The essentials of building automation

Norman Disney & Young

Thursday, 21 May, 2015

The essentials of building automation

There are few markets as fast paced or lucrative as the technology market, particularly in the context of building automation solutions.

Enabling coordination between systems is now a key focus in the wake of multiple new vendor products - something that can prove to be complex and intricate. Which is where integration design holds the key.

As part of the Building Automation & Controls 2015 conference, Jon Clarke*, Senior Associate Controls Group Manager, Norman Disney & Young (NDY), shares his insights into the complexity of integration design and how consultants can support the interaction of different vendor products in automation systems.

“We’re finding unprecedented demand for integrated automation systems, where interoperability is a priority from a functionality perspective,” he said. NDY was recently involved in a major project to design a national monitoring platform.

“In this instance, there were a number of sites that had to be designed against a certain technology - once each site came online it could be literally plugged into the system. This was a different approach for us; we traditionally don’t specify products as a consultant, rather the technical outcomes,” Jon explained.

As a result, the entire implementation was based on a software framework infrastructure that allows disparate systems to share data across an integrated communications network.

“Each site was based upon a modular design with packaged plant for ventilation, cooling, controls and electrical infrastructure,” added Jon. “We took this modular principle into the design of the automation systems by specifying the control systems to comply with a set of integration rules, which enabled a ‘plug and play’ approach.”

This architecture resulted in real-time data flows and communication between the remote sites and national monitoring platform. But one of the key learnings, according to Jon, was making sure that each system provider adhered to the integration rules.

“You have to ensure that where the modules bolt into site infrastructure, all of the componentry is designed to a specific standard. From wiring practices, through to language for communications and off-site testing, everything has to be aligned in the set-up. This keeps site work to a minimum and commissioning time is significantly reduced,” he said.

Wireless and online systems

Online and wireless technology has emerged as a flexible solution for clients across Europe and the US, and while these products currently do not comply with Australian licensing, Jon believes they will eventually find greater prevalence.

Integration management

Enabling connectivity between disparate systems requires careful consideration, according to Jon. And one particular variable relates to the reality of open systems.

“There is quite a bit of glossiness and hype around terms like integration and interoperability, but these obscure the real meaning and value of the systems,” said Jon.


The latest industry buzzwords are Analytics and Big Data.

“The objective is to review all performance regimes, not just for buildings but for contractors, tenants, everyone. When we offer solutions, it’s all about return on investment. Feasibility is not just about the costs or logistics of introducing the system in, but how much revenue (savings) it can generate for the client, and the subsequent payback term,” Jon said.

*Jon Clarke, Senior Associate Controls Group Manager, Norman Disney & Young (NDY), has worked within the field of control systems for his entire professional career - initially in the petrochemical industry working with PLC- and SCADA-based systems with mission-critical and life safety applications. He has since clocked up over 20 years working with building services. Using his systems experience, he has consulted to major international air-conditioning and refrigeration manufacturers, and has designed a diverse range of applications including conventional office space, home automation with AV and mission-critical data centres.

Image credit: ©

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