The Development of Intelligent Buildings | Macro

The Development of Intelligent Buildings


By Simon Long, Senior FM Consultant, Macro

What is an intelligent building? Since the 1980’s, there have been more than 30 definitions, but a fair, concise and accurate description is made by the Institution of Engineering and Technology as “one where the combination of technologies and interconnected systems supports the use of the accommodation by the building’s users, enables the efficient operation of the building and enables reconfiguration of the space in response to changing use”.

There has been a clear progression in building intelligence initiatives over the past 35 years:

  • Automated Buildings (a collection of innovative technologies)
  • Responsive Buildings (a collection of technologies able to respond to organisational change over time)
  • Efficient Buildings (a responsive, effective and supportive environment within which the organisation can achieve its business objectives.  The intelligent building technologies are tools that help this happen)

How does this all impact on our daily operations?  When viewing an intelligent building, there are four main aspects to consider:

1. Communication

2. Information Management

3. Control

4. Facilities Management

Within these four aspects are numerous components that require consideration such as waste management, energy management, security and fire, telecom and office and BMS. 

We take many components of intelligent buildings for granted due to their prevalence in our work environments.  Lighting controlled by presence detectors, thermostats keeping our offices and shops at the optimum temperature are two obvious examples, both of which have been in use for many years.

Perhaps the primary component that can be realised is the use of BIM (Building Information Modelling).  Although not strictly a component of the building, BIM Level 3 (Digital Britain 2015) released in February 2015, which exceeds Level 2 with a greater emphasis on data exchange and processes, can be a crucial asset in the design and planning for intelligent controls.  Not only is this beneficial practically, the added bonus would be financial. The BIM Task Group suggest a 20% saving on CAPEX when incorporating BIM within the project process, but are quick to point out that the largest target for reduction is the operational expenditure (OPEX).

For FM operators, processes that can be automated should be welcomed.  Many daily tasks, if performed correctly and to the relevant standards, can be extremely labour intensive and in turn, costly.  Removing the human interface from systems, to ones where the system itself can “report” its own condition, not only reduces labour requirements and costs, but also removes the human error factor.  An example of this is a Central Battery System, which self-monitors and tests, and provides feedback to a central point.

Knowing the real-time status of systems can lead service providers away from traditional timed interval maintenance to one where maintenance is carried out exactly when it is needed.  Vibration sensors on pumps could provide early warning of a belt or bearing issue, allowing the service provider to be proactive in the replacement, rather than possibly having a failure as the planned maintenance was not for another six weeks.

Not all intelligence has to report.  An elevator can “learn” when peak periods of vertical travel are: 8am ground floor to upper floors, 5pm the other way round.  The elevator can position itself at the optimum location, rather than automatically returning to ground after every journey, as is the case in many buildings.

When considering how we develop a building towards a greater level of intelligence, the availability of technology and components provide a relatively easy transition.  Whilst it would always be more advantageous for a building to be designed to be intelligent, retrofitting a more traditional building is still a viable alternative.  Not every system within a building would benefit from having technology installed, but for those that are suitable, the rewards far outweigh cost and design issues. 

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