smarter buildings

Network innovation delivers smarter buildings

Switch connects isolated building systems to improve efficiency, worker experience
Thursday, February 16, 2017
By Rebecca Melnyk

Global technology trends have pushed a new network innovation to market, a piece of hardware that is seemingly unassuming, but expected to improve building efficiency, reduce energy use and create a better working experience for maintenance and cleaning staff, along with other facility occupants.

In an effort to make buildings smarter and operations smoother, Cisco has developed a new switch that unifies separate building systems, from HVAC and lighting to surveillance and physical security, over a secure, low-voltage IP network.

Devices like thermostats and lightbulbs are becoming more intelligent. Door locks, badge readers, along with garbage cans, toilet paper rolls and soap dispensers in smart bathrooms, increasingly want to connect to a secure network in what is now called the Internet of Things (IoT). As the number of networks grows within a facility, there needs to be some sort of convergence.

Bill MacGowan, director of digital buildings at Cisco, describes the Catalyst Digital Building Series Switch as a key element in the company’s Digital Building Strategy. He says the desire for mobility and the use of apps for personal control are motivators behind some of the product’s features. The switch not only supports convergence in digital buildings, but is the first ever Bluetooth enabled switch with an easy-to-install  iOS and Android mobile app. This means that a user could travel around a floor plate and the app would communicate to the switch. The user could then apply diagnostics and adjust temperature and lighting levels, for example.

How smart buildings benefit

The new switch has myriad benefits that extend to energy efficiency, asset utilization and employee satisfaction.

MacGowan says the network switch can potentially drive down energy costs. It can power all the lights in a building that run off Ethernet cables from switch ports, instead of AC power.

The switch, connecting to a thermostat and lightbulb, would also be connecting to a wireless access point. If an occupant turns on their Wifi within the building, the wireless network can triangulate the location of the phone and on what floor, without knowing who the user is.

“Because the wireless is on the same network as the thermostat and lightbulb, we have the ability to take that triangulation data and use it to further adjust HVAC ventilation rates, add more air to a zone, block off less air or dim lights,” says MacGowan. “That dynamic sequence is enhancing energy savings.”

One of the first properties to use the product is the Sinclair Marriott Autograph Hotel in Texas. The owners, wanting to install all digital bells and whistles for guests and also lower energy bills, found they could view real-time analytics and ended up reducing energy costs by 50 per cent from that initiative.

Another value factor for facilities is asset utilization. Network-enabled connected sensors, such as HVAC, lighting and access, offer strong connectivity to help increase building analytics.

“As organizations are trying to lease less space or optimize the number of heads per desk, our network is allowing people to increase the number of bodies per square foot,” MacGowan adds.

The switch can also provide the occupant with the mobile app that allows them to adjust lighting levels and temperature values as they move through space, which results in happier people and lower absenteeism rates.

On the maintenance and cleaning end, as staff move through a facility, the temperature and lighting levels are reacting on a zone-by-zone basis to give them the proper illumination to clean, instead of lighting up an entire floor plate.

Smart devices become interactive with the task at hand, notes MacGowan. In a restroom, for example, such devices could indicate when maintenance is required or when items need to be stocked. A smart toilet paper roll, for instance, could specify when it needs replenishing.

“All these systems are starting to become mobile, so if I’m a cleaning crew on a floor plate, the technology can triangulate where the cleaning crew is and have historical patterns and maybe, based on history, indicate where they missed a spot or what spots have already been cleaned,” he says. “Also, if I’m an occupant putting in a service request, that’s another data point that informs the cleaning staff. You get integration on that reporting side of the house, too.”

The switch also powers security cameras. These devices are also growing more intelligent and can work with other systems to create more secure facilities. For instance, they can stream video data that can be analyzed to make some type of decision. If someone walks within the field view of a camera, it may trigger a lighting sequence or lock the room.

What may seem quite technical is, in fact, easy to use and install. And with a ten-year life expectancy, the switch has the ability to provide uninterrupted power during upgrades and reboots or restore power within five seconds after a failure.

If there isn’t IT staff on board, an operator can always enter into a manage service agreement that will help staff understand and learn. Some facilities, such as hospitals or universities, might designate an IT department to be responsible for monitoring the network that connects to the devices. MacGowan says with other users that manage multiple commercial tenants, facility managers are taking on the responsibility and looking to hire IT expertise. He says it really boils down to schools that are now looking for ways to incorporate technical knowledge into their facility management curriculum so operators graduate with some solid understanding.

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