What are the Different Types of Smart Building Technology?

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Discover all of the different types of technology that make up this multi-billion dollar industry

 Though smart building technology is designed to make the lives of all inhabitants easier, the different technologies can be confusing. That’s why we’re here to provide a guide to all of the most essential terms that you’ll come across when discussing smart technologies for commercial applications.

Smart technologies are used in almost every recently built or recently renovated commercial property. This includes almost every operational aspect of the building including, lighting, plumbing, security, HVAC, and more! Since there are so many different elements to a smart building, learning about all of the correct terms and how each piece of technology works together can be a challenge. Luckily, we’re going to be breaking down some of the most common terms that you will hear when discussing smart buildings and smart technology applications in general – including how building management systems and building automation systems differ. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is important to take a moment to understand what smart buildings are and how they work. Ready to get started?

Smart Buildings Defined

Smart building technology has changed how humans interact with both commercial and residential spaces

Most large-scale buildings are now smart buildings due to their energy-saving capabilities.

A smart building is any building – commercial or residential – that is primarily controlled by automated and interconnected systems. These systems can operate throughout the day with little human oversight and are often capable of machine learning and other optimization features that improve the system as a whole. Smart technology can provide insights and gather data points on how the systems are operating and improvements that can be made. Smart buildings are also able to identify and alert building operators of potential issues or failures before they happen. Not only that, but they can pinpoint the exact location of a potential failure so repairs can be made before anything can go wrong. Within smart buildings, there is a network of sensors, cables, and microchips that facilitate communication between the sensors, their systems, and the building as a whole.

Before smart buildings, each aspect of a building’s operating system worked individually and required a manual visual inspection to identify any issues. Now that we have smart building technology, we can run properties much more efficiently and with fewer errors.

For people who are just beginning to understand what smart buildings are and how they work, the different systems and technologies used can be unclear at times. That’s why we’re taking a moment to define the different systems that allow for smart building functionality!

1. Building Automation Systems (BAS)

Building automation systems make machine learning and other innovations possible

Automated HVAC technologies make temperature control intuitive.

One of the most essential aspects of smart building technology is building automation. Automating buildings makes it easier for building managers to keep each system running properly, helps optimize operations to save money and energy, and makes commercial spaces more enticing for all inhabitants. A building automation system is a closed system that can run without human intervention. Often these automated systems are run via sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ll be defining IoT in a little more detail later on. For now, it is most important to understand that a building automation system is a way for building systems to internally communicate. For example, each operating system in a smart building will have a building automation system to continuously monitor, optimize operations, and alert for any issues.

Let’s take a look at an HVAC system for example. Using sensors placed around the building, the automated HVAC system will automatically receive data about each room’s temperature and humidity level. Using this data, the HVAC system can make adjustments based on industry standards, energy efficiency, or settings designated by the building operator. Because these systems can automatically respond to their surroundings, there is no need for human input to adjust the temperature throughout the day. In practice, an HVAC system will adjust as the warm sun comes through the window and into an office by automatically increasing the amount of cool air pumped into the office.

Now that we know more about building automation systems and how they work, let’s learn more about how building management systems differ from building automation systems.

2. Building Management Systems (BMS)

Different from a building automation system, building management systems allow the whole building to communicate

A building management system coordinates all smart building communication.

Building management systems and building automation systems are often misunderstood to be the same thing when talking about smart building technology. However, they actually serve different purposes. A building automation system, as we just discussed, is a system that communicates and automates one of the many systems inside of a smart building. On the other hand, a building management system connects the individual building automation systems to present data for the entire building. BMS systems are extremely important to ensure that all of the systems work together properly to conserve energy and make every space as comfortable as possible for all inhabitants.

Let’s take another look at our previous HVAC example for a little bit more clarity. If there is a conference room in a building that is scheduled for a certain time every day, the building management system will communicate with both automated HVAC and lighting systems to turn on at the same time. That way, when people enter the conference room, it is already optimally lighted and temperature controlled.

To trigger this action, you can either pre-set the BMS or you can rely on occupancy sensors to trigger both of these automatic actions. Overall, a building management system is there to manage all of the different automation systems that are operating concurrently within a smart building. Now that we know the difference between a BAS and BMS, let’s take a closer look at the internet of things (IoT) including how it functions and how it fits with other aspects of smart building technology.

3. Internet of Things (IoT)

Building management systems and building management systems are all connected via the Internet of Things

The IoT is what makes buildings intelligent.

We’ve just discussed a bit about how all of the automated systems are structured within the BMS and the building as a whole, but we have yet to touch on exactly how these systems are connected. All smart building technology is connected through the Internet of Things. Often abbreviated as IoT, the Internet of Things is an IP that is used by the BMS and BAS to communicate. Every piece of information that is shared between the systems is thanks to the IoT. That includes information from sensors placed throughout the building, security measures, environmental factors, warnings, and any other data points that help smart building technology function automatically.

