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Strategies for leveraging the power of IoT sensors in smart buildings

Strategies for leveraging the power of IoT sensors in smart buildings
With studies showing there will be around 1.3 billion smart sensors worldwide by 2021, understanding how to leverage the power of IoT devices for smart building management will be crucial.
Smart buildings with connected sensors are becoming increasingly popular. A study by Deloitte predicts that by 2020, there will be about 1.3 billion IoT sensors worldwide, a 78.8 percent increase from 2015. In this context, understanding how to leverage the power of IoT and coming up with appropriate building management strategies is key to getting the best out of smart buildings.

We’ve come a long way from stand-alone thermostats and motion detectors. Motion detectors can now be combined with occupancy sensors, and more complex devices can provide information about air quality, temperature, ambient noise and many other comfort conditions.

But according to Ram Venkat, Energy Management Professional at Schneider Electric, it is what one does with the data that really makes a building smart. "IoT enables a wealth of data to be collected from disparate devices that may be used locally for accurate control of the environment, but also remotely processed to provide actionable insights,” he said in a recent blog post on the company’s website.

Going beyond proactive to predictive systems

Several industries, including physical security and building management, have for years tried to market the concept of proactive solutions that can prevent an incident rather than simply provide forensic support. With smart technologies, the aim is to be predictive, which could be far more efficient from a management perspective.

“Maintenance philosophies are evolving -- we are in an era where your system can diagnose its assets and alert you of impending issues far in advance,” Venkat said. “Evolution of neural networks has enabled systems to learn from past patterns of operation and failure and predict future occurrences, enabling facility managers and operators to optimize their maintenance costs through condition-based monitoring and diagnosis.

Sensors remain the fundamental blocks of this technology, and capturing continuous operation data enables both actionable insights and continuous improvement of the technology.”

Utilization of the cloud to store this data brings in the need for cloud-based services such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). These add another layer of dynamism to data analytics, also enabling more economical subscription models for predictive maintenance programs. These services can further be completely managed by the service provider to provide total peace of mind to the end user.

Putting the digital strategy in place

All of the above begins with a digital strategy, and this more often than not begins with an intelligent building management system (iBMS). For faster integration of independent systems like HVAC, light controls, fire systems, power distribution networks, and IT facilities, open protocols may be a great option. 

“Efficiency gains are achievable not only through the simpler operation [that] one visualization gives to the user, but also though the collection of common data, processing, and sharing, enabling gradual digitization of the building,” Venkat noted.

Specifically regarding power distribution, a decentralized approach and advanced mesh grid systems could be more useful than conventional methods. The connected architecture model that IoT has brought in with its software layer provides control and analytics, and should help operators create more resilient, efficient, and sustainable building systems.

Digitization would enable dynamic interactions between the building and power systems, delivering greater control in an increasingly complex operating environment, Venkat added.

A challenge to this is, of course, the age of buildings that are already in place. Retrofitting is becoming a key industry in this regard, ensuring that customers are not forced to spend on new buildings while they already have certain infrastructure in place. Once this is perfected, the combination of sensors and the data that they provide will pave way for more efficient buildings.
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