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Traveling the Open Systems Road
Whether they are responsible for a large multinational operation or a single owner-occupied office building, facilities executives increasingly recognize the benefits of interoperable systems. Indeed, today the question is not whether an open system should be used to accomplish objectives like improving energy management or increasing flexibility; rather, the question is how to be sure that the planned system truly is open.
To do that, facilities executives have to decide what they need from the interoperable system. Once needs are determined, facilities executives should analyze their operations. This analysis will help determine exactly what the system will control. With this information, they then can begin selecting interoperable products.
Moving toward interoperability begins by determining the organization’s present and future needs. How far open systems are applied then depends on sound business judgment for the situation.
“What do you need from your facility?” asks Andrew Wilcox, global marketing manager for Trane. “Once you know what you need, you’ll know what systems need to interoperate.”
Answering that question requires facilities executives to take a broad look at the organization.
“It’s important to understand that interoperability brings with it a responsibility to address the needs of the enterprise,” says Terry Hoffmann, director of marketing, building automation systems, Johnson Controls. “You need to know how the open system is going to be applied to meet the needs of the enterprise. How does the control system impact the mission and objectives of the organization? For example, in industrial applications, the production process often is more important than saving energy.”
Every facility has its own needs. Consider a convenience store, where, in addition to lighting, HVAC and security, managers are concerned with syrup levels in drink machines and fuel levels in the outside gas pumps, two major income-producing areas for convenience stores. “The store manager needs minimum downtime in those two areas because they drive income for the business,” says Dave Molin, general manager for Honeywell. With interoperable systems, convenience store managers can monitor multiple systems and improve sales potential.
For facilities executives managing office and mixed-use buildings, such as Wayne Wiebe, senior vice president of Kenmark Real Estate, needs are determined by conducting a cost-benefit analysis using life cycle costing techniques. Kenmark manages the building that Echelon occupies. Echelon is the producer of the LonWorks technology integral to producing LonMark’s open certified products.
As energy management is a major cost consideration for Echelon’s commercial building, Wiebe begins by reviewing utility costs and incentives to figure out a payback period for any interoperability improvements. “We use life cycle costing in our analyses because we also need to know how much the improvement will cost to maintain,” says Wiebe. “Then, because LonMark technology is not proprietary, we can competitively bid the installation and the maintenance.”
As part of analyzing needs, a look at facility operations helps facilities executives decide where interoperability can have the most immediate impact. More importantly, the operations analysis will point to future areas that also could benefit from interoperable options.
“Look at the way the owner wants the building to work,” says Mark Bergman, director, controls, McQuay International. “Maybe part of the staff starts early, around 7 a.m., in one section of the building. These areas need to be conditioned and lit when they are going to be occupied. Maybe in another part of the building there are 24-hour operations.”
“Identify all opportunities for control, regardless of whether you plan to implement them in your first go-around,” says Hoffmann. “Then, prioritize them and use that as your roadmap for interoperability. This allows you to upgrade on a regular basis.”
Another factor to consider is operator requirements. “What management information do you need out of your system?” asks Thomas M. Kenna, director, knowledge support at TAC. “You also need to look at features from a service or maintenance standpoint and consider what other systems you may want to integrate later.”
When conducting an operations analysis, facilities executives should consider the lifespans of the individual elements in the building. For example, desktop computers often are too outdated to perform optimally after four years, but a centrifugal chiller may have a useful life exceeding 30 years.
“You want to make sure that as things change in the building’s lifetime, all elements keep running through their individual useful lives,” says Bergman. An interoperable system can help make that goal a reality.
With LonMark, profiles define data and how it’s presented from equipment. For example, in chillers, there are comfort controls, discharge air, variable air volume and chiller controls profiles, among others. LonMark members have agreed how data from these elements communicate so that when everything is LonMark-certified the systems will work together smoothly, both today and 10 years from now.
“The building operator has to be able to get in the mind of the air-conditioning system to troubleshoot it,” says Bergman. “Using a well-defined protocol and LonMark profiles, an older chiller can communicate with a new building automation system.”
