i4.0 today






By John Coulter, Managing Director, Blended Technology Ltd

Blended Technology specialise in the design and commissioning of Intelligent Building Networks and associated technologies. We provide consultancy to the building industry allowing information technology to be at the heart of the building from its very conception. This allows systems such as CCTV, BMS and access control to seamlessly integrate into the fabric of a building. We create a secure independent platform for each system while maintaining the ability to interconnect systems where required. This allows unprecedented communication enabling the potential of a “Smart Building” to be realised.

Intelligent buildings have evolved dramatically with increased demands on connectivity and the integration of autonomous systems. In the beginning control of building services was accomplished by a multitude of communication methods and proprietary languages. As these systems developed it became apparent that some form of inter system communication would be necessary. IP (Internet Protocol) became the standard however language and other elements remained proprietary. Over time standards developed and the true benefits of the connected building environment began to emerge. Systems continued to evolve with more components adopting IP and Ethernet as the standard communication method. Other systems such as CCTV and access control moved to IP based solutions. This only fuelled a greater need for building IP networks. The pace of development in IP networking within the building industry has continued to grow exponentially causing a knowledge gap in the providers of these systems. IT managers and technical specialists associated with the building user have become reluctant to permit such equipment to connect to the corporate network. As a result service contractors are forced to provide multiple communications networks for their systems with varying levels of success and little or no best practice. This has highlighted a need for the development of a specifically designed network to support these systems.

In order to facilitate this need around the building management portfolio, the network must deliver functionality in a number of key areas. Firstly to have a high level of availability and resilience. This is achieved by utilising features of industry standard networking, this allows resilient connectivity aided by uninterruptable power supplies for equipment. Secondly systems such as CCTV may need priority over network resources. By implementing quality of service across the building network we can prioritise traffic and eliminate excessive network latency, a problem common to poorly installed network solutions. In addition we need to provide a connected frontend interface to the multiple services such as CCTV, lighting and HVAC control. This provides secure access to control systems both within the building and remotely across the internet greatly enhancing the flexibility to support these systems. Elements can communicate in a controlled manor enabling the full potential of a connected intelligent building infrastructure. These dedicated solutions have until now been resigned to larger more prestigious buildings with appropriate budget to match. However as more building systems move to IP connectivity, having a building core IP network has now become a necessity rather than an optional requirement. This presents a major problem for architects and contractors who need to provide this specialised IT infrastructure often beyond their skills portfolio. Blended Technology can provide turnkey solution to suit any size and type of building infrastructure. This dedicated network infrastructure provides high bandwidth and availability within a secure cabled environment. Utilising the latest technologies we provide a future proof solution capable of being upgraded throughout many years of service.

As more building systems move to IP connectivity, having a building core IP network has now become a necessity rather than an optional requirement

The concepts of data analysis in building and facilities management has dramatically altered over the past 20 years. These new developments are often referred to as “Big Data”. Big Data is an extremely large data set that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions. In addition the development of connected sensor networks and pervasive computing, often described as the Internet of Things (IoT), has added new dimensions to the applications of Big Data within building management solutions. The IoT can be defined as network connectivity embedded in physical objects – from motorway signs to refrigerators. These are linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the internet. The emergence of the IoT through data generating networks in everyday objects coupled with Big Data analysis gives way to the collection of an immense amount data to create “smart” buildings and interconnected cities. This new urban environment, that’s designed for performance through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) heralds a fundamental change in the design and management of both commercial and domestic property.

This expansion of big data leads nicely into the development of Industry 4.0 and beyond within the context of “Smart Factories”. Industry 4.0 is seen as the 4th industrial revolution and is the introduction of real time monitoring and decision making based on highly connected manufacturing environments. Key principles in the development of these smart manufacturing solutions are interoperability and the transparency of information between systems. This allows for the revolutionary transformation of real time monitoring and automated decision making within the manufacturing process. As this technology develops over the coming years augmented reality and voice interactive technologies will bring new and exciting developments to the area of smart factories and manufacturing. Utilising this technology can bring significant cost savings and benefit to a manufacturing business. It does however also come with a number of challenges. The main technical challenge revolve around the security and resilience of the network infrastructure in common with existing smart building networks. By providing a tailored network solution these challenges can be addressed to provide a secure and stable platform to support any future application.

Industry 4.0 is seen as the 4th industrial revolution and is the introduction of real time monitoring and decision making based on highly connected manufacturing environments

This increased reliance in data acquisition means that information technology should now be at the heart of new building design. Traditionally IT decisions and designs tend to be first conceived quite late in the building design process, at stage 4 of the RIBA’s construction work plan. This is usually associated with the development of the mechanical and electrical engineering design and encompasses data cabling and telecommunications room design. By engaging an IT architect at the concept and early design phases a more holistic approach to the buildings technology can be adopted. This would involve areas such as audio visual systems, networks, and wireless provision to name but a few. The IT architect should act as both project manager and technical design authority for the duration of the building project. This should include managing the relationship between key IT sub-contractors, the building contractor and most importantly the client. By following sound best practice and recognised project processes, the IT architect can take much of the ambiguity out of technology provisioning and requirements. This results in less changes in scope and subsequent increases in costs.

So as we move into this new and exciting time, the need for imbedded information technologies shall continue to become a greater part of the building design process. Architects and facility providers shall need to embrace these technologies and build them into the very heart of their buildings. With this in mind the IT architect role should only grow within the building industry.

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