What’s new and what lies ahead

Matthew Owen, managing director of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity specialist M2M Intelligence, explains how data optimises modern HVAC management.


ost of us are increasingly familiar with artificial intelligence (AI), and the impact it has on our daily lives. Although it’s still emerging in terms of ultimate potential, it has enabled advances which would have seemed futuristic a decade ago but are now commonplace: voice-controlled assistants in our houses and self-parking cars on our driveways, for example. Beyond the home, AI has been applied across many industrial and business sectors, and its influence is only set to grow when it comes to future innovation.

Building management professionals already benefit from the technology. Real-time sensor data is fed wirelessly into a digital twin of the building to optimise the efficiency of key systems, such as HVAC.

Prevention, not cure

An uninterrupted data feed allows facilities staff to predict, rather than react to, occupancy and demand throughout the day. Over time, this level of visibility and control improves user experience and reduces cost.

Each HVAC system element has a finite lifecycle. To protect against the impact of failure, maintenance schedules always tended to err on the side of caution, with more frequent service checks preferred. This, of course, added extra cost and resource requirements.

The increased availability of sensor data has freed facilities managers from working so inefficiently. Pre-emptive and condition-based maintenance programmes, based on up- to-the-minute information, allow field engineers to practice targeted prevention rather than cure. Increasingly, energy utilities companies are also feeding this intelligence into their smart grid solutions and working with organisations to improve efficiency.

A good example of this in action is when one of our 22 March 2019

customers safely shuts down thousands of supermarket freezers overnight.

This returns valuable grid capacity, for which they are financially rewarded. It is only possible because the food is accurately monitored in real-time by a network of sensors connected to an AI-driven hub. The freezers are reactivated whenever current temperature trends are predicted to rise beyond control limits.

Establishing a link

Of course, this data is only valuable if it’s connected. However, establishing the necessary linkages is not always straightforward.

Firstly, strict IT policies and firewalls often present a significant barrier to desired connectivity. In our experience, they are often behind integration delays, increased administrative costs and greater technical complexity. In some cases, returning data from multiple sites can be partially or totally obstructed.

To get around this, many facilities managers use a low- power wide-area network (LPWA), and standalone 3G or 4G gateways, independent of the host enterprise. On the surface this seems like a simple solution. However, there’s a further important consideration – the limitations of the SIM card involved in the sensor.

Even the largest operators can only offer around 75% land area network coverage, with dense urban areas only served by one or two networks at best. Because of this, it’s common practice to survey a site’s signal strength to determine the best operator and SIM. It is important to recognise the temporary aspect of the result. Over time, network topography is certain to change as cells contract with demand and signal propagation is affected by new buildings, weather and even tree leaves.

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