Wiebe calls that “the futureproof feature” of products carrying the LonMark certification logo. The LonMark logo indicates that a product has completed LonMark International’s conformance tests and is designed to interoperate across a LonWorks network.
“We don’t have to worry about a central developer because we can rely on the free enterprise system to respond to our needs,” he says.
For instance, if water for irrigation is expensive, a LonWorks-integrated irrigation system can adjust watering based on weather data, temperature, wind speed and relative humidity. That way, the irrigation system can be used to respond to real plant needs, based on measurable information, rather than simply watering every day during a set time frame.
Writing down needs
“The best way to analyze operations is by writing a specification,” says Barry Haaser, executive director of LonMark International. “The specification process forces you to deal with all of the key elements of the system.” LonMark Americas recently published “Facility Automation System Master Specification,” a free resource to help facilities executives write open, interoperable specifications.
That specification is designed to be modified for specific projects. To that end, the document is available in Microsoft Word format, so that it can be easily edited or exported into other documents. The free specification can be downloaded from the LonMark Americas site or the LonMark International Web site.
“Anyone reading this specification will notice that there are no products, manufacturers or recommended suppliers listed,” says Ron Bernstein, vice chairman of LonMark Americas. LonMark Americas is an affiliate in LonMark International’s global strategic network, representing members in North, South and Latin America. “This specification exemplifies the true mission of LonMark, facilitating the opportunity for everyone to work together to create solutions for the common good.”
“We find that most people want open systems because they want to achieve vendor independence,” says Haaser. “A true open system will deliver just that. You should be able to add anything to the network that is certified by LonMark International, whether it is a VAV box, thermostat, emergency generator, window blind, access controller, chiller — you name it.”
LonMark’s open system philosophy allows building elements to be connected seamlessly, regardless of the subsystem. In other words, there should be direct connectivity between individual elements of HVAC, lighting, security, access control, life safety, energy meters, generator sets and other devices on the same network without needing gateways and protocol converters.
“These products are easily identifiable because they have the distinctive LonMark logo printed on them,” says Haaser. “This means they have been tested and certified by LonMark International. Beware of companies offering ‘compatible’ or ‘compliant’ products.”
Currently, there remain products such as fully programmable controllers, network interfaces, routers and some network tools that are not LonMark certifiable. However, Haaser is quick to note, “We are working on solutions now that will support the certification of all system elements. At the end of the day, we believe the only true open system is one that can have any element of the system replaced with another vendor’s product.”
Finding an integrator
Who can a facilities executive hire to assure the planned open system really performs as expected? The answer is both simple and complex — an educated and experienced integrator.
“There are many qualified integrators available,” says Haaser. Most companies offering LonMark certified products have qualified integrators as part of their dealer or installer network. On the Web, Echelon has an extensive list of integrators that belong to their Open Systems Alliance (OSA) program. Another online resource is the membership listing on the LonMark Web site.
Steve Nguyen, director of corporate marketing at Echelon, says that under the OSA program, integrators are trained in LonWorks technology and use LonMark certified devices. Such integrators have bought into a business model that has some inherent risk. “If they don’t do a good job, they can be displaced,” Nguyen says. “Someone else can use the same open tools and take over that system from a maintenance perspective.”
“Later this year we plan to unveil a new program that will test and certify integrators,” says Haaser. “This system integrator certification program will allow us to create an extensive catalog of qualified integrators.”
In the meantime, facilities executives planning to hire an open systems integrator should use the same care in this selection that they use when hiring any outside contractor. “Make sure they have some track record and then check their references,” says Wilcox.
“Locate other facilities with interoperable application needs that are similar to yours,” says Hoffmann. “The best way to find a good integrator is to find a happy customer.”
“It’s still a complicated industry,” says Molin. “The integrators that take care of their facilities customers should get the lion’s share of the work.”
Questions for Vendors
For facilities executives who want the benefits of open systems, Barry Haaser, executive director of LonMark International, suggests asking the following simple questions:
The mission of LonMark International today is the same as it was in 1994, when the organization was founded by 36 companies: to enable easy integration of multivendor systems based on LonWorks networks. Today, the organization has several hundred members, including not only manufacturers, but also end-users, equipment specifiers and system integrators.