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Wed 4 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Building brains

Building management systems and building automation are used widely in the Middle East. Peter Ward reports on the state of the market and the future for this technology.

Building management systems and building automation are used widely in the Middle East. Peter Ward reports on the state of the market and the future for this technology.

About 40% of the world's energy is consumed by buildings. With energy resources at a premium, and developers looking for ways to cut costs, the construction industry is turning to building management systems (BMS) to control and monitor the energy expenditure in a building, and make life for the occupant a little easier in the process.

Siemens head of building technologies division Patrick Guedel describes the systems: "A BMS is a tool that enables a building operator to control and drive each and every function of a building: air-conditioning, ventilation, heating, lighting or window blinds."

Building operators need quality buildings to attract customers, and cost-effective buildings to maximise profitability. – Patrick Guedel.

The cables for the system are installed into projects at the end of the preliminary building works stage in either cable trail or pipes. Stefan Ries, vice president, private networks, R&M, which produces the cables required to install the systems, comments: It is becoming more commonplace in the ME [to install BMS and building automation systems (BAS)] as developers realise the benefits and rewards of having them in place."

BMS systems are used quite regularly in the Middle East, although some experts within the industry believe more awareness would help get the best of them. Johnson Controls regional marketing lead, controls, Sanjay Tendulkar, reports: "Awareness at the moment is not up to the expected levels ... BMS is quite common, only the consultants and the contractors are going for the low-spec ones, and are not looking at the technologies that are available in the market."

Guedel believes the construction market has now fully accepted BMS as a regular feature: "BMS are used widely in the Middle East, because building owners and operators identify potential benefits very well. For example, if you are checking-in at my hotel, and you really need a room that is just slightly cooler than normal, I can do this for you just from a click of a front-desk computer.

"I do not need housekeeping to set the air-conditioning, and I do not need to cool down the whole hotel or a whole floor. I can do it just for you. And by the time the lift takes you to your room floor, the right temperature is set.  Siemens has installed such systems in many of the five-star hotels in the region, such as the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi."

Implementing intelligence

Implementing the systems into buildings is relatively stress-free, argues Ries: "There aren't any big challenges as such, beyond the normal one faced when implementing an IT infrastructure. The developers of the building install a LAN (local area network) in the building, and this LAN acts as the backbone to the whole cabling system."

This is a view shared by Guedel: "Implementing BMS systems in this region is not so difficult; what is a real challenge, though, is for building operators to cope with increasing costs of electricity."

One example of how BMS integrates itself within a building's systems is through lighting systems, where it can have complete control. Leviton MD Ramzi Nassif reveals: "Leviton lighting management systems have the capability to integrate with BMS through different open protocols; Leviton lighting control panels speak native BACnet protocol. Also, it can communicate with the BMS through MODBUS and LonTalk communication protocols with an optional field server card.

"This integration gives the BMS complete monitoring and controls of Leviton lighting management systems, which gives the BMS the capability to generate reports and alarms, and it will have the capability to control Leviton lighting management system based on time and date."BMS systems and building automation may use electricity to operate, but through sensible management of buildings, they can save energy in the long run, although Ries is keen to stress they are not the only solution: "Building automation systems are not the only and greatest answer to a green building. BAS is becoming a matter of lifestyle demanded by owners of all buildings. BAS also play an integral part in how architects design buildings, and this means that more systems can be integrated with an IP-based network and cabling infrastructure than before."

Wireless wonders?

While the cabled solutions that are currently in use seem to operate efficiently, it has been suggested that wireless breakthroughs could be made for BMS and building automation. However, Tendulkar explains: "Wireless is one area where it depends on the environment, application and budget. I am not really excited on the wireless front, except for places like a lobby, where you want to raise the temperature and provide the right cooling to the occupants, and maybe more than 100 people are going to be there. In this case, wireless could work. But if you try and connect wireless sensors everywhere, I suspect that would not be the best solution."

BMS people should get involved in the implementation or construction stage of the building. – Sanjay Tendulkar.

Use of building management systems is expected to increase further in the Middle East, for reasons Guedel makes clear: "Everyone will want to get the benefits provided by a proper building management system. Commercial and residential building operators need quality buildings to attract customers (that is, comfortable, safe and reliable buildings), but also cost-effective buildings to maximise profitability of operations. With time, developers will learn to maximise value of their projects, and sell cost-effectiveness benefits to their clients."

While the buildings being constructed will more often than not contain a BMS, there are still a huge number of developments that do not boast building management on this scale. When installing the cabling for the systems, Ries reveals there are few complications: "Automation cables are very easy to retrofit, because the installation is already done in cable trail or in pipes."

However, some complications can arise when the various technologies are integrated into one. "Technically, the big challenge is when the original system is not designed to evolve with new generations of materials, because then it means disturbing building operations," reports Guedel.

"That is why in everything Siemens does, whether it is at design phase, or engineering, or installation, or even maintenance schedules, we always look at ease and simplicity of operations during the whole lifecycle. We want retrofitting to be quick and easy because, as always, time is money."

Early involvement

One challenge facing firms installing the systems is attaining early involvement, reports Tendulkar: "A challenge is to explain to the electrical mechanical people what is expected out of the system, and how to locate the different services. BMS comes at the end when the building is very nearly ready for the occupants. But BMS people should get involved in the implementation stage, or the construction stage of the building."

Future developments in the BMS field may rely on integration with other technologies as much as breakthroughs in its own sector.

Ries reveals: "The future of building automation is strong. Smart buildings with high-speed connectivity such as internet, multiple voice, data, video on demand and multimedia systems, environment-friendly specs that adhere to government legislations and many more advanced specifications are increasingly in demand by consumers. And there is no sign of this abating."

Tendulkar adds: "The future is really exciting; BMS can now merge with the IT in a building. It is happening already, like all the HR applications of access control."

With energy-saving so high on the agenda in recent times, it is no wonder that BMS and building automation are moving further into the spotlight.

Not only is the end user profiting from the installation of these systems, but ultimately the building owners and developers are also making considerable savings on power.

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