Internet of Things

Facility managers eye IoT investments

FMs plan to adopt intelligent analytics to improve operations and maintenance
Friday, February 2, 2018
By Adrian Thomas

By 2020, there will be 34 billion connected devices worldwide, more than triple the number in 2015, according to a forecast from BI Insider. There are several reasons for this rapid growth: drastically lower technology costs resulting in more devices with built-in sensors and wireless technology; ubiquitous smartphone use; a multitude of open wireless networks; and the wide availability of broadband Internet.

The shift towards Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled buildings has already started and is fundamentally changing the role of facilities professionals. According to a recent Schneider Electric study, 63 per cent of facility managers are interested in implementing new digital technologies such as intelligent analytics to improve maintenance decisions and operations. And 89 per cent said they expect to achieve a return on their IoT investments within three years.

As smart technology proliferates in everyday control devices, it raises questions. For example: How can IoT solutions be integrated with the many other legacy devices present in buildings without ripping and replacing existing infrastructure? How can facility managers integrate new wireless devices into existing systems?

More devices, more insight

Understanding the inherent value of these new wireless systems is key to getting benefits from the IoT. These networks allow a facility manager to install new, low-cost devices and connect them with existing devices in building and energy management systems with ease and flexibility.

Connected technology such as wireless has been around for decades. The difference today is that the IoT allows building managers to connect more devices and gain enhanced insight at a much lower cost. For example, 10 years ago it was common to monitor the power consumption on one of the main electrical lines coming into a building. Today, it is feasible to not only monitor the individual electrical feeds for each floor/section but also compile that data along with water and gas usage in those areas.

Facilities managers can now quickly and easily install wireless thermal sensors onto their main electrical bus bars, giving them early warning of a potential overheat condition in their electrical system. They can also monitor the status of their stand-by power system, their data centre uptime, control lighting room by room, know when their elevators need servicing before they go down, monitor their access control and security cameras, all within a single platform.

IoT devices can improve and speed decision-making. A facility manager equipped with an analytics dashboard could receive an alarm if a temperature threshold is exceeded, track building operations in real time and drill down to isolate the cause. The IoT also makes it possible to predict things such as energy consumption, allowing a facility to minimize usage during peak demand hours, or to predict the risk of failure for important pieces of equipment to avoid expensive downtime.

Building performance improved

A decade ago, facility managers didn’t need to consider the integration of connected devices. The typical facility manager was responsible for overseeing the mechanics and operations of traditional building systems, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing and elevators.

Today, facility managers still need to understand those building systems, but they also need to know how to take advantage of the many available connected devices to improve their buildings’ performance. Facility managers are no longer being asked just to “maintain” the status quo. They need to bring together a holistic picture of their building as part of the forecast around financial performance and sustainability goals.

Facility managers need to optimize the control, operational efficiency and energy management of their buildings to ensure they can meet these objectives. They are being tasked today with more than just understanding the complete building operating system. They are now expected to contribute to the overall success and profitability of the building by ensuring occupants are safe and comfortable while at the same time saving energy.

As an example, a hotel whose rooms are either too hot or cold will see a loss in fill rates. A hospital that cannot identify when a patient leaves a room will be faced with security issues. An airport that has a critical failure of its escalators during a peak travel period will experience flight delays and suffer the ire of their airline partners and travelers.

Failures predicted, maintenance planned

The traditional role of a facility manager was to fix things when they broke. Now, managers are being asked to forecast outages and conduct maintenance before a critical breakdown and schedule that maintenance when it is convenient for building occupants.

For example, when a piece of equipment, say an escalator mechanical system, is nearing its end of life, there is a specific power profile that can indicate it is about to fail. Through IoT devices, facility managers can now easily monitor the individual current draw on that escalator motor and use that number as a baseline profile. When the escalator starts to wear and bind, there is an increase in current draw deviating from that profile which triggers a notification that something is not right and repairs need to be planned.

The manager can then schedule a repair before the breakdown causes an issue within the building. This not only is more convenient for the occupants of the building, it also saves money and enhances safety. This applies to any device in the buildings system, including complete electrical distribution systems, elevators, stand-by power systems and HVAC systems.

One platform, holistic view

In an ideal situation, facility managers will be able to bring all their IoT-enabled devices and information together under a single, unified platform. The open networks and communication protocols now available allow any manufacturer to ensure their equipment can communicate with a building management system and seamlessly integrate.

For example, a facility manager might want to trigger a camera in a secure area to record entry into a room every time the door is opened. That room also has a secure card-access device and a room thermostat.

A single system could monitor the card access system and the door sensor which triggers the camera to record the individual(s) entering, logging the time and date. Facial recognition software could confirm that the person who used the access card is indeed the person who entered the room.

The system could also identify if anyone entered the room without using their card (piggybacking or forced entry). The room lighting and temperature settings could also be adjusted for that individual and could also automatically be lowered when the room thermostat senses the room is empty.

Once different systems can be tied together, facilities can achieve a level of comfort, security and sustainability not previously available.

Adrian Thomas is vice president, partner business and channel, for Schneider Electric Canada.

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