Solving the Building Management and Factory Floor Automation Connectivity Challenge

August 10, 2020
Richard Theron

With the goal of reaping the benefits of exponential gains in productivity at reduced operational costs, the revolutions in machine-to-machine intelligence, edge computing, the internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing are a top priority for large businesses and other organizations. One of the biggest challenges to the potential rewards of these automation technologies is one of large-scale, dependable integration via cloud computing platforms from the worlds of building management and the plant floor with their multiple devices and systems.

The Challenges

Building management and industrial automation have been separate worlds for a long time. They have been led by two largely separate sets of automation, control and equipment supplier bases with different priorities and tasks. 

One group specialized in building or facilities automation management, including HVAC, lighting, fire safety, physical security, communications, etc. The other world managed the factory floor’s complex requirements for discrete manufacturing systems such as product assembly lines or process industry systems with their pumping equipment, boilers, mixers, ovens, freezers, pipelines, tanks, packaging or bottling lines, etc.

These supplier camps tried to stay out of each other’s way and cooperated where the need was obvious, but still remained largely separate. Each world developed its own approach to device communication, networking and control systems.  These systems were separate communication and data silos with their own industry standards, making them difficult to integrate into enterprise-wide systems.

There are important reasons today to bring these two worlds closer together. For example, the industrial automation system might want to change the temperature set point for the chillers, or put the chillers into maintenance mode. Another application would be the presence of hazardous gases which are highlighted in the Building Automation System which could be critical information for the Industrial Automation system.

Do you really need to install two parallel HVAC automation systems with multiple controllers, IO modules and wiring that operate on two separate industry network communication buses that can’t talk to each other?  Or do you have to install duplicate I/O, PLCs and hard-wire both buildings together simply because the building management and factory floor automation systems can’t send data back and forth over a common communication bus and network?

A simpler, less expensive solution is to integrate network communications between these two worlds of building control and factory automation so that one hand knows what the other hand is doing. In most situations, two-hands are the best and safest approach to building management and plant automation. Once this paradigm shift in automation strategy is accepted, then the big question is… How?

Solutions to Consider

For these reasons, building or facilities managers and process or plant engineers often turn to system integrator partners. These professional integration specialists typically have extensive systems engineering and integration experience—often with proven, ready-to-go pre-packaged solutions involving multiple solution partners. One cost saving solution for integration is the MSA FieldServer QuickServer Gateway, which can pull data from multiple devices through the Gateway, requiring only one license. 

ICE Process Management

One such MSA partner is ICE (Integration, Controls, Engineering) Process Management, which can provide answers to large scale systems integration projects. Using its proven process system engineering and physical design capabilities, ICE develops a custom modular automation system for each client’s proprietary base building/campus site(s) and its plant manufacturing floor or industrial process technologies.

ICE offers an international approach to automation, data integration, and operational technology that capitalizes on cross-industry knowledge. By pulling concepts used in high-margin industries, ICE is able to competitively build integrated systems efficiently, with a high degree of integrity. Customers are able to witness system testing remotely, allowing resolutions from the factory, rather than costly on-site troubleshooting. Common integrations include BACnet servers, Modbus Servers, Rockwell Automation Allen-Bradely and Emerson DeltaV. 

MSA FieldServer QuickServer

In a recent building management project, the ICE team chose the MSA FieldServer QuickServer product line with integrated BACnet capabilities and custom-configuration options. The combination of MSA FieldServer QuickServer with BACnet and custom configuration allowed the ICE team to provide a tailored, automated building management and factory floor solution using programmable logic controllers from Emerson’s line of DeltaV PLCs (Modbus TCP/IP) and Rockwell Automation’s Allen-Bradley PLCs (EtherNet/IP) that met the customer’s exact requirements. Note: The ProtoNode from MSA FieldServer is from the same product family as the MSA FieldServer QuickServer.

The MSA FieldServer QuickServer is a fully configurable building and industrial automation IIoT gateway, which easily connects to the cloud and interfaces devices to networks in buildings, campuses, and industrial plants. A basic QuickServer Gateway supports 250 data points. Larger point counts are available and can connect to Serial, Ethernet, and/or LonWorks Free Topology (FT) links. Users can remotely and securely access its FS-GUI application, which is available locally on the QuickServer.

Emerson DeltaV DCS

The DeltaV Distributed Control System (DCS) from Emerson is an easy-to-use automation system. Its DeltaV PK Controller and EIOC are suitable for small- to large-scale plant automation tasks, such as building or facilities management when integrated with ICE solutions relying on MSA FieldServer QuickServer with BACnet capabilities. The MSA FieldServer QuickServer supports DeltaV applications from BACnet/IP to Modbus TCP/IP, LonWorks to Modbus TCP/IP, Rockwell’s Ethernet/IP, and any combination of these communication protocols.

Rockwell’s Allen-Bradley CompactLogix Control Systems

The CompactLogix™ and Compact GuardLogix® controllers from Rockwell’s Allen-Bradley line provide high performance, increased capacity, improved productivity and enhanced security in building or factory automation systems. The MSA FieldServer QuickServer provides these Rockwell products with BACnet/IP to EtherNet/IP and LonWorks to EtherNet/IP communications capabilities.


No matter the building management system or automation or control system, MSA FieldServer QuickServer communication products offer system integrators such as ICE a powerful tool that brings together complex building and factory automation systems. Together, ICE and MSA are breaking down the silos of building and plant automation by leveraging the power of the IoT and the cloud computing worlds, offering leaps in productivity and reductions in operational costs. 

Richard Theron
Richard Theron is the product line manager for FieldServer at MSA, where he works intimately with companies in the building automation, industrial automation, energy management and life safety markets to help them cloud-enable their equipment.

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