Applications for IoT are not just for easy maintenance or cutting costs, this technology also improves facilities for all inhabitants. Take restrooms for example – we all need to use public restrooms, whether we want to or not. But what if there was a way to ensure that all restrooms in a commercial building were always clean and fully stocked? There is a way to use IoT technology for smart buildings. By installing sensors in different parts of the restroom, your IoT will communicate with your BAS and BMS to notify cleaning personnel when materials need to be replaced and when restrooms need to be cleaned. Occupancy sensors can detect how many people have visited any restroom in the building and notify staff when cleaning is necessary. Additionally, some smart buildings have installed sensors in the paper towel or soap dispensers to alert staff when a refill is needed. All of this communication is facilitated by IoT and makes the lives of building employees and occupants easier and more intuitive.

Depending on the scale of the building, there are different methods to implement an IoT. In the case of smaller applications, some can use WiFi as their IoT. While this works just fine, WiFi should not be used for critical functions like security because it is often susceptible to outages. For something as essential as security, most opt for Power over Ethernet (PoE) to connect their smart infrastructure. While we’re on the subject, let’s define PoE and talk a little bit about how it works for smart buildings.

4. Power Over Ethernet (PoE)

Power over Ethernet provides power and consistent internet connectivity to all of the sensors in a smart building

Ethernet cables unlock the true power of smart building technology.

Power over Ethernet is a type of wiring that both powers and connects smart building technology. We’ve all encountered Ethernet cords before – but most of us only have them in our memory when it comes to landline phones or dial-up internet connections. Since the advent of WiFi, we don’t use Ethernet cords in our homes nearly as much as we used to. However, for large-scale smart building applications, WiFi just isn’t reliable enough to make the cut. Not only that, devices connected to WiFi networks require external power, which will require additional wiring in the building.

That is where PoE comes into play. Ethernet cables cannot only transport information, but they are also able to power things like sensors, video cameras, lights, and other smart devices that require a low voltage. Because Ethernet cables can facilitate both power and communication to these devices throughout the building, they have become the top choice for establishing an IoT in large-scale smart buildings.

5.  Artificial Intelligence (AI)

These days, more smart buildings are using artificial intelligence to optimize operation and model future outcomes

AI helps building managers predict issues before they happen.

We hear a lot about artificial intelligence these days. However, when it comes to smart building technology, many aren’t sure how artificial intelligence is beneficial – or even how it is applied. Let’s start by defining artificial intelligence—artificial intelligence is when computers can mimic human behavior and intelligence to make predictions, suggestions, or solve problems. AI systems rely on complex code and algorithms to provide us with high-level analysis that was previously designated for humans.

So, what does artificial intelligence mean in the context of smart building technology? AI can be easily combined with the other elements of smart buildings we just discussed. Let’s look at an example of a plumbing system in a commercial building.

If you have an AI integration in your BAS, you’ll be able to predict any potential failure points based on AI models. Not only that, but the AI can continuously make suggestions on how to improve your plumbing system to conserve water. In this case, the AI is not merely presenting the information to a building operator, it is synthesizing the information pulled from the sensors in your building and making suggestions and predictions based on the information. This eliminates the need for constant visual inspections and helps buildings further optimize their operations.

6.  Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Never lose important information about the property thanks to this smart building technology

Maintaining clear records and modeling is essential for future improvements.

Building information modeling is an extremely useful tool for keeping track of the most important record about a property. Long before smart buildings, building information was likely stored in a filing cabinet, which is not exactly the most efficient way to store information. As technology progressed documents were scanned and stored in a shared folder, which is easy but lacks the integrations of BIM systems. It is also possible – albeit unfortunate – that some older buildings have lost their original blueprints permanently. In the case of lost blueprints or other essential documents, BIM systems can create new blueprints based on collected data and new inputs from building managers. Using this new information, your BIM system can assemble blueprints based on the available data you have.

Documents like building blueprints and certifications need to be called on more than we think, which is why it is so important for smart buildings to integrate BIM systems as a part of their smart buildings.

BIM also has the capability to model blueprints and other information in 3D, which is useful for any technician who has to make repairs or perform an inspection. It also makes the lives of your building operators and other employees who deal with building management easier.

Another great feature of BIM is a sort of modeling system where you can visualize future developments. Since the system has a 3D blueprint of the entire building, you can easily create mockups and test out the spatial possibilities of future improvements. That way, you can test out these new developments and model potential issues before they arise.

An excellent use case for BIM technology is for optimized spatial management. Say you are redesigning a space in your building, but you aren’t sure how all of the furniture, essential tech, and other design elements will fit together. Using your BIM in tandem with AI software, you can easily come up with the best possible way to renovate the space and how to place each individual element. From the initial model, you can move things around as you see fit and watch as the model automatically adapts to your input. This is especially useful for demonstrating future plans to stakeholders, as they can see a high-quality model of the future developments planned for the building based on the blueprints.

Since there are so many different types of smart building technologies, it is easy to get the terms confused. However, we hope that reading this article helped you get a better understanding of the different terms, abbreviations, and the individual functions of each system. When you enter a smart building, all of these systems are operating collaboratively to keep the building running properly, adjusting to incoming data points from hundreds of sensors, and actively searching for opportunities to improve every aspect of internal functions. As we continue to innovate through smart building technologies, our indoor worlds become safer, more intuitive, and more energy-efficient.

Kirat Author

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