At a point in human civilization, we realized we could harness radio waves to surpass the geographical limitations to human communication — the analog telephone was borne.

Placing call is just a basic functionality of phones today — a story of ‘dumb to smart’.

What then is the Basic Functionality of buildings?

  • A home is a hub of entertainment.
  • The home could be an extension of the office.
  • The home is obviously a source of comfort and privacy; thus, worth protecting.
  • It needs no stressing, therefore, that the function of a Smart Home is not just shelter, same way the function of a smartphone is not just placing calls any longer.

The IT Infrastructure has been a major foundation upon which the industry-wide evolutions of recent times has been built. Systems have become open-source and standardized.

Just like the final product, however, the Design and Delivery Process of smart products keep evolving. The design has become a digital/virtual creation of the subsequent product.

On the delivery of the products, there has to be Feedback System(s) to measure performance and the end-user experience — that is the only sure way to keep evolving for the better.

In this write-up, we would be laying out the foundations upon which Smart Building Technology is built.

IT ALL BEGAN FROM THE OSI REFERENCE MODEL!

What is IT? Information Technology.The primary function of all the equipment in the IT world is to support information travel from source(s) to destination(s).

This journey could get really complicated easily; thus, there has to be a classification system for defining the functionalities of these equipment — as well as information/signal states.

What does this has to do with Smart Buildings you ask?

From a technological viewpoint, the major difference between a ‘dumb’ building and a smart building is an underlying IT infrastructure. On the most basic level, end-user devices communicate with control equipment, which in turn communicate with source equipment — a network of equipment.

These equipment perform specialized functions – at least at the inception of Information Technology. The ISO’s OSI reference model helped classify the diverse equipment. Today it might be hard to classify some equipment under one layer though.

Simply put, information originates from an equipment with a user interface and travels over a network, via a physical medium to a destination equipment.

Thus, every piece of the networked equipment or media is either generating information (the application layer), or managing the information (the network layer), or doing the actual information transfer (the physical layer) — and that is the foundation upon which any technical discussion of smart buildings is built.

THE PHYSICAL LAYER IS THE INFRASTRUCTURE!

The physical layer is the nervous system of the entire network stack; thus, performs one simple function: Data Transfer.

Regardless of the data type(s) being transferred, the physical layer demands standardization — across various vendors, and technology systems.

The physical layer can be either wired or wireless. The wired media equally demands standardized termination at endpoints.

The most common physical media in smart buildings include copper wire (transmitting voltage), fiberglass (transmitting light) and the wireless media (radio frequency, Zwave, Zigbee etc.).

  • The standard for copper wire is the unshielded twisted pair (UTP) and the shielded twisted pair (STP). The former is the most common medium presently used in smart buildings for the transfer of diverse signal types; however, the later is used for shorter distance and for more secure signal types.
  • Fiber optics is gradually becoming common in smart buildings, as recent technological advances require the higher bandwidth it provides. It travels a longer distance than copper wire and is immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI), and attenuation. It could be either single mode or multimode — the former travels a longer distance than the latter…
  • Radio frequency has equally become a common physical media in smart buildings, due to its mobility, ubiquity, ease of setup etc. Other wireless media like Zwave and Zigbee are used for shorter distances and low-data applications like door locks, lighting systems etc.

COMMUNICATIONS ARE DEFINED BY STANDARD PROTOCOLS

If the signal is the blood of the network; the protocol is the brain. The protocol sets the rules: the encoding and decoding of signal, the transfer rate, the error detection, the signal formats etc.

Protocols in smart buildings have come a long way. They started as proprietary (supported by the manufacturer/vendor), to open source protocols (vendor-neutral).

Open-source protocol is the only reason why the IT industry has exploded so fast in so short a period of time — The IP Convergence Evolution.

The most prevalent protocols in smart buildings are the Ethernet Protocol and TCP/IP Protocol.

  • The Ethernet protocol uses just the first two layers of the OSI reference model — the physical layer and the data link layer. In essence, the networked devices must be physically connected; thus, called a LAN (Local Area Network).
  • The TCP/IP protocol adds network and transport layers to the capabilities of the Ethernet protocol, using the IP (Internet Protocol) addressing system. This simply removes geographical limitations to the networking of equipment — birthing the www (world wide web) evolution.

With TCP/IP protocol, every device in a smart home becomes a node on the network with an IP address. The standard cable or wireless media connect these devices — irrespective of their system. With IP addresses, the equipment can be communicated from anywhere around the globe.

It should be noted that the LAN extends to the WAN — or any other network — simply by introducing a router. This, in turn, serves as a security device, protecting the devices within the LAN.

OPEN DATABASE CONNECTIVITY

It was stated earlier that the primary function of every networked equipment/media is to support information transfer from source to destination.

Information is basically processed data; thus, every Technology System in a Smart Building transfer one form of information or the other; in other words, each system has a database.

The ideology of Open-Source Network Architecture demands that various systems can mutually query each other to extract information whenever needed. That is a fundamental precinct of Smart Building Technology.

The major technologies that make this possible include: Structured Query Language (SQL), Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) and Extensible Markup Language (XML).

