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Sun 1 Apr 2007 02:21 PM

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Automatic management

Technological advancements have made buildings easier to manage thanks to the development of building management systems (BMS). But what exactly are they and how can they help FMs to run their buildings smoothly? Adam Dawson investigates.

The job of a facilities manager is not easy, but imagine how much harder it would be if the building management system (BMS) had never been invented. As the services of buildings become more advanced, building management systems are able to provide FMs with much needed information and analysis on the building they manage.

All buildings have mechanical and electrical services that help provide the facilities for maintaining a comfortable working, living and socialising environment.

Controlling these services by some means is essential if the FM is to ensure the smooth running of the building.

"Building management systems control all the systems you can think of in a building," says Samtosh Monterio, marketing manager of Johnson Controls. "They ensure that the temperature of the building is at the right level, there is enough ventilation, the building's security works and that there is enough hot water for people to wash their hands, among many other things. The purpose of the BMS is to automate and take control of these operations in the most efficient way possible."

Automatic controlling first started back in 1883, when Professor Warren S. Johnson received a patent for the first electronic room thermostat, launching the building control industry. Air conditioning was the first service to be electronically controlled in a building, but as microprocessors came into being in the 1970s, other services were linked up to software systems and so the BMS was born.

A BMS is a computer software program that allows data to be input to make sure the pre-set requirements of a building are met. The system controls the connected services through inputs such as temperature and movement sensors and outputs such as on and off signals.

BMSs are able to monitor every action of the electrical equipment in a building, producing trends and analysis that can be acted upon. They can also predict the failure of equipment and immediately alert FMs of a malfunction or plan for replacements - this is called Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM).

"If there is a problem somewhere such as a fire alarm going off or a light bulb has blown, the BMS can alert the relevant person who can deal with that, giving them the exact location," says Stuart Thomas, director of Gresco Facilities Management. "Technology now is such that this is done through an email or through a text message on a mobile phone."

The advantages of a BMS for a FM are many and varied given the many services it controls. "One of the biggest advantages in a BMS is that you are able to control the operating costs of a building," adds Thomas. "If a building is empty by seven in the evening there is no point in having the lights on or the air conditioning working as it is a waste of money. The BMS is able to turn off the services automatically if it senses that nobody is about, saving on utility bills."

The data and trend graphs the BMS produces are also effective tools in analysing where money is being spent and if it is being wasted.

For example, you can use a building management system to manage peak electricity demand by switching off non-essential loads when demand is high. And in today's environmentally conscious world, saving on financial costs also means saving in energy consumption.

"A BMS means that you use as little resources as possible," says Nigel MacKenzie, business development manager, Pacific Control Systems. "The building uses only what is needed, so as a result you are going to cut down on the amount of energy you use. The way the world is moving with regards to the environment means that the BMS will become essential."

A BMS can also provide security by making it known if equipment is being unplugged or moved. Theft can be a big problem in buildings that the public have access to, such as universities and hospitals.

Any item can be linked up to the BMS network through a lead, which if unplugged will trigger an alert. The thief can then be apprehended when all exits from the building are automatically locked. "Security is another example of the benefits of a BMS. You can effectively control who comes into the building and when," stresses MacKenzie.

Predictive maintenance is an area where the BMS makes a FM's life a lot easier. Knowing in advance when an item should need replacing through its life expectancy and from knowing how many times it has been switched on and for how long, means that the item can be replaced just before it is likely to fail. This means those who would have been affected by the item's failure won't be kept waiting for a technician to turn up to replace it.

Companies and organisations can also use a BMS to monitor how often equipment is used to improve capital efficiency. If a building has more equipment than it needs the BMS will report that the equipment is not being used and the FM can reduce the number of items in the area by either returning them (if hired) or moving them to another area where they are needed. This efficiently utilises the equipment and saves money.

The past 40 years have seen BMS technology evolve into a system that is today linked to the internet, further altering their nature and the way in which they are operated. The user interface has become a web browser meaning that BMS's have become more IT based. As a result, the cost of running and purchasing a BMS has reduced significantly, as it can be run on any normal office PC. And with the introduction of web technology you no longer need to have a BMS in every building.

"If you take Dubai Marina and look at what was happening a few years ago, you would have needed a BMS operated by three people in each tower," says MacKenzie. "Now all you need is three people working on one BMS controlling all the towers." The result is yet again a further reduction in costs.

"The number of companies in the region supplying BMSs also means that it is a buyer's market," stresses MacKenzie. "The hotels in Dubai can get a sophisticated BMS for around US $136,000 (AED500,000) which is very cheap. If you look in most buildings in Dubai you'll find that there is a BMS installed."

Services controlled by building management systems

• Air conditioning

• Energy distribution and control

• Intrusion detection

• Access control

• Lighting monitoring and control

• Fire detection and protection

• Car park administration and control

• Closed circuit TV

• Fault monitoring and reporting

• Water management

Advantages of a building management system

• Control of building operation costs

• Optimising capital efficiency

• Energy conservation

• Automatic security

• Equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance

• Quicker reporting and maintenance of problems

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