cost and need.

A facilities executive’s introduction to LonWorks is often a demand for more interoperability among elements of the HVAC system.

When William Waterhouse, chief engineer for Frauenshuh Companies, wanted to update the HVAC system in the Lawson Commons office building last spring, he already knew which system he wanted to use — and it wasn’t the one installed when the building was completed in September 1999. The Lawson Commons — a 423,000-square-foot, Class A office building located in St. Paul — is the world headquarters building for Lawson Software, Minnesota’s largest software company.

“The existing system wasn’t user friendly, and it was going to cost $65,000 to repair,” Waterhouse says. “At that point, it was easier to switch vendors.”

Unfortunately, easier didn’t necessarily translate to cost effective, Waterhouse says. It would have cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to replace the entire legacy system.

In the past, Waterhouse might have had no choice but to patch the ailing HVAC system and limp along until it was beyond repair.

With LonWorks products, however, Waterhouse was able to replace the failed equipment with components from a new vendor and save the portions of the original system that still worked. For example, Waterhouse was able to integrate the existing variable air volume boards with the new equipment, allowing him to schedule replacements at a comfortable pace of 40 to 50 boards each year.

“We saved in upfront costs and with the new system, we have less out-of-pocket costs,” Waterhouse says. “We’ve taken something that wasn’t very good, and made it more user-friendly, solid and state-of-the-art.”

While Waterhouse moved to an open approach because he was dissatisfied with the performance of the existing system, Matthew Browne was content with the proprietary energy management control system from his original equipment vendor. With 16 years of experience with the system, Browne, energy manager for the Alief Independent School District in southwest Houston, felt comfortable writing programs and troubleshooting the system.

In 2003, however, Browne discovered that no matter how well they work, proprietary technologies aren’t always an option. That summer, two of the district’s elementary schools were undergoing a mechanical retrofit of water source heat pumps.

Because of the short time line, Browne asked that his preferred energy management control system be factory-installed. The equipment supplier declined to install the control system, but presented LonWorks as an alternative.

Fortunately, the proprietary system offered modules integrating with any LonWorks network. Now, 52 of the school district’s 54 buildings are managed through the proprietary system or communicate with it via the LonWorks network. “We now have four buildings with LonWorks heat pumps, rooftop units, fan coils and makeup air units that communicate with the existing system,” he says.

‘You Have No Control’

To Victor Atherton, associate vice president for facilities administration at the University of Miami, “proprietary” is a dirty word. With 120 buildings in use and five buildings planned or under construction, he says it’s a logistical and an economic nightmare to make products from one vendor fit into every single building automation application.

The school’s new buildings include a music library, which will house CDs and other music-related material, and a communications building. Other facilities include buildings for architecture and nursing programs along with more generic educational spaces such as classrooms and faculty offices.

Located in Coral Gables, Fla., the University of Miami is one of the largest private research universities in the Southeastern United States. With 4 million square feet of facility space to maintain, Atherton must spend his budget wisely. But in a proprietary world, that’s not always possible.

For example, if one vendor’s equipment doesn’t perform well or if the service isn’t up to standard, as in Waterhouse’s case, the expense can be great. “If I don’t like the way they’re giving me service, I’m stuck, and I’m mad, and costs are adding up,” Atherton says. The only way to improve the situation is to make an expensive, lengthy leap to replace the entire system.

“I want freedom, but I don’t want to rip out everything I have,” Atherton says. “Facility people are tired of the proprietary world. Once you have their stuff, you’re at their mercy. There is a lot of pressure for all schools to competitively bid, but you can’t do that in a proprietary world.”

The situation can be even worse in multibuilding campuses where each building has a different system. “You’re looking at five or six screens all the time,” Atherton says. “You’re dealing with five different service providers with probably five levels of service. You have no control over anything.”

Even when the same vendor supplies all systems, there’s no guarantee that new systems will be compatible with older versions, he says.

Atherton says that with LonWorks technology, he is able to stock up on parts through competitive bidding or by shopping for the best deal on service. “We can pull a board or device and fix it immediately with the parts we have on hand,” he says. “Using LonWorks-based products gives us a lot of control. That’s the whole reason open technology came about. Every time the world changes, things get better for the customer. Now multiple service providers can competitively bid to maintain nonproprietary systems.”

Atherton is building new facilities that will take advantage of the open platform technology for the HVAC systems. “The five new buildings are all going to have LonWorks-based systems. Then we’re going to integrate existing buildings so we’re going to have one screen to look at.”

The LonWorks network will be expanded with each building renovation. In the next five to 10 years, Atherton expects the campus to migrate to an entirely LonWorks-based control system.

But Atherton wants more than just the HVAC system to be interoperable. He wants all building systems on his open network.

“I’m on personal crusade,” he said. “I’ve walked up to fire alarm system providers and asked them when they’re going to provide a LonWorks-based system, and they hemmed and hawed. They need to wake up.”

New Ways

Wayne Wiebe, vice president of Kenmark Controls, Inc. understands exactly what Atherton is saying. Kenmark Controls, which manages building automation for its sister company, Kenmark Real Estate Group, is developing new ways to use LonWorks networking inside and outside a building.