  • As its name implies, SQL is a vendor-neutral programming language that uses a row-and-column structure. It runs on multiple hardware, network types, and operating systems. The most basic function of SQL is to make it easy to query databases — although it has evolved beyond just that over time.
  • ODBC is a SQL-based interface that extends the functionalities of SQL. It does this through a middle layer software, known as the Database Driver. By implication, all a software developer does is make the software ODBC-compliant. This allows the software to utilize various database drivers to access multiple databases.
  • XML is also a vendor-neutral language, but more importantly, it is a basic (text) file format. It is the standard format for exchanging information across various systems in a smart building. This exchange is made possible through an XML-based protocol called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). A very important function of XML in Smart Building Technology is exchanging the BIM data generated during building design/delivery with the Facility Manager/Client for building maintenance purposes…

All these technologies make information easily accessible; thus, reduces the recreation of information, and wasted time.

However, it equally calls for efficient security system(s) to monitor who queries what information and define access levels/permissions based on roles.

THE FOUNDATIONAL DESIGN PRINCIPLES

So far, we’ve laid the Technological Foundations of Smart Building Technology as leveraging existing IT infrastructure; however, the foundation will not be complete without touching on the actual Delivery Process: the Design, the Delivery and the Management.

Analogous to how Technology Systems interoperate, software tools used in Smart Home design also interoperate…

Smart Building design entails producing a virtual version of the actual building. This is a collaborative process, through which various professionals jointly generate the actual data of the building — which is subsequently utilized for the facility management.

This is made possible through interoperable BIM tools. This collaborative/integrated approach is the fundamental precinct of Smart Building Delivery — which is equally in line with the open-source architecture earlier mentioned.

This approach has recently resurrected Virtual Reality (VR) in the building industry, as a companion design tool. VR helps both the designer and the end-user get a closer feel of the facility under design, as well as perform diverse design analyses.

Building design involves lots of software tools optimized for various functions: Conceptual Design, Documentation, Analyses, Visualization, Management etc. However, BIM ensures vendor-neutrality, and smooth data exchange across the various software platforms — this is made possible through such technologies as XML, IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) etc.In summary, Smart Building Design should be viewed as a Data-Generation Process.

The database would eventually be queried by other Technology Systems in the building via SQL and ODBC.

THE FOUNDATIONAL DELIVERY PRINCIPLES

Just like the design process, the entire delivery process of a Smart Building is Integrated/Holistic. The delivery process is a major difference between the traditional building construction and smart building delivery.

The various parts of a smart building are prefabricated offsite — tested and analyzed before final onsite assembly. The entire delivery process is managed by a BIM Execution Plan, signed and agreed upon, by all parties involved.

The major technologies that make the delivery process very efficient include Digital Fabrication, Assembly Line Manufacturing, and Robotics — which are all emerging technologies.

  • Digital Fabrication could either be Subtractive (CNC Machining), or Additive (3D printing). Both are efficient technologies, as they utilize the 3D model generated by BIM software to fabricate building parts — thus ensures accuracy, while saving time and cost. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and are optimized for slightly different use cases. More info here.
  • Assembly Line Manufacturing mimics the segmented/mass manufacturing process found in the Automobile Industry. This typically comes after the digital fabrication stage. It is during this stage that the fabricated — and other — parts are sub-assembled, ready for final assembly on-site. Various industry standard tests are also carried out at this stage.
  • A great companion of the Assembly Line is Robotics. This simply entails employing programmed robots to automate and fasten the entire process. Robots are equally employed onsite for final assembly.
It should be noted that all these technologies are rather still in “beta” phase; thus, currently has lots of limitations.

THE FOUNDATIONAL MAINTENANCE PRINCIPLES

What we refer to as Facility Management today is a far cry from what could be obtained from a BIM-based Building Delivery Methodology.

Put another way, Facility Management System (FMS) is just one of the Technology Systems found in a smart building — sharing database with other technology systems.

The data is simply a digital version of the actual building, reduced to a spreadsheet, or other needed formats, via XML.

Why do you need to manage a facility?

The two most important reasons are for Maintenance Purposes and measuring Post-Occupancy Metrics (or User Satisfaction).

  • The first is achieved through the FMS devices — which typically includes wirelessly networked devices/sensors, reporting to a panel/processor, which is part of the home network. The reports from the central panel are displayed on a dashboard — typically a web interface — in real-time. The FMS also queries the database of other systems, such as the Security, HVAC, Lighting and Surveillance Systems etc. and alerts the facility manager for maintenance, hazards, intrusion etc.
  • Measuring Post-Occupancy Metrics is also performed by the FMS; however, it requires direct feedback from the end users. This usually involves giving the end users a User Interface with which to communicate with the FMS and the facility manager. The best approach has been through the use of mobile apps utilizing user credentials. This is because the end users can easily give feedback from anywhere, and at any time — especially in times of emergency.

A direct derivative of the FMS is Post-Occupancy Evaluation. This measures facility performance; thus, help improve on ailing systems/approaches, as well as find out the better performing approaches — ultimately ensuring end-user satisfaction.

At Blaze, we offer three major services:

  1. BIM Software Training
  2. BIM Execution Planning
  3. Enterprise Integrations – e.g. BIM 360 Design Suite

If You need any of the services,

Place your request here.