by Alan Barnes, Jr.

The building automation industry has seen a lot of changes over the last three decades. There have been many milestones during this time, including the transition from pneumatic analog technology to direct digital control, product-integrated controls, and the development of user-friendly graphic interfaces — to name just a few.

Each of these milestones in the development of the building automation industry has had a positive impact on the overall HVAC industry. The automation systems of today enable building owners and operators to have better control of their facilities, which results in higher productivity levels for their employees or tenants.

Given the current economic environment, I believe facility owners and operators are looking for ways to make their facilities more productive and comfortable. However, they aren’t willing to spend the high capital dollars associated with a major mechanical equipment retrofit and basically have to “make do” with what is already in place.

Facility owners and managers are much more knowledgeable regarding power consumption and demand than they were five years ago, and are very aware of the benefits of an automation system in this regard.

An updated or new facility automation system is a perfect fit for this scenario. The capital expense is not huge, the return on investment is often excellent, and the benefits of a fully functioning system can pay huge dividends in employee productivity and tenant retention.

Our focus at Aircond and Consolidated Engineering Services is to create ways to help our clients be more productive. An automation system is a great tool for achieving this goal.

What’s In Store

Looking forward, I can identify several trends within the automation industry that are really catching on with facility owners or operators. These trends include:

  • Consolidation of Building Systems — There is a significant push from building owners and managers to be able to control many building systems (HVAC, lighting, fire, security, access, CCTV, etc.) from one single point of control. This desire is easily accomplished with a customizable direct digital control system. By having this capability within a facility, the building owner can possibly reduce operating staff and certainly improve the productivity of the operating engineers who remain on staff.
  • Web-based Control — With all of the improvements in Internet technology, speed, and security over the last couple of years, it’s the next logical step in the progression of building control to utilize the Internet. Some of the more advanced building automation systems have the capability for a building owner or operator to access the automation system for a site remotely using the Internet.
  • Here again, this innovation has a positive impact on productivity by allowing a building operator to access building systems, diagnose problems, and possibly make programming changes while at home or at a remote site.
  • The next evolution in Web-based control is already becoming a reality ¯ enabling building tenants to control their own space temperatures via the Internet.
  • Wireless Devices — Possibly a more futuristic advance, wireless technology is making its way into the building automation industry. Wireless sensors and devices have the potential to reduce installation costs and further improve system flexibility by reducing the amount of physical wiring necessary and providing more remote control opportunities.

These trends, along with others, will certainly continue to make an impression on building owners and operators in the future.

With all of the rapid advances in software and hardware technology, it will be interesting to see what the Building Automation Systems of the year 2015 can do! n

Alan L. Barnes, Jr. is chief operating officer of Aircond Corporation, an Atlanta-based HVAC and Building Services Company serving both commercial and industrial facilities throughout the Southeast. Aircond is an operating division of Consolidated Engineering Ser- vices, Inc., a broad-based building technology services company that operates, maintains, or manages more than 9,000 corporate, commercial and institutional buildings in 27 states. Information about Aircond or Consolidated can be found at www.wepowerproductivity.com. Alan can be reached at albjr@aircond.com.