Building automation’s lead in open systems presents options
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

It’s about facilitating communication via open platforms

As more security systems become integrated with building automation, the call for open systems grows louder.

Most modern systems are using fairly common communications technologies, said Steve Thompson, director of marketing, fire and security at Johnson Controls.

Now, whether it is at the systems level through the use of BACnet, or the device level with the use of Echelon’s LonWorks networking system and LonTalk protocol, increasingly security companies that want to become part of building automation integration need to look at ways to facilitate communications.

The rapidness with which integration occurs, said Heath Klein, product manager, integrated systems at Siemens Building Technologies, “is still prohibited by protocols.”

Neither security nor fire has accepted BACnet or Modicon’s MODBUS protocols, he said, which presents challenges on the integration side.

“A lot of building automation companies have BACnet as their protocol,” he said, so accepting it would allow systems to “integrate without any bridge between systems.”

As protocols take hold, he said, prices likely will fall. “As you aren’t designing a link between two systems, the costs can come down.” He said BACnet is perceived as the protocol “people are most willing to incorporate” and he anticipates security companies moving in that direction “because they haven’t come up with their own protocols.”

However, making a case for

communication at the device level is Steve Nguyen, director of marketing for Echelon, which created the LonWorks networking platform and LonTalk protocol.

Nguyen said devices should be interoperable, whether it’s a motion detector from the HVAC system or a security one.

About 80 percent of Echelon’s products service the building industry, Nguyen said, and LonWorks has become part of most building product lines.

The challenge then becomes getting the security companies to recognize its usefulness as well.

“Security companies that wish to get a competitive edge will go this way (device-level communications),” he said.

Already the U.S. Army and many school systems have requested device-level interoperability, he said.

“We think the message of openness is a worldwide one that will resonate,” said Nguyen. “It’s not just about HVAC or security, but all the devices in a building working together,” he said.

“Open connectivity standards would make it (integration) easier,” conceded Paul Smith, chief operating officer for DVTel. He said building automation systems that support BACnet also require video systems that support BACnet “and most do not.”

Integration for DVTel, depending on the means and method, can take from a week to a month, he said.

James Reno, director of technical services at Amag, said the advantage of using BACnet is having open architecture. But for some security companies, he said, it is also viewed as a disadvantage because once your system is open, some of the control is lost.

He said building automation integrators who are familiar with BACnet also have an advantage over traditional security integrators. “Access control companies who want to do this (integrate with building systems) need to partner with somebody,” Reno said. “The BACnet piece is complicated, while the security side is not.”

Thompson of Johnson Controls said even as companies explore the BACnet and LonTalk protocols, the future will likely have fire, security and building automation moving in another direction - talking computer to computer via XML.