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How the Smart Core Foundation is leading to even smarter buildings

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Vanti, a Beckhoff integration partner, seeks to change the way the property and construction industries think about designing, deploying, maintaining and optimising technology in the built environment. It’s doing this through the Smart Core Foundation.

The past decade has seen technology in buildings take huge leaps forward, resulting in more efficient spaces through connected systems. However, these connections are typically made in a point-to-point fashion, making changing or upgrading systems difficult and expensive.

These deployments can’t easily facilitate data extraction or analysis either and certainly don’t support industry demands for self-optimising buildings enabled by machine learning.

A smart building, in its truest sense, should be designed around its occupants, using technology to deliver useful and consistent experiences, as well as spatial and energy efficiencies.

The systems that exist in buildings are nearly all now comprised of IT components and are network-based, meaning the potential already exists to integrate them and their devices with one another, in standardised ways. This unlocks the ability to create the experiences the next generation of building users expect. Huge financial and energy efficiencies can also be realised by re-thinking how technology is installed and commissioned into buildings.

Beckhoff’s open automation systems are based on PC control technology, incorporating industrial PCs, I/O and fieldbus components, and automation software. These are products that can be used as separate components or integrated into a complete and seamless control platform. The Beckhoff ‘New Automation Technology’ philosophy represents universal and open control and automation solutions that are used worldwide in a wide variety of different applications.

Beckhoff’s solution providers can design, manufacture, install, program, commission and maintain a wide range of control solutions for industrial automation applications and building management using Beckhoff hardware and other complementary technologies.

Vanti is an international award-winning master systems integrator that designs and builds ambitious audio-visual, IT, smart building and workplace systems across the world. Adopting a unique approach that puts people first, Vanti’s innovative technology delivers tangible outcomes, saving its clients significant amounts of money on the operation and maintenance costs of their technology estates.

Potential for change

So how should we approach a smart building project? By beginning with the end in mind we can take into account who is going to be using the building and what they are going to be doing there.

According to the UK Green Building Council, 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built. Building projects today can be divided into five main ‘Smart’ sectors. For the end-user, they must consider carefully what they are buying, what they want the building to do for them, as well as the potential for future change in use.

Silo; Systems deployed in isolation with no control or analytics.

Smart silo; Systems deployed in isolation with the ability to control their own behaviour and look at their own data, e.g. a closed lighting system that can be controlled and may generate a limited data set for analysis.

Smart building – data; Building systems are still deployed in isolation with integration between them achieving data extraction, facilitating collection of data and viewing analytics in a central location, potentially cloud based.

Smart building – experience; Building UX (“User Experience”) defines the technology experience. Systems are selected for their utility and contribution to the vision. Integration achieves two-way communication, facilitating unified in-building and mobile app control as well as centralised analytics.

Smart building; Building UX defines the technology experience; devices are selected for their utility and contribution to the vision. Integration achieves two-way communication, facilitating unified in-building and mobile app control as well as centralised analytics. Multi-protocol area controllers communicate with a single orchestration layer providing one building interface. Components are designed to be easily upgradeable over time.

By grouping functionality and building systems we can facilitate smaller, more focused conversations during the design and construction phase. There are lots of efficiencies to be gained if we begin to restructure how we procure our buildings.

Vanti’s belief is that if more thought is given to how people use a building, and the potential improvements to technology and working style are taken into consideration, then time and money can be saved on adapting the building in the future. Our industry is gradually coming to realise that while a building is built to stand for 50+ years, the technology systems within it will nearly all be refreshed on three to 10-year cycles.

Mike Brooman, CEO at Vanti, says, “We see huge risks for building owners and operators locked in to poorly executed projects and proprietary products, both with associated long-running contracts. As such, the Smart Core Foundation develops approaches to achieving genuinely open building technology interoperability to ensure these expensive assets deliver exceptional user experiences through their entire lifecycle – from concept to demolition.”

Mike also believes flexibility is the key to Smart Core’s long-term potential, explaining, “Smart Core offers a building technology platform and framework designed to standardise the approach people take to integrating systems and make it much more sustainable for the future. After Smart Core has been deployed, clients with the requisite skills can continue to make changes as and when required.”

Quick and consistent

The Smart Core Building OS is an operating system (like Microsoft Windows or Apple’s MacOS) specifically designed for buildings. It promotes a distributed architecture, an abstraction layer and common tools through which to deploy applications offering specific functionality to people

who use or need to maintain physical spaces. The focus of the OS is to enable integrations to happen quickly and consistently rather than offering libraries of pre-built and potentially unsuitable drivers.

A number of sectors have the potential to benefit from Smart Core, including commercial, hospitality, education and residential. For example, it can enable residents of multi-dwelling units and private residential schemes to benefit from the multi-site efficiencies that can be had with these types of homes. Having a great place to live also maximises resident retention for landlords.

Mike Brooman adds, “We strongly believe that by establishing a community of people using Smart Core patterns and software we’ll be able to source more ideas to improve them and get closer to the goal of having a standardised approach to the integration of building technology. Getting to this point will benefit everyone involved in these industries as it will allow us to all speak the same language during design, construction and operation, working better together.”

The work produced by the Smart Core Foundation will be freely available to those who wish to use it under Creative Commons licensing, and anyone making enhancements to it also has to release their work under the same terms.

Mike concludes, “Beckhoff products make an ideal platform for Smart Core, also allowing other software to be incorporated into the same physical system. Our early access programme has now launched and we’re getting a small number of people in to review documentation and code before we publish publicly. We’ve had our first device manufacturer interested in embedding Smart Core in their controllers natively, and people can register their interest in working with us at www.smart-core.tech.

This article originally appeared in Electrical Review January/February 2021.

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