Getting to grips with connected products and solutions
posted by: Richard Jeffers, RS Components
Operating in an environmentally-friendly way is becoming ever more prevalent for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and there are corporate, social and commercial demands for buildings to operate more efficiently.
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This is shown by the ISO 14000 ‘family’ of standards being a recognised UK-wide accreditation for companies, alongside a growing momentum around the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED – a green building rating system developed by the United States Green Building Council) and the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) which was launched in the UK in 1990 and now applied to over 250,000 new building in 50 countries.
So, with change coming fast, for those working on products and systems to be integrated into buildings, it’s worth exploring further the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing availability of connected devices within buildings. Products to help with the mission of effective building management – a critical element in the performance of any business, and a key factor in its carbon footprint – will reap rewards and make the benefits of embracing industrial IoT for buildings hard to ignore.
Future-proofing in design
When specifying core components or sub-systems within a build or design it’s wise to think about those that have sensing, adaptive or communication capability built in as the default. This approach will future-proof the design and enable more intelligent functionality to be added – whether that’s data gathering, analysis or remote control. This applies to lighting, motor control and VSDs, and energy metering and management.
From an electronics perspective, there are an increasing number of platforms available aimed at reducing the design time and knowledge required to add sensing or connectivity to new or existing products. Recent examples of these are the RX65N Cloud Kit from RENESAS, and the Ambimate MS4 from TE Connectivity, which can be used in applications including energy management, indoor lighting and building automation. Both are suitable for industrial or commercial product development and reduce time to market while adding connectivity and capability that will be required in an increasingly IoT centric world.
Challenges and solutions within building management
There will always be challenges within building management, but the real enemy is the unforeseen, such as a HVAC malfunction or a power failure, which can reduce a business output significantly. There is the downtime in diagnosis of the problem and disruption to employees, and therefore productivity, while the fault is dealt with. Implementing IoT to connect equipment in a building is now easier than ever and facilities that can detect or predict potential failures can save a business both time and money.
There are a variety of solutions to help with connecting products and systems, and harnessing data that can be used to help with predictive maintenance, reducing unplanned maintenance and therefore downtime and disruption. The Siemens Mindsphere, for instance, is a cloud-based open IoT operating system to help keep the building, and therefore the business, running efficiently. Furthermore, the wealth of data gathered can be analysed and inform actionable insights for the business. This can be invaluable in paving the way for a predictive maintenance model. Likewise, EcoStruxture by Schneider offers a range of solutions ready built for the smart building.
Maximising the space usage in buildings is critical to managing both fixed and variable costs. The traditional model of a desk for every worker, regardless of whether they are in the building, is increasingly being replaced by technical solutions allocating desks to only those who are in the building, reducing the operational costs of operating the building, and allowing business to operate with a reduced physical footprint.
The potential of the converging world of products
Engineers developing new solutions for buildings, whether commercial or residential, are spoilt for choice when it comes to the functionality of readily available modules that can be used individually or integrated, where a single product can deliver a number of functions. From energy efficient lighting to heating, the technology is advancing all the time. But what is changing the landscape for design engineers is the high degree of control that can now be achieved with the emergence of convergent products featuring embedded technology. With the capability to communicate with other products and work on short range wireless systems, the new generation of leading-edge, high functionality products can be controlled in a more intelligent manner and provide valuable information to building users. This information can dictate the best energy management strategies to employ. The wireless element means they can be cost effectively built into a design from the beginning, and they can be standalone units or networked together at any stage.
At RS Components, we see the converging world of sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and wireless technology with microprocessors. These devices can be ultra-low power and allow for multiple devices and functions integrated into a small single board that can interface in numerous ways, to enable control and reporting of what is going on in one room.
These things are available today individually, and while there’s not one integrated solution available for all of them just yet, this is where we believe technology convergence is heading. Arduino paved the way and was adopted as a standard for development kits in providing a rapid prototyping environment, but many other brands such as Raspberry Pi, Dilan and Semtech are making development kit options much more plentiful. RS works with more than 100 different expert silicon manufacturers’ development kits offering a range of over 4,000, with the engineers’ choice including microprocessors, graphics, interfaces, power control, motion, radio frequency, sensor and signal conversion, among others.
Facility Managers are looking for one or more cohesive solution that integrates all the building functions for the users and provide management and security of that building in a secure and cost-effective way. The way to cater for this now, and in the future, is to make the most of the emerging technology and convergence opportunity it offers for full control of a building.
Throwing a light on energy efficiency
Implementing energy efficient systems can yield great savings, and a huge area for potential savings is lighting. Energy efficient lighting – particularly in a manufacturing setting and during the winter months when daylight is minimal – can have a significant impact on the bottom line. LEDs use far less energy than other lighting types and the lifespan is significantly higher – reducing maintenance burden. Add intelligent options to this already reduced energy solution, to ensure lighting is only provided when needed, and the savings can be dramatic.
Using connected solutions to monitor heating, lighting, power consumption and occupancy will help keep building maintenance lean and operations smooth, saving money and time.
It’s a real step in the right direction that LEED is gaining recognition in the UK and Ireland – and will only result in better, more efficient, greener ways of building management. However, an important enabler to LEED is a greater level of building connectivity, creating a building ecosystem which supports the sustainability and efficiency goals of LEED. So, getting to grips with the connected products and solutions available on the market today is certainly the way forward.
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