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Wednesday, Jun 02, 2004

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Home, smart home — Integrated building management systems

A. V. Swaminathan

Recent advances in technology have created complex systems that seamlessly control the various facilities in commercial and apartment buildings. Several companies offer specific packages involving computer applications to achieve automatic single-source control over various internal environment, energy and security parameters.

IN WHAT has become a fairly common provision, high-tech appliances and electronic gadgets are being installed, often with remote monitoring and controls, even at the building stage, in almost every skyscraper complex and apartment building and several modern homes in American cities.

Over the past two decades, there have been significant advances in the development of complex systems, using technology that makes the operation, maintenance and control of multi-facilities a well co-ordinated and efficient effort.

Several well-known companies, such as Honeywell, Andover and Trane, offer specific packages involving sophisticated computer applications to achieve automatic single-source control.

Till recently, buildings have generally been provided with individual control for some operations and programmed gear for some selected areas, such as sprinkler lines for watering various sections of a garden or thermostat switching circuitry for start-up and closure of heating and AC appliances.

A newly emerged concept, called the integrated building management system, now offers a fully integrated arrangement with the help of an intricately fashioned network throughout the building.

Professionals in the construction field — mainly developers, architects, designers, building contractors, and equipment suppliers — can, therefore, draw readily on the expertise of specialist companies and adopt the integrated system most suitable to their projects.

What an integrated system is

An overview: The arrangement incorporates a single station — an integral unit, which embraces within its fold all core systems and installations of a building to form a centralised control point, performing in a fully automatic manner or with graphic presentation, if needed.

Such a building management system integrates and controls all subsystems comprising heating, ventilation and AC (HVAC) equipment, lighting, energy use, safety and security. A leading company offering an integrator claims its building management system infallible, being a well-programmed set-up for controlling temperature, humidity, energy needs and, in fact, every other facility existing in any present-day building.

The actual engineered feature consists of a central PC Workstation equipped with the necessary software for total area co-ordination of multiple facilities. This centre reaches out to the local building network linking HVAC, lighting mains, environmental alarm monitoring, security provision, video surveillance and other provisions of convenience or utility.

The time-of-day schedules also are included whereby installations such as AC, heating and lighting can be put into operation when people are present or turned to sleeping mode when not needed.

The system architecture is typically configured as a Local Area Network, with the central workstation and control units for HVAC, lighting, security and life safety as the nodes. Communication between them is established by the use common protocols like TCP/IP.

Standard RJ45 connectors are used to hook up the various nodes to the network. The system is thus easily configurable and expandable — a key requirement as new capabilities are developed and rapidly brought to the marketplace.

Safety and security: Among the numerous functions covered by the integrated system, special mention must be made of the advanced management alarm. Any abnormal condition occurring in the building is instantly sensed, setting off an audible alarm or cognisable warning to draw an urgent response and initiate appropriate protective action.

Security aspects are further tied up with the video surveillance in such a way that threat of terrorist attack from outside or sabotage from within can be quickly tackled. In a life-safety programme, monitoring and controlling all safety requirements are achieved through an early indication of possible danger from smoke or fire, allowing time for evacuation of occupants and deployment of fire fighting aids without delay.

Applications: Its state-of-the-art features make any integrated building management system quite indispensable.

In particular, the highly utilitarian features find wide acceptance in industry, telecommunications, commercial buildings, educational institutions, hospitals, hotels, airports and government departments.

In the very near future this novel system may become part of every new building project, as much as electrical wiring or plumbing lines.

(The author is an Oregon (US)-based freelance writer.)

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