Using IoT to MEP’s advantage

Published: 9 June 2019 - 6 a.m.

When people hear the term Internet of Things (IoT), especially as it relates to MEP systems and facility management in a building, they often imagine a modern-day Wizard of Oz, magically running all of the operations and maintenance of one or more facilities, connecting the dots, automating processes, adding the magic to the machines. And yes, there is some truth to this image.

But the MEP sector has had to evolve in light of the IoT era to make the best use of the power of IoT. With the explosion of automation, sensors, BMS across portfolios of buildings, MEP contractors today need to deal with much more than just their

legacy mechanical, electrical anplumbing roles.

Why IoT: From piecemeal to wholemeal
Traditionally, the MEP industry has managed BMS automation of electrical, mechanical and plumbing engineering of buildings. While these conventional wired BMS and other automation systems continue to exist in buildings, the new IoT world has ushered in several new IoT devices like wireless smart meters as well as better and more modern wireless sensors being connected to the web of existing devices. This has made the task more complicated for MEP professionals as they deal with multiple data points and newer and more siloed systems within buildings.

However, the evolution of the building automation industry is not static; it is a continuum. And even as IoT becomes mainstream for building automation, several new MEP trends are evolving, that could impact the “beyond IoT” era. For example, lighting fixtures are themselves turning into people-counting sensors; cameras are also doubling their functionality, and can now sense crowd density as well as movement; modern, light-weight, wireless, sensor platforms, are becoming the norm; and there is a huge push on space utilisation, and optimal space management is becoming critical as the real-estate sector gets more competitive

Imagine, if instead of the standard and more regular lighting and mechanical systems, an MEP contractor were to bring to their clients modern lighting and modern IoT sensors, embedded with multiple functionalities and applications to capture and use data, right at the conception and construction stage of planning their building, it could help building owners position their buildings from day one as premium and future-ready and data-rich.
So where traditional MEP players are looking at managing and coping with the new IoT world, progressive MEP professionals are already looking beyond IoT, ahead into the future, on ways to differentiate themselves while adding value to client portfolios. They realise that in the near future, these modern systems will definitely need to co-exist with traditional BMS solutions. And they are already planning on how to integrate these trends into their traditional offering to building owners, adding a USP and a value proposition to their standard proposals. The aim is to deliver added value to their customers by bringing these latest and best IoT benefits to them, either at the conception stage as part of new construction, or even as digital retrofits for existing buildings.

So where does the magic of IoT lie?
Today’s IoT world in buildings could comprise a smart lighting platform, intelligent cameras, a multitude of wired or wireless sensors, meters, automation and other IoT devices. So what does that mean for building owners and MEP players? It means more data, more sensors, and more disparate platforms to manage! For example, a BMS system has a modern lighting platform attached to it, which can sense the number of people in a room. But what next? What does that data tell us? And how can we transform that data into an action that creates a delightful experience for customers while improving asset efficiency?

While MEP professionals have the interest of clients at heart when they propose modern sensor based lighting systems or IoT devices, delivering tangible value from all of the various components of building automation is a continuing challenge. What they are missing is integration between traditional BMS plus modern IoT into a single platform to generate value. But how do we tie all the pieces of the puzzle together and start making sense of it?
The present day ‘enterprise-esque’ avatar of building and facilities management requires the data-heavy but disparate IoT world to collide and integrate with an enterprise-wide data platform that joins all the disparate pieces together to create the big picture – which is delivering delightful facilities experiences to occupants, along with high ROI, optimal efficiency and sustainable sustainability.

But more importantly such a platform can help the MEP sector get ready for the ‘beyond-IoT’ era to empower data-led decision-making from all these disjointed systems.

As IoT adoption explodes and data generation proliferates across building systems and sensors, it is becoming more and more critical to have an enterprise-wide data platform that co-exists with traditional BMS, to help unify all these systems, and capture all the information in one big data pool. This repository of data is then a goldmine of actionable-valuable insights, which can be extracted using AI and ML technologies as part of the same enterprise platform. And this data-led decision making can help MEP players and building owners drive efficiencies not just across the usual suspects like reducing energy consumption, but also taking it to the next level of service and auto–pilot functioning of buildings.

Take, for example, a light that tells you that there are five people in a conference room. What if it could automatically generate a quick note to the hotel housekeeping person to deliver 5 bottles of water to the room? And after the meeting gets over, maybe the same light sensors generate another automatic routine for housekeeping to come and clean the room, replace conference materials, markers etc.

Or let’s say the lights or cameras sense the number of people in a space and the lights as well as temperature adjust, automatically.
While these are all small examples, they ably demonstrate how big the magic of IoT can be for MEP players, facilities managers and owners, when integrated with an enterprise-wide platform for facilities O & M. Such predictive operational modelling across portfolios can help save time and energy, revamp efficiency, enhance occupant experience, and unlock savings worth millions in O & M dollars.

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