The next frontier for device and BMS data

February 26, 2019
Bennie de Wet

The commercial and industrial equipment market has seen massive innovation in just the past few decades, becoming smarter, more connected, and more easily managed over time. But the biggest evolution and advancement may be on the horizon thanks in large part to BMS data and the cloud. 

However, to understand where we’re going, we must first look at where we are and understand how we got here. This means we need to take a historical look at commercial and industrial equipment and how they’ve gone from metal boxes that were generally separate unto themselves, into connected systems of systems that can communicate and be controlled together. 

From disconnected to connected – the rise of BMS 

The evolution of commercial and industrial equipment very much mirrors the evolution of the systems that you may have in your home. Originally, systems such as your air conditioning, heating, lighting and security systems weren’t connected at all. They just did what they were supposed to do, heating or cooling the air, providing light,  and didn’t generate any data or information. 

Then, over time, these devices began to evolve and become digital. They began to generate important operational data and information that could be used for maintenance and to help identify problems or parts that were malfunctioning. Soon, multiple devices or units could be aggregated into systems. For example, multiple HVAC devices could be aggregated into a system that could be controlled individually by a single device. 

Once these devices, and the larger systems that they were a part of, began to generate data, the doors swung open for massive innovation and advancement in how equipment owners managed their equipment. 

The introduction of building management solutions (BMS), which are also sometimes called building automation solutions (BAS), gave equipment owners the ability to aggregate the data and control of their individual devices and systems into a centralized controller. The result was a “smart home-esque” ability to manage a wide variety of devices and systems from a central place, thereby increasing efficiency, transparency and equipment uptimes. 

It wasn’t always so easy to make all of these devices work together and interact. Much of that is because of protocols, a set of rules or a “language” that allows multiple devices to interact and communicate. 

The protocol problem – the rise of the gateway 

Whenever new technologies are being developed, especially when they’re developed by different companies, there are always interoperability problems. Different companies innovating and developing their own technologies and solutions ultimately gives rise to disparate solutions that don’t speak the same language. 

This was certainly the case for industrial and commercial equipment which, initially, utilized a wide range of proprietary protocols. Trying to get this equipment to communicate would have been like putting three people in a room that all speak different languages and expecting them to collaboratively work on a research paper. Each device spoke a different language, making it impossible for them to interact. 

Over time, proprietary protocols gave way to industry standards. These standards were agreed upon by the manufacturers and implemented in their equipment to make it possible for equipment to communicate and work together. Some examples of these protocols that are in use today include Allen Bradley’s Ethernet/IP, KNX, XML, BACnet and Modbus. 

With new equipment coming out that utilized and embraced standard protocols, any new equipment installation or implementation could most likely communicate and work within BMS systems. What about existing buildings and their older equipment? 

Buildings and facilities with a mix of old and new equipment faced a challenge. While the facility managers and building owners may have wanted a BMS system and the benefits that it would deliver, they struggled to marry together the proprietary protocols of old equipment with the standard protocols of new equipment. Until gateways emerged. 

Gateways are basically translators. They make it possible for devices that utilize different protocols to communicate. Introducing a gateway to legacy equipment would be like adding a translator to the room with three people speaking different languages. With someone to translate, they would be able to actually work on and complete that research paper – although it would most likely be a tedious process. 

Utilizing equipment gateways, building owners and facility managers are now able to utilize BMS systems to manage all of their equipment, including legacy equipment and new equipment that embraced standard protocols, such as BACnet. This has opened the door to smart buildings that have multiple systems all managed and monitored from a single device. 

So, where do we go from here? 

Thinking outside the building – the rise of the cloud

We’ve come a long way, from individual devices with analog controls to complex systems of systems that are capable of being controlled and monitored digitally via a single device. There’s another logical step that remains, taking that data from our equipment and bringing it outside of the building via the cloud. 

By cloud-enabling their devices and BMS systems, facility managers and building owners can remotely manage them from anywhere. They can even manage and monitor the systems and devices in multiple buildings from one place. This can be extremely useful for organizations that manage campuses composed of multiple buildings, or organizations that own or manage multiple buildings in different locations. 

This can also benefit the equipment manufacturers. Aggregating and analyzing equipment data in the cloud can have massive benefits for equipment maintenance, product development, and even customer service. 

Once again, there is something standing in the way. Commercial and industrial devices and the BMS solutions that control them don’t necessarily speak the same language as the cloud. This is especially true for older equipment that may have been manufactured before the cloud even existed. 

Thankfully, there are gateways that not only allow legacy equipment to work with new equipment and BMS systems, but also allow them to become cloud-enabled. By embracing these gateways, data can leave the building and go to the cloud, where it can be accessed remotely by building owners, facility managers, and even the OEMs that manufactured the equipment. This is the next frontier for equipment and for BMS system data and opens the door for even more advanced capabilities. 

To learn more about how cloud-enabling equipment can generate benefits and increase revenue for equipment manufacturers, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the ABI Research report, “Equipment Manufacturers Turn Cloud Connectivity into Competitive Advantage.”      

Bennie de Wet
Bennie de Wet leads Sierra Monitor Corporation’s product and technology development activities as Chief Technology Officer and is the Managing Director for Sierra Monitor South Africa. He has been instrumental in developing Sierra Monitor’s Sentry IT and FieldServer product lines over the last 15 years. Bennie has worked for over 25 years across all areas of industrial control, encompassing all aspects of the stack from embedded development of protocol drivers to design of controller logic to web services and cloud connectivity. Bennie started his career at Kentron and De Beers. Bennie holds a Bachelor's degree in Electronics Engineering with Honors from the University of Pretoria.

Read This Next

Advancing Industrial Automation Security with OPC UA

It’s been 16 years since the first version of OPC UA, also known as Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture, was released. Since then, there have been numerous iterations to make...
Keep reading