Today’s building owners and facilities managers are no longer content for industrial appliances to operate independently. Today, they’re practically demanding that protocols – like BACnet – be integrated into their equipment and appliances.
However, this has left control system designers with a dilemma. Do they embrace BMS protocols – specifically BACnet – and, if so, how strongly? What they may find is that truly embracing BACnet protocols at the control system, and then pushing BACnet data into the cloud could open doors and enable previously unimaginable capabilities.
To BACnet or not to BACnet?
The world of industrial protocols is complicated and ever-changing. New elements, objects and parameters require diligence in remaining, “up to version.” Compliance and interoperability are foreign concepts to previously isolated gear.
Yet far from slowing down, embedding a BACnet stack, and weaving the protocol into the very circuitry of the HVAC unit – or any other industrial equipment – is becoming increasingly crucial for the long-term viability of the manufacturer.
This is especially true when you in the heating and air conditioning space, where moving from HVAC to “virtual HVAC” can generate significant benefits for both the equipment owner and manufacturer. But only if their BMS protocol extends deep enough into the control system.
Moving From HVAC to vHVAC
Equipment manufacturers designing either embedded or external BMS protocol support often assume or imply that there is a demarcation point. The BMS protocol extends to the edge of the equipment but can’t and won’t be let into the inner working of the control system.
This “stand-off” approach is less intrusive, less costly and delivers a faster time to market. However, it may also hinder the ability to deliver the performance and capabilities that bound to be requested by the sales and marketing teams in the not-too-distant future.
Integrating a BACnet protocol deep into the logic and control functions of the HVAC unit, as well as the analog and electrical systems, enables full and complete monitoring of all the individual elements.
With the ability to monitor the inner workings of a unit in the field at the level of a unit on the work-bench, the manufacturer can then consider additional sensors or monitor points. These could allow them to measure air flow at the vent, or air temp, or read specific voltage levels for key wiring points.
Without the tools to measure the results, it makes no sense to add additional control and monitoring elements. But with a monitoring protocol woven into the control fabric, it’s now possible to view a unit in the field via a BMS protocol at the same level as a unit in the lab.
This enables the OEM to envision a three-dimensional rendering of a unit in the field, operating under load, returning real-time operational data to technicians or support teams. This is the end result of creating a virtual HVAC (vHVAC).
But to truly gain access to all of these benefits, data first needs to be pushed to the cloud.
Get to the Cloud!
Weaving a standardized protocol like BACnet, throughout an industrial system – such as an HVAC – enables a fundamental shift in monitoring, maintaining and managing field-installed equipment.
Support, service and managing down-time is initially the largest cost savings/driver. Monitoring equipment and alarming on faults – sometimes before the customer knows there is a problem – is a competitive advantage.
Arming technicians with detailed insight into the nature of the failure for remote diagnostic and repair – or ensuring the field service tech has the appropriate parts on-board before leaving – demonstrates a commitment to customer service and reducing downtime.
This can all be accomplished when the BMS data is pushed up into the cloud and sent back to the OEM for analysis.
This is especially important for OEMs because the operational data about the equipment that they’ve built and sold often ends up solely in the hands of the customers or their designees – facilities managers, floor managers, home owners, etc. Ironically, these are often the least qualified people to repair equipment or restore functionality when there is a problem.
Manufacturers need to insist on cloud-based access to the operational data of their field deployed devices. But rather than simply forwarding data to a local BMS, they need to also send the same packets into a manufacturer’s specific device management cloud. This would help to enable the service benefits that I discussed above, while also giving manufacturers and system designers detailed operational data that can help them to better know their own products.
Many control system engineers have been asked or required to add a BMS protocol like BACnet to their systems. But that requirement is often minimal and short-sighted.
Rather than a “necessary evil” to be held at bay, re-imagine the role of BACnet and what doors it can open. Chose partners who have a long-term vision and can bring embedded and cloud capabilities. By embracing BACnet – or other BMS protocols – more fully, OEMs can reap significant benefits that make knowing and repairing their equipment easier.