The Future Of Smart Buildings

Technology is advancing at an astonishing pace. Devices and systems we take for granted today would have seemed like science fiction to many people only a few years ago. And the pace of technological innovation shows no sign of slowing. With that in mind, where could smart building technology take us in the next few years? In this article, we take a look at some of the possibilities.

Buildings that work for people

Today, all data for smart building systems is gathered from fixed sensors. Whatever you want to control with your smart building can only be influenced by data from a sensor in a fixed location. That means conditions in your building are controlled to suit the needs of the room or area in which each sensor is located. But what about the needs of the individual? For example, a room temperature of 20°C will feel different to a person who is sitting still and a person who is active all day, or to a person who is ill, or to people of different ages. What if room temperatures could be controlled to suit the needs of each individual? The advent of smart wearable devices, such as watches or wrist bands, could make this a possibility.

In future, smart building systems could gather data on body temperature, perspiration, heart rate and a whole range of other measures from individuals within a building. This could be used to automatically adapt room temperature or humidity and other variables to suit the needs of each person. Of course, many rooms or buildings are occupied by large numbers of people, but by taking a mean average from the data collected, room conditions could be adapted to better suit the majority of occupants. By basing building conditions on the needs of its human occupants, rather than on predetermined temperature settings, smart buildings of the future could help to improve employee health and well-being. It’s easy to see the knock-on benefits for mental health, happiness and productivity at work.

Improving air quality is an important priority for the UK government. Air-quality sensors are now being developed that can detect minute particulates in the air, as well as pollen, engine emissions and other pollutants like chemical composition. Data like this could be used to provide better data for decisions on air-filtration and better control of extraction systems, as well as to inform occupant behaviour, such as when and where to open windows. Improving air quality in a building can have a significant impact on employee well-being and happiness. Displaying air-quality data on a prominent dashboard in any building, whether an office, a manufacturing plant or a fitness centre, can help to inspire and motivate individuals and make them feel better about their environment.

Data direct to you

Advances in GPS technology are already helping to improve wayfinding around unfamiliar buildings. New devices such as smart glasses or smart contact lenses, which are now being developed, could take this a step further. Wayfinding information, details of forthcoming meetings and a whole host of other useful information and reminders could be displayed directly and privately to the user on these devices. Smart glasses could also be used to simplify security clearance and access to buildings, by transmitting information about the wearer to building security systems.

Technology that takes control

Currently Building Management Systems (BMS) collect data from a range of sensors and use that data to control assets according to pre-determined protocols, such as temperature, pressure or humidity settings. The systems can only collect data from sensors to which they are connected, and can only enable or disable assets according to pre-programmed criteria. Such systems cannot really be described as smart. But now, manufacturers of assets, such as chillers and boilers, are creating increasingly intelligent products that produce a rich array of data about the condition and performance of the asset. This data is transmitted to the cloud where it is easy to access and analyse. So much of this readily available data is currently being unused by conventional BMS technology.

By tapping into the extensive data emitted by intelligent pumps, boilers, chillers and other equipment, businesses in future will be able to monitor the condition and performance of their assets, and make adjustments remotely from any device. The whole system is software based, so there is no need to install hardware such as BMS control panels and sensors – which has obvious cost-saving benefits. The greater control enabled by this solution also means that assets will be better managed and maintained, and likely to last longer. Data from building assets can be combined easily with external data, such as information on weather conditions, to improve control and optimisation.

For businesses with a large estate, the data produced by similar assets across multiple locations can be compared to determine the best-performing equipment. So, for example, a grocery retail chain could compare the performance of its chillers in different stores to identify where equipment is operating most efficiently. They can use this information to replicate the high-performance chillers in all stores.

Smarter servicing and maintenance

Traditional building asset maintenance is based on established programmes, with servicing and maintenance scheduled at predetermined intervals. These schedules do not take into account the differing conditions under which equipment operates, for example climatic conditions, location, exposure to the elements, running hours and a host of other variables. Therefore the standard maintenance intervals are unlikely to be appropriate for all equipment.

By using smart technology to monitor running hours, performance, output and other factors, maintenance and servicing can be timed to suit the needs of each specific asset. Data taken directly from each piece of equipment essentially tells the truth about that asset. It provides all the information needed to plan maintenance activities that help to improve the performance of the equipment, while preventing unnecessary servicing and maintenance work.

Get set for Industry 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. We are already seeing the digitisation of many manufacturing and industrial processes – from order taking and order execution to time and attendance-monitoring systems. Manufacturers are interested in optimising overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which is a measure of efficiency from the time an order is taken to the completion of the product.

By monitoring data from various systems, smart buildings could help manufacturers to see when OEE is falling, and to analyse the factors influencing it. Users could monitor efficiencies in real time, prompting appropriate actions to tackle any deterioration in performance. If a manufacturer is operating a number of plants, efficiency variations between different locations could also be analysed and assessed to help improve performance across the business.

Power in your hands

The localisation of grid services is another growing trend, with more premises being powered by solar arrays and using batteries to store excess power for use overnight. That same locally generated power can be used to charge electric vehicles, while excess energy can be sold back to the grid. Very soon, smart energy-management platforms could be used to decide when battery storage should be used to power the building and when it is more cost-effective to use grid electricity. Similarly, such systems could determine the optimum time to sell electricity to the grid, taking into account prevailing market rates. It’s just another way in which smart building technology could be used to simplify processes, reduce workloads and deliver tangible financial benefits for businesses.  

Making life simpler

A key requirement for any smart building technology is that it must be passive; easy-to-use by anyone. All the complexity is hidden in the background, with the benefits of simplicity, accessibility and greater control delivered seamlessly to users on any device.

All the advances in smart building technology we have discussed are about optimising workplaces, improving working environments for individuals, creating greater efficiencies and enabling people to adapt to changing ways of life and work.

One thing is for certain: the next few years will be an exhilarating and transformational period for anyone involved in facilities and energy management.

 

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This article was originally published in The Smart Buildings eBook by the Facilities Show. Download the full eBook from their website.

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