Building automation goals achieved using IoT technologyTech Trends · Oct 24, 2016
Have you ever noticed how many heating and air conditioning repair trucks hit the road in extreme temperatures? Whether it’s a heat wave or an ice storm, you just know that someone is waiting (rather uncomfortably) for a technician and, most likely, fearing a large repair bill.
Like so many other mechanical systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment is susceptible to problems when it’s needed the most, both because that’s when the most stress is placed on it, and there’s a lack of awareness of how the equipment is actually performing. This is why most large modern buildings now have a centralized building management system (BMS) that provides real-time control, visibility and optimization of building performance characteristics. These systems deliver a range of benefits, such as improving comfort, minimizing emergency repairs, reducing energy consumption and lengthening equipment life. Ultimately, they can significantly lower operational costs.
Automated solutions switch the building’s climate systems on and off by time of day, day of week, internal and external temperature or any other parameter set by the occupants and businesses in the building. More importantly, they also monitor every component; warning of potential problems before they become real ones, allowing for proactive maintenance instead of expensive emergency repairs.
However, as Trevor Strauss, CEO of Behold Control explains, most building automation solutions simply don’t make economic sense in smaller facilities, especially ones already built, for three reasons. “First, they’re costly systems,” he says. “Second, it’s difficult and expensive to retrofit a building. Third, they require a lot of programming to customize them for each building and to make sure their software doesn’t impact the building’s QoS networks.”
The Behold Control platform solves these issues. The solution consists of three parts: manufacturer agnostic plug and play cellular hardware that works with any HVAC or refrigeration equipment, cloud-based data analysis and storage, and smart software. “It’s built for everyone,” Strauss says. “The whole system installs in about an hour and connects over the TELUS LTE high speed network. The software delivers visibility that’s just never been available to owners and managers of smaller facilities.”
Meeting an unmet need
It all started when Strauss was talking to a contact at one of the large HVAC manufacturing companies who told him that what the market really needed was an “everyman’s HVAC automation system.”
“My background is hybrid,” Strauss says. “I have experience in refrigeration, especially in geo thermal equipment, but I also worked in the cellular industry, where I was involved in implementing smart meters and other machine-to-machine solutions, or what would now be called IoT. I know HVAC, I know cellular and I know IoT.”
This unique combination of skills and experience allowed Strauss to quickly see the opportunity and work on creating a solution.
Ensuring comfort doesn’t require a great effort
When I asked Strauss how costs compare, he told me that installing the Behold Control platform comes in at about 10% to 20% of the cost of rewiring and retrofitting a building. “But what it’s really about for our customers is preventing pain,” he said. “Using the big data our platform collects, we can predict an issue months in advance. For example, we were able to notify a 200 apartment complex that the vent motor on their boiler was degrading. Building management having that insight meant their tenants will still have hot water.”
Strauss also mentioned an automobile dealership his company is working with. “They’ve had challenges managing their facilities for more than 10 years. They wanted to get away from a situation where they’re always rushing to do corrective repairs.”
Behold Control also offers solutions for other building systems such as plumbing. For example, sewer bylaws in many cities require every food preparation business to have and maintain a trap for fats and oils. Behold Control allows restaurants and hotels to “see” inside a grease interceptor to service it. “When you clean on a schedule, it’s not that accurate,” Strauss explains. “Sometimes it may need to be cleaned earlier, sometimes it may not need to be cleaned yet. So you can improve operational performance.”
Not surprisingly, Behold Control is busy. “Only about 30% of commercial buildings in North America have any kind of smart automation,” Strauss told me. “That presents a big market for us.”
You can learn more about Behold Control at the TELUS IoT Marketplace.