A building management systems project installed by Johnson Controls for the University of Minnesota is saving the university $2.4 million in annual energy costs. The University of Minnesota, one of the most comprehensive public universities in the world, houses the state’s flagship research institution, and is home to more than 66,000 students.

Among the project's many challenges was migrating to BACnet compatible equipment, and replacing a legacy control system with Johnson Controls’ Metasys® building management system.

The Facilities Management Department carries a major technology “course load” of more than 320 buildings across two campuses, in the Twin Cities and Duluth, MN. Therefore, efficient and reliable controls are therefore essential to its success. The project involved changing over equipment on the University’s Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, nearly 150 miles apart.

Among the project's many challenges was migrating to BACnet compatible equipment, and replacing a legacy control system with Johnson Controls’ Metasys® building management system. A team from Johnson Controls installed a multi-vendor head-end workstation to integrate a number of legacy building automation systems, which controlled 28,000 physical points. This step bridged the gap between different systems, maximized the university’s return on investment, and created a migration path to newer technologies.

The Metasys system is now a common user interface from which approximately 60,000 physical points are monitored and controlled. Sources from Johnson Controls say the scope of the University of Minnesota system qualifies it as the largest Metasys system application in North America.

Reducing Energy Consumption
In addition to the goal of being one of the world’s top three research universities, the University of Minnesota set a goal to reduce energy consumption by 5% over an 18-month period. The goal was achieved three months ahead of schedule.

“The Facilities Management Department strives to be world class in energy management. The integration we’ve done has helped us get there,” says Mark Peterson, senior controls engineer for the university. In accordance with university BACnet compatibility standards, about 80% of building management systems operate on BACnet. This allows integration of equipment from a variety of vendors, including Johnson Controls, Siemens, Honeywell, Trane, Delta, McQuay, Nexsys, Phoenix, and Tridium. Over time, BACnet compatible equipment is installed in place of older systems. (Shown at right: technicians monitor thousands of points from a single workstation.)

The BACnet implementation enables university personnel to monitor and control all building systems from a central location, with the Metasys system as a single-seat user interface. “Johnson Controls was the first of our vendors to launch a full scale BACnet product with a web-enabled user interface. As we upgrade to BACnet compatible equipment, it can be easily integrated into the Johnson Controls head-end,” Peterson says. “Instead of needing multiple monitors to view and respond to alarms from different vendor’s systems, the alarms all look the same, and can be viewed from a single workstation.”

“The University worked extensively with us in a research and development capacity, to be sure we could meet that need,” says Becky Wacker, a systems sales engineer for Johnson Controls, in an interview with Contracting Business. And, she adds that a major challenge in a project of this scope involved establishing clear communications.

“We had to ensure that we were all on the same page, and that the communication lines between the two campuses was seamless,” Wacker says.

Jason Gorak, project branch manager for JCI, told Contracting Business that the project actually had its beginnings in 2004, when JCI established a technical “plug-and-play” connection between the campuses’ automation systems.

“It was critical in making sure everyone knew what would be seen, how the systems would communicate, and how seamless it would be. Even though that was done in 2004, it was still a key piece in clearing some hurdles in this project,” Gorak says.

'Round the Clock Monitoring of 'Districts'
The University of Minnesota is divided into four operational districts. Physical plant personnel monitor systems and equipment across campus every hour of every day. To manage all that data, the University Energy Management Group and Johnson Controls have leveraged the reporting capabilities allowed by Metasys system, and use it for high energy and operational efficiency. For example, programs will calculate the amount of hours fans have run for a particular week, and are then compared to the amount they were scheduled to run.

“This helps us see if fans aren’t running as programmed or if schedules are being overridden, which would otherwise be difficult to do with such a large university,” Peterson says. “We created that report with all of the BACnet vendors and use the Metasys system to harvest the data, which is then stored and published on the web for people to see as a dashboard metric.”

Precise Controls Support University’s Mission
With a goal of being one of the top research universities in the world, precise control of research and critical environments is of paramount importance. The impact of unreliable building control systems on the research itself is obvious. Secondary risks include a negative impact on the ability to recruit researchers, students, and to obtain grant funds. The many building control systems on campus are used to control lighting and climate systems and equipment in all these environments.

Nearly 120 different university personnel use the Metasys system to interface building systems across campus. Allowing additional user access helps the Facilities Management Department reduce energy use and decrease the number of calls it receives, letting mechanics focus on more pressing matters. Because of the user-friendly nature of the Metasys system, minimal training is necessary to make adjustments and respond to alarms. Regular training on system and equipment upgrades allows university staff to remain self-sufficient, while the commitment to using BACnet compatible equipment and the Metasys system’s open architecture provides flexibility in purchasing. Facility managers can purchase energy saving systems and equipment from a variety of vendors and have the flexibility to shop for equipment with the best value and lowest lifecycle costs.

The project includes the integration of systems for the university’s new, 50,000+ seat TCF Bank Stadium, which uses more than 450 multi-vendor BACnet devices. JCI integrated equipment such as lighting, fire, and security systems, and an emergency generator. TCF Bank Stadium, the first Big Ten stadium built since 1960, was awarded a LEED® Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first LEED certified collegiate or professional football facility in the U.S.

Additionally, a new biomedical research building includes devices ranging from chillers to room pressure monitors.

Communication & Collaboration
For HVAC contractors interested in branching out into larger controls projects, Wacker emphasized the importance of collaboration with experienced vendors. “When you’re new to a process and you’re trying to implement something different that hasn’t been tried in the past, sometimes it’s the things you don’t know that catch you up,” Wacker says. “If it’s a university, school system, or hospital project, it helps to have someone who’s done it before to guide you in some of the pitfalls you might run into. A team approach, in which everyone understands the process, has good communication lines, and knows what they’re after, is essential.”