KEEP IT SMART – Basics #1: What is a Smart Building?
What is a Smart Building?
When it comes to defining anything as ‘smart’, you’ll find plenty of websites burgeoning with technobabble and hype. Instead, let’s break the term smart building down to the basics.
A building contains multiple devices e.g. lights, air-conditioning units, fridges, elevators which function independently of each other. Devices that are networked together or fitted with independent sensors can be monitored to record how each device is used, such as what time a building occupant turns a device on or off or varies the settings.
At this point the devices’ sensors operate in silos with no integration or cross-comparison of data. Now let’s add in an additional layer of sensor communication. Each sensor can relay information to other connected sensors in a reactive chain. At the same time, the sensors’ data can be uploaded into the cloud. Analysis of the collated data can produce diagnostic reports and recommendations to the user. The user may then choose to act on these recommendations by amending the controls to change a device’s settings e.g. turning the lights on/off, varying the temperature of the A/C and installing additional sensors and metering technology, if required.
Finally, let’s add in the concept of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Based on the data and programming they receive, sensors can learn over time to act and react based on the situation (machine learning). At a sophisticated level, the sensors can learn to set the optimum mode of operation for your building and its occupants without the need for human interaction. In other words, the sensors will develop artificial intelligence and systems will become smarter and evolve and adapt continuously in real time.
Here’s an example.
An office manager programs the sensor-connected A/C in the main meeting room to turn on when an occupant enters the room and remain on until they leave. The diagnostic report based on the A/C sensor’s data shows that the A/C remains on most of the day during hotter months, causing high electricity bills. The office manager organises installation of a sensor-connected blind for the meeting room windows and requests that the A/C and blind sensors are networked. The sensors communicate to ensure the use of energy is minimised through the synchronisation of blinds with the sun’s angle and the A/C switching on/off and varying temperature as required. Over time, the data feedback loop between the devices ensures that they operate to ensure the lowest energy consumption levels without the need for human intervention.
Why Do I Need a Smart Building?
Four words: efficiency, cost-saving, environmental impact and user impact.
The data each sensor collects can be collated and analysed, then fed back to the user in the form of a report. The report shows the ratio of expenditure to energy consumption and will indicate ways to reduce costs while maintaining user comfort. Report recommendations may highlight preventative measures, ensuring devices are regularly serviced and parts are replaced prior to malfunctioning: proactive measures vs reactive repairs. In other words, smart sensors optimise the efficiency of your assets.
Hand in hand with efficiency, asset optimisation means effective cost reduction. Over time, implementing the diagnostic report’s recommendations will streamline services and reduce energy and maintenance bills.
- Environmental Impact
Using fewer resources = a reduced carbon footprint. A win-win for Corporate Social Responsibility and the environment.
- User Impact
You could call it occupant comfort, wellness, aspects of health and safety or increased functionality and services for users. Whatever the aim, a building that provides services that optimise functionality creates a user-friendly experience for the occupants. Equally, the use of existing system data outside of its traditional function creates more value overall.
Happy tenants = fewer complaints and potentially longer-term occupancy. Happy workers = increased productivity and potentially longer-term staff retention.
How Do I Make My Building Smart?
As a developer or property owner, it’s best to start the smart building process at the planning stage. Engaging a smart building specialist as a consultant (or an architect who designs smart buildings) is far preferable to asking a consultant to step in at the electrical installation stage. A smart building specialist can work with the blueprints to shape construction according to smart, energy-efficient principles, of which sensor installation is one aspect.
Once the consultant or architect’s recommendations have been approved, the sensor requirements are sent to the contractor, who will then source the products from their chosen supplier. Post-installation, the subsequent stages of the sensor’s programming and operation are explained in detail under the Existing Buildings section below.
The first step is to invite a smart buildings specialist to perform a health check on your building. The consultant will survey your devices and assets and provide a detailed breakdown of the required sensors, technology and potential cost savings. They should also take you through monthly or annual plans for ongoing leveraging and analysis of your data.
Part of the challenge when fitting existing buildings with smart sensors includes the hierarchy of decision-making between facility managers, IT departments (especially with regards to security) and owners, hand in hand with any potential disruption to the building’s occupants. Ideally, all the stakeholders should be on the same page as early in the process as possible with regards to the benefits and initial challenges presented by smart technology. Be prepared for one or more parties to be resistant to change.
After installation, depending on the plan you have selected for ongoing analysis of collected data, you’ll begin to receive diagnostic reports. Over time, the recommendations in the report will assist in optimising your devices’ efficiency. These analyses will show you where cost savings are being achieved and how to further increase these savings. You may find you need to alter the programming of existing sensors or adding additional sensors and devices, depending on the outcome you require.
Whether you’re at the design stage of your smart building, or looking to futureproof your existing building, mySmart is an Australian company at the forefront of creating intelligent environments.
With offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, our specialist consultants think outside the box and devise layouts which are cost-effective and incorporate proven and evolving technologies with the end user in mind.