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Intelligent Building Automation and Facility Management

Intelligent Building Automation and Facility Management

The Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent automation are having a moment. While conversations about internet connectivity and automation's role in facility management have been going on for years, the pandemic has given them a new urgency.

Intelligent Automation in Use Today

While traditional automation helps save labor, improve efficiency, improve sustainability, and increase health and safety, intelligent automation takes devices beyond the baseline expectations of automated systems. Intelligent building solutions are able to interact with data collection, analytics, and innovative wireless technology, providing insight that goes deeper than traditional automation ever could. As an example, a traditional HVAC system can be connected to a room occupancy sensor, automating it to turn on when the room is occupied, and off when it's empty. Intelligent automation could also allow these devices to provide data on filter efficiency, wear and tear, airflow, and space use. Rather than simply saving energy and cutting costs, intelligent automation can also help with predictive maintenance, occupant health, and optimizing traffic flow and room use.

Implementing Intelligent Building Automation

While the IoT and automation can be labor-saving, there's more to implementing them than purchasing the latest internet-enabled device. An "automation mindset" serves as a starting point. At its most basic, automation is simple -- if something happens, it triggers an effect. If the indoor temperature drops below 68°F, the thermostat triggers the heating system to turn on. Keeping this in mind allows facility managers to spot opportunities for automating their processes. At that point, two questions arise: Which devices need to communicate to make this happen, and can they do it?

Using the example of a public restroom, automated soap dispensers can send a signal when they need to be refilled. They can communicate with a digital inventory system and send an alert when liquid soap supplies run low. The inventory system may then be able to submit a purchase order for more soap, ensuring that inventory never runs out and the restrooms are always supplied. After that comes setting up and testing the automated devices. Each facility has unique needs, and not all internet-enabled devices are going to fit the bill. Some sensors are more sensitive than others and may send out false positives or negatives. Calibration can take a while, and any automated solutions should be set up and tested on a small scale before large-scale deployment.

Avoiding Pitfalls

The more complicated the solution, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong. While IoT and intelligent automation are a boon to building security, they present their own cybersecurity challenges. Anything that can connect can be connected to in turn, and hackers will exploit this. Implementation of this tech needs to come alongside a robust cybersecurity plan. It's also possible to choose the wrong technology, and connectivity can make or break automation. Some connectivity technology is more appropriate for some applications than others -- for example, 5G-enabled devices for consumer use, or low-power wide-area technology for IoT devices. Choosing the wrong connectivity tech can end up costing more and offering poorer performance at first, and creating complications as more devices are added to the automation ecosystem.

Intelligent Building Automation in a Post-COVID World

The biggest benefit to building automation is the lack of human involvement. It's faster, less expensive, and more effective for an automated sensor to do what a human otherwise would. As it turns out, it's also much safer. Rather than having security personnel manually take the temperature of every visitor and enforce social distancing, automated security can take care of everything. Centralized digital access controls allow managers to set who can access an area of a building or campus. When this is coupled with contactless facial recognition and infrared cameras to verify a guest's temperature, a basic security setup can also protect employee health by reducing the risk of transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Post-COVID, many facilities also found themselves struggling to balance recommendations for increased ventilation with climate control. More airflow reduces the spread of respiratory viruses, but the cost of heating and cooling all of that fresh outdoor air can become prohibitive. HVAC systems outfitted with sensors and microchips, connected to digital access controls, allow heating and cooling systems to make adjustments on the fly while monitoring the status of filters, ducts, and airflow. It reduces the need for maintenance, cuts energy costs, and ensures that indoor air is as healthy and comfortable as possible.

The Future of Automation and the IoT

Some experts predict that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is here to stay, and we must adjust accordingly. While security and connectivity post challenges for implementing intelligent building automation and IoT devices, these are becoming less of an issue as automation becomes more common. As a result, more and more owners and managers are seeing how leveraging intelligent automation can save them money, improve occupant health and satisfaction, and provide a high return on investment. Intelligent automation is here to stay and would make a wise investment for anyone willing to set up, test, and deploy it in their facility.

Traditional automation has been viewed as a labor-saving measure, but intelligent automation goes much further. In addition to reducing the need for human input, intelligent building solutions make buildings safer, healthier, and more sustainable, while providing valuable analytics to owners and facility managers.

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