Q: Can you provide a “Building Management Systems 101” overview? There seems to be a lot of discussion out there, but varying rates (and levels) of adoption.
A: When Plato quoted, “Everything flows, nothing stands still,” we know he wasn’t talking about chilled water systems, nor the ever-evolving world of building management systems (BMS). Even Plato might be in awe of—and a bit perplexed by—the quickly changing, complex building systems managed by today’s controlled environments facilities professional.
BMS represent a big change, and opportunity, in the management and optimization of today’s laboratory, clean manufacturing, and supporting office environments. And, to remember our friend Plato, the BMS world is always flowing, never standing still. The capabilities attached to BMS are constantly evolving. The adoption of BMS has been somewhat sporadic, due in part to the complexity of how best to structure a BMS to meet physical plant and operational/business requirements. Following is a high level overview of the opportunities and challenges posed by BMS.
Building management systems: A definition
A building management system is a computer-enabled system that monitors, controls, and manages a building’s mechanical and electrical systems, the guts that make any controlled environment operational. Candidate components can include lighting, ventilation, power systems, security, and fire systems. Mission critical operations equipment can also be tied in, as can items as diverse as access/egress and energy controls. Systems can be linked—a classic example is connecting fire detection with air circulation systems and elevators—with signals from the first shutting down the other two.
Not only can BMS be used to coordinate and control a building’s systems, it can also be programmed to diagnose and alarm faults in equipment, controls, and even system operation. BMS can become the backbone of a facility maintenance program. By analyzing data and, for example, alarm patterns, it can aid in identifying and prioritizing equipment maintenance plans. Additionally, by monitoring building systems on an ongoing basis, BMS can detect performance slippage and assist with retro-commissioning to maximize system performance in alignment with original design criteria.
An integrated BMS is not limited to serving a single building. Meta systems can handle information from multiple buildings, especially useful in capital planning and maintenance operations. The ability to identify repetitive performance issues across multiple buildings can streamline facilities operations. At the other end, identifying high-performing buildings can streamline the development of best practices and drive performance improvements within the remaining buildings. The following key components comprise a BMS.
Hardware includes items like HVAC equipment, lighting, and other equipment that provide services to the building.
Sensors are the “eyes in the back of the facilities department’s head” that observe and monitor the performance of the equipment, within set parameters, on a 24/7 basis (without charging overtime, by the way).
Software aggregates data, analyzes conditions, and makes recommendations based on set parameters.
Middleware is that hybrid land of hardware and software that is the catalyst between the two.
User interfaces are where the rubber meets the road, and facilities professionals review the information and interact with the system. While standard on building management computer systems, user interfaces also can be connected to tablets and smart phones. Some components can be displayed on kiosks, for example, when you desire interaction with building occupants, including lab or clean facility personnel. The best user interfaces transform “data dumps” into text or images that are user-friendly and intuitive.
Energy optimization and BMS
While disciples of BMS in the facility department cite increased systems control, reduced maintenance costs, more predictable and accurate capital and maintenance planning, and improved productivity, there’s no denying that the drive for energy and resource efficiencies is a major factor influencing the increased adoption of BMS.
The impact of BMS on building efficiency can be broadly bucketed in three areas:
• More efficiently operating energy-consuming (and conserving) equipment
• Understanding the building base load and usage patterns while identifying opportunities to deploy additional energy saving modifications, equipment, or operational parameters within existing systems
• Identifying equipment faults—operating or structural—that are causing inefficient operations
Efficiencies gained through BMS are based on given performance constraints and demand response history. Renewable and alternate energy systems can be integrated, while the early ability to identify system faults minimizes both consumption and maintenance costs. It’s widely quoted by industry and vendors alike that building systems (including lighting) typically included in BMS account for approximately 70% of building energy usage. BMS systems that are improperly configured are believed responsible for 20% of building energy usage, translating into approximately 8% of total energy usage in the United States. The benefits of reducing that load, and ensuring a proper system configuration, are obvious.
Data on energy usage, coupled with business cycle, manufacturing load information, and external energy factors such as cost, can be managed both on active, real-time basis and as a predictor for future usage.
The bottom line: BMS produces data-rich information that savvy facilities departments can exploit to undertake energy monitoring, profiling, and modeling—leading to more informed decisions based on true energy usage patterns. Modeling facilitates opportunities to conduct exercises in “what if” with scenarios based on real-time, real-world data and increased accuracy in projections.
One key decision
A defining decision each facilities professional must make is how to configure their BMS, which systems to tie together, and whether to develop a proprietary system or purchase a vendor “plug and play” system. There’s no uniform “right” decision. Sub-systems to include in a BMS, based on operational requirements, cost, and ease of use, must be considered in determining a facility’s optimal configuration.
Perhaps most important is deciding the level of interdependency a facility can tolerate—whether to tie all major building components into one master BMS or to keep some systems discrete in their operations. Designing redundancy to keep operations going during a BMS failure is critical, and its configuration will depend upon the initial decision on which components are independently or master monitored.
A word about BIM and the future of BMS
In the September 2012 issue, I wrote about Building Information Modeling, or BIM. Buildings or renovations designed in BIM carry data-rich information that can be configured to facilitate ongoing maintenance and operations. Ranging from layout to materials, costs, equipment warranties, and beyond, the information contained in BIM can complement information gleaned from BMS. Linking and mining this information is an exciting possibility.
The wide scale adoption of BMS will benefit from the development and adoption of uniform standards, eliminating the current menu of too many protocols. Developing uniform standards will enable interoperability of products and remove the difficulty and limitations of selecting equipment utilizing the same protocols.
Uniform standards will also increase competition, resulting in lower prices and more quickly evolving BMS products. It will also diminish the quagmire facilities directors can find themselves in after selecting a vendor-supplied solution: Once in, they’re locked in to that brand. Having made a significant upfront investment, it’s difficult to change horses mid-race when you need to adapt or add to your facility’s BMS.
The development of uniform standards will also strengthen security, increasingly important in this cyber-insecure world. The development of industry standards has been successfully undertaken in electronics, telecommunications, and information technology.
At the end of the day, we, like Plato, should probably just accept the fact that “everything flows, nothing stands still.” BMS is another evolving opportunity in our field.
Richard Bilodeau’s 30-year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. He has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities and engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. Contact: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com
This article appeared in the October 2012 issue of Controlled Environments.