The technology is used in six buildings for functions ranging from simple HVAC control to more complex energy-saving schemes.

LonWorks networking also is being used for innovative security applications. For example, in Kenmark’s 100,000 square foot Tiffany building, located on San Francisco’s prestigious Union Square, the LonWorks network controls elevator access to certain floors.

A LonWorks network is also being used to manage the irrigation system of a three-building complex in Monterey, Calif. Water is an expensive commodity there, and the community is very conservation-oriented.

LonWorks-based products will take temperature readings throughout the landscaping and then help determine how long the irrigation should run. When it comes time for the landscaper to check the spray heads, that person will be able to walk through the grounds and turn on the various irrigation stations through a wireless interface found on WAP-enabled devices. WAP, or wireless application protocol, is a communication open platform like LonWorks found in many name-brand cell phones.

“If it saves water, it can be a really good conservation tool,” Wiebe says.

Doing the Numbers

In a more formal study of the LonWorks platforms’ conservation potential, Kenmark Controls and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. recently completed a joint study, funded by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to determine how effective the technology could be in curbing energy consumption during peak usage periods.

The study, which took place on at the 500,000-square-foot Echelon campus at a former retail site in San Jose, also examined how tenants would respond to broadcast requests to cut power. Kenmark manages the property.

The study showed that with a LonWorks-based automation system, energy usage could be cut up to 60 percent in some cases over a two-hour period. When energy consumption reached a predetermined level, the LonWorks network cut back on the HVAC system, and a message was sent to tenants asking them to voluntarily reduce overhead lighting. Office workers were able to control the lighting above their work spaces with an Internet-based system.

“When you get people to participate in energy conservation, everything works out better,” Wiebe says. “We’re all rowing in the same direction.”

Wiebe says this technology could be taken a step further by establishing energy presets for each office. Through the Internet, employees could customize their own office temperatures and overhead lighting levels — a level of control that Echelon’s employees already have. Sensors also could be installed in rooms used less frequently, such as conference rooms, so that lighting and HVAC systems would come on only when the room was occupied.

This is only the beginning, Wiebe says. LonWorks networking can be applied to maintenance management as well. For example, sensors can determine when filters are dirty or lights are burned out and send messages to maintenance staff to correct the problem. All of this, in fact, would run on a single building automation system built on top of the LonWorks platform.

For Atherton’s part, that can’t happen fast enough. “Open technology will make our life much simpler,” he says. “With competitive pricing and service, the capability is there to do it yourself, to stock parts, to reduce costs. We would be free from a proprietary monster.”

About LonMark International

For more than a decade members of LonMark International have been developing and promoting open systems communication using LonWorks device networks.

LonMark International is a non-profit organization with more than 300 members in 31 countries. Its membership includes manufacturers, distributors, engineers, system integrators and end-users.

The LonMark open systems standard is designed to create a seamless network from proprietary architectures and control systems, allowing facilities executives to select systems and devices best suited for their facilities.

“LonMark International is widely recognized for its dynamic communication profiles that define the essential characteristics of devices used in lighting, security, HVAC, elevators, fire detection, window blinds and more,” says Barry Haaser, executive director of LonMark International. “The profiles have been implemented in nearly 600 LonMark-certified devices and controllers offered by leading controls vendors.”

Recently, LonMark announced the formation of LONMARK Americas. This new organization provides local support for more than 120 manufacturers, integrators, distributors and facility professionals in North America.

For more information on LonMark Americas, call 949-428-6288.


LonMark International Announces Open Systems Strategies Seminars

LonMark International is providing a series of seminars to help facilities executives make the transition from proprietary to open systems.

The Building Open Systems Seminar program is intended to provide consistent information on specifying, deploying and maintaining open systems. Seminar material will be presented by industry experts familiar with the construction cycle and key issues impacting facilities.

Companies such as Circon Systems, Distech Controls, Echelon, Engenuity Systems, Honeywell, Hubbell Building Automation, Siemens Building Technology and Tour Andover Controls are sponsoring the seminar program. The program is also endorsed by CABA and LonMark Americas. The seminar series is scheduled to begin in February 2005 with stops in 20 North American cities.

“It is very clear that there is still a tremendous amount of confusion and misinformation regarding open systems in buildings today,” says Barry Haaser, executive director of LonMark International. “The primary goal of this seminar program is to help industry professionals navigate through the noise associated with Open Systems to deliver what their customers really want.”


LonMark Defines Open Systems

The LonMark Open System Definition, recently released by LonMark International, defines characteristics of device networks that range in size from a few devices to enterprise applications. The document describes the five key elements of an open device network: system behaviors, devices, connectivity, device interfaces, and network software and tools.

LonMark International authored the Open System Definition to address the need for system-level specifications and solutions. The specification will become a road map for the organization to establish certification criteria for each element of the system. Over time, it will be possible to write an open system specification identifying the elements of the system. This would allow any product in the system to be sourced from multiple suppliers and an open bidding environment to be maintained for service and maintenance.

A key element of the Open System Definition document involves enterprise connectivity. LonMark International is actively working with the Open Building Information Xchange (oBIX) Committee, a committee within the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to create an internationally accepted standard for using XML to integrate building automation systems with enterprise systems and other applications.


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  posted on 2/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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