Smart is good for business

22nd February 2019

Creating smart buildings can open up a wealth of opportunities for any business, from optimising energy use and reducing costs to improving productivity, environmental performance and operational efficiency, and even enhancing employee health and wellbeing, James Spires explains.

A smart building is one in which energy and operational systems are automatically regulated and controlled, where space utilisation is managed flexibly, and where technology is used to create a comfortable, healthy and productive working environment.

Connected data is essential for smart buildings

The key ingredient in achieving a smart building is data. More specifically, connected data. All buildings contain systems, technology and sensors that generate data. This can include data on utility consumption, building management systems (BMS), space utilisation, weather conditions, access control, room bookings, production output, air quality and much more. The meters or sensors that collect this data are usually discrete from each other. They produce data in isolation on a specific element of building performance or operation.

To create a smart building, all of this data needs to be brought together on a single platform where it can be analysed objectively. Here, machine-learning algorithms can be applied to the data to effectively model patterns of usage and behaviour, so that opportunities for improvements can be identified. This analysis enables you to gain a detailed understanding of the relationships between different activities, systems and external factors affecting your building. You will be able to see how data in one area is influenced by activities in another area, enabling you to better plan and implement effective building controls, settings and technology.

Improve energy efficiency and facilities management

The benefits of smart buildings impact all areas of your business, in particular:

Buildings consume energy for lighting, heating, hot water, IT systems and office equipment. Smart building solutions allow you to optimise the performance of building systems and eliminate wasted energy. By gathering and analysing data from assets, plant and equipment you can see whether building assets are working in harmony or in conflict. You can easily identify anomalies or wastage and take appropriate action. By enabling you to take targeted actions, such as improving controls, modifying equipment set-points and adjusting timings, smart buildings help you to significantly improve efficiency, reduce consumption and lower energy costs.

If you combine this with the use of digital control solutions, you can further optimise the performance of systems and improve building operations and efficiency. For example, by linking lighting to daylight sensors, electric lights can be dimmed automatically when there is sufficient natural light. Similarly, movement sensors can be used to ensure lights are not left on in unoccupied areas.

By monitoring data from key assets such as air-handling units, pumps, chillers and other mechanical and electrical equipment, facilities management teams can ensure maintenance and servicing interventions are timed appropriately and efficiently. So, for example, rather than simply changing air filters every month, they can be changed when the data indicates it’s necessary. If any fault is identified, engineers can be directed straight to the problem with an indication of the type of fault, so that interventions can be targeted more accurately.

These insights into the condition and efficiency of your assets help to optimise engineering and maintenance resources, and ensure servicing decisions are based on facts about the condition of your equipment. Data monitoring can also minimise the impact of inefficient equipment operation, by quickly identifying when faults occur and enabling rapid rectification.

Smart technology tailored to your objectives

Of course, the purpose of creating smarter buildings is to help your organisation achieve its specific objectives. These will vary for different types of organisation, and you will need to consider what data you need to achieve your objectives. For example, if you run a hospital building you will need to comply with reporting requirements on air quality. To gather the data required, sensors will need to be fitted in the right places to measure air exchange rates and air quality.

If you’re a manufacturing business, your focus is on production efficiency. Using smart technologies and digitalising your systems can transform the way products are manufactured, optimising processes to help you meet efficiency targets and achieve cost savings. Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) has transformed the way products are produced, enabling manufacturers to measure products produced per kilowatt (Overall Equipment Effectiveness or OEE) and calculate expected energy use. The ability to monitor and extract this kind of data allows platforms to activate early alerts, indicate any problems and react swiftly.

New process machinery now comes with a considerable amount of sensory data, which is almost impossible for a human to decipher in real-time. Instead, AI or machine-learning capabilities are used to provide rapid automation, along with the information required to take necessary actions. Manufacturers of process machinery also provide augmented reality that allows a complete dissection of the inner workings of process plant, so that users can see how different elements are connected, fabricated and wired. This allows rapid repairs to be made.

Human and technological collaboration

Connected data is the critical enabler for effective smart building operations. By connecting data via a single platform, buildings can be managed more efficiently and effectively to achieve cost, resource and time savings, and to extend asset life.

However, reaping the full rewards of smart building technology also requires human collaboration. Energy managers need to work with the wider organisation to ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives. And the intelligent technology used to analyse your data needs to be combined with the expertise of energy and facilities specialists who know your organisation and its working practices and priorities, so they can recommend actions and solutions that work for your business.

View the full article or find out more about smart buildings.