Use Intelligent Systems for Smart Facility Management

May 22, 2017 Alix Paultre, Embedded Computing Design Contributing Editor

To effectively manage a portfolio of buildings, owners need to be able to collect and analyze data from multiple sources and be able to view an actionable representation of that data, from any location. This is now possible, but only if building owners commit to adding the required sensors and control, and partnering with those with the expertise to install over legacy infrastructure and make sense of the data.

The potential benefits of this insight may at first seem to accrue only to the building owners and managers, in terms of improved efficiencies and cost reductions across multiple facilities. But on closer examination, this level of insight also benefits tenants, through better control of the environment and reliable, predictive maintenance of control systems and utilities.

Making Dumb Buildings Smart

To reap the benefits of data-based facilities management, buildings have to evolve from dumb, siloed blocks to fully connected, living entities with data-gathering sensors and actuators at every conceivable point. The days of the simple thermostat are gone: Building owners now need a dashboard view of every aspect of every facility, from the basements to the roofs, globally.

Technically speaking, a smart building can be defined as one that senses and controls as many parameters and functions as possible to achieve significant improvements in efficiency, reliability, processes, and overall performance. A good example is the energy savings possible by taking advantage of improved technology and materials in structure, appliances, electrical systems, plumbing, and HVACR. Through an automated process of monitoring and control, a smart building can also add to the comfort level of the occupants.

A tool built around Switch Automation's cloud-hosted IoT building management and automation platform can handle the tasks associated with electrical, heat, and lighting systems. This can be a key differentiator when designing a smart building. The Switch Smart Hub is a cloud-based control system that enables management to reach into every powered device in a building, using the Internet for any authorized user. Combined with intelligent hardware modules, the platform creates a complete infrastructure management solution for any building.

The key to such a system is that it must be able to integrate with various infrastructures, because a solution that doesn't fit can't work. The Smart Switch Hub can function with any building's subsystem that supports integration, including those that are not network or Internet capable, as the connection is provided by the system. Ease of integration is key, as a solution that costs too much or is too much of an effort to implement is no solution at all.

Hardware and Software

Switch Automation's Smart Switch Hub also underscores the importance of software in hardware systems. Once upon a time, a powered system could be put into place without having to even know what software meant. But today, software is a primary value-add to almost every electrical or electronic system. Proper software and hardware integration is key to a successful smart building's operation, safety, and reliability.

In an integrated hardware/software system, the traditional physical controls are not replaced but overlaid with a software control layer that directs those hardware systems in their operation (Figure 1). A dashboard for operation of those systems can be viewed on a laptop or smartphone to directly monitor and control those systems remotely. Using pre-integrated, pre-validated hardware and software building blocks from Intel®, Switch Automation's gateway enables the connectivity of legacy devices and other systems to the IoT.

Figure 1. Switch Automation's cloud-based control provides a software layer to centrally monitor and control buildings and systems. (Source: Switch Automation)

Remote monitoring and management is an incredible force multiplier. Today you can turn the lights out or change the temperature in your building in London from your office in Los Angeles. This applies to every powered system, from the doors to the elevators to the signage on the outside. No longer must a manager have a person on-site to ensure basic facility tasks get done.

That also means that the hardware must be reliable, which is why good partnerships are key. That's why Switch Automation partnered with Intel to create the Smart Switch Hub platform. Hardware is needed to run the software and implement its commands, and a system as a whole is only as good as its processors and the software running on it.

Intel®'s IoT Gateway technology provides a platform with seamless and secure data flow between building devices and the cloud. The company's technology gives cloud-based smart buildings secure access to both data and things in commercial buildings. This intelligent architecture allows the building manager to connect to disparate building equipment and devices wherever they are. This is both a function of the physical connection between devices and software to translate and interpret the various communication protocols involved to ensure seamless integration. The gateway then sends the data to cloud-based services and applications for business intelligence, analytics, and display on dashboards.

Knowledge is Power

Just being able to look at a building's systems and control them doesn't automatically equate to improved performance, safety, and efficiency, as even the best tool won't work if not guided properly. Management is about taking information, making decisions, and implementing them to best use the resources available. A true smart-building solution will also address the data management side, and Switch Automation's platform does this as well.

The task begins with the deployment of sensors to acquire real-time operational information. The data can't just be collected; it must be put into context to enable management to properly use it. Historical performance information, facility device integration, and tagging priority systems are also important, as an effective solution must understand past performance, system components, and management priorities.

The Smart Switch platform provides a built-in user interface with dashboards that not only enable monitoring and control but can also produce charts and display graphs of analytics to support fault detection, diagnostics, and alerts. These capabilities offer building managers some significant benefits, from simple operational convenience to the ability to access all building-related data on any web-enabled device from anywhere, anytime, in a preferred reporting format.

Efficiency gains come from multiple interrelated and cascading benefits, from avoiding the redundancies of running multiple systems, to the ability to view, analyze, and interpret building-related data in a single platform, from anywhere. The platform can give valuable insights into a building's operation, with analysis tools to allow building managers to benchmark costs and consumption patterns across their holdings. The platform can even aid with managing occupant behavior. By displaying energy consumption in a visually pleasing format, occupants can be encouraged to reduce their usage.

Simple Yet Sophisticated

Even the best solution can't be used properly if it is difficult to implement or use. The Smart Switch Hub platform allows a manager to monitor and control lighting, air conditioning, access control, and other systems remotely from a central operations center or other office with a simple, unified interface for all building operations. By providing analytics and diagnostics, the platform helps management develop an accurate assessment of building performance with useful data, including real-time alerts. In addition, integrating a range of energy reporting devices with local environmental information enables managers to compare building performance across a campus or worldwide.

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