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System Integration


How can the integration of extra low voltage systems boost building management and reduce operational costs? Mike Atkinson explains

Intelligent building management is growing in global popularity. Even Indian builders and developers are now adopting it to get that extra comeptitive edge in the market.

In order to fast-track project delivery in such a highly competitive market, many developers opt to equip modern structures with traditionally designed systems running on proprietary networks for various building management systems, as well as separate telephony, data and television networks. This has led to the emergence of numerous complex network management issues and, unfortunately, the installation of systems at exorbitant costs, but with limited functionality and automation.

One solution to manage building network complexity is extra low voltage (ELV) systems integration. This deviates from the traditional construction process, which separately installs low voltage, voice and data systems and thus leads to the creation of multiple cabling systems as well
as pathways.

The ELV systems integration approach supports the installation of common cabling and pathways instead of individual systems, thus resulting in improved total system monitoring and management and significant cost reductions.

The installation of common cabling and pathways requires planning of the containment systems at the early stages of the project so that the optimum routes can be designed by experienced network architects. Cable runs will be reduced, while maintaining the performance standards.

Integration of ELV components


A fully integrated extra low voltage system (IELVS) operates on a common platform for the purposes of collecting, exchanging and archiving data. An IELVS facilitates a common web interface for monitoring display, archiving, reporting and controlling the ELV services and providing value added tenancy services such as on-line billing, building performance displays and maintenance requests.

An IELVS may include systems such as the fire detection and alarm, voice evacuation, voice and data communications, public address, access controls, intrusion detection, CCTV, audio-visual, cell phone and wireless distribution, plus other such auxiliary systems.

Structured cabling designed according to the latest Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standards supports the core internet protocol (IP) network and provides the interconnectivity between such systems.

The benefits of integrated ELV systems

ELV integration provides many benefits that result in minimising the total cost of ownership and maximising the return on investment of a building.

A single installation offers major advantages as it greatly simplifies procurement, project and site management and reduces the risks of delay. This results in clear savings on commissioning time and faster overall system installation.

It can also add to bottom line savings, as the building can be occupied earlier and revenues can start flowing in faster. The tangible benefits that a fully integrated software ssystem offers the building owner or facilities manager is a total solution that delivers ease of operation, a high level of operator accountability and optimum control. This ensures a seamless system for responding to events quickly and effectively.

The challenges of ELV implementation

The complex ELV systems installed in high-rise buildings present a number of challenges to design engineers, including space constraints, limitations of physical structure and the integration of multiple systems protocols onto a common network platform. To successfully overcome these issues, careful planning and collaboration with other industry professionals is essential.

The network architect who is responsible for the design of ELV systems must have an understanding of both the passive level (cabling/containment) and active layer (network switches and routers). Increasingly, because ELV systems are converging and systems communication takes place at a high level, it is important to have a software platform and application designed to ensure that the various ELV systems are co-ordinated and able to communicate flawlessly with each other. 

Current application of ELV systems

The future of ELV integration is in energy management. Some of the features enabled  through ELV systems integration are:
• connects disparate building management systems so multiple buildings can be managed from one network operations centre;
• provides a common interface through a standard web browser;
• remote monitoring and control in real time;
• provides advanced alarm handling capability;
• enables fast and secure data analysis;
• enables user-friendly time scheduling and temperature control;
• they bring data from building control networks onto corporate intranets for ease of access and more effective use of specialised skills;
• it is a very saleable solution.

Existing buildings can be upgraded at considerable expense. However, it’s a lot easier to pull Category 6 untwisted pair (UTP) cable to all possible locations during the construction process rather than later, when risers are fire-sealed ceilings are closed.

Simplifying systems

Traditionally each ELV system was installed separately under different services contracts: HVAC controls with mechanical services; access control and lighting in electrical services; fire detection with fire plumbing etc. When it was necessary to get the systems to operate together it proved to be difficult, expensive and time consuming.  

This traditional approach does not exploit the synergies between the systems. It prevents the stakeholders in a building, such as developers, operators and owners, from getting real value out of their investment. These traditional systems have a larger impact on the efficiency and operating costs of any facility.

In a traditional approach there may be ten ELV systems installed independently within a building. This means that there is huge cost impact that includes ten separate software applications on ten separate pcs, plus there will be duplication of hardware, software, cabling and networking equipment.

An ELV systems integrator must be able to provide solutions for safe, secure and intelligent buildings, as well as having the capability to deliver cost-effective integrated building management facilities and energy management services. This includes the ability to access, collate and evaluate energy data to implement decisions in real time to provide substantial business benefits such as:
• real time energy meter readings;
• identification of wasted energy;
• reduction of energy costs;
• simplified demand management;
• emission trading management.

System maintenance

Remotely managing multiple properties where disparate ELV systems have been installed is at best a nightmare and normally like eating soup with a fork – you get nowhere fast!

Network convergence has become the mantra for modern building communications and power systems. Functions and applications operating on individual, isolated infrastructures are rapidly becoming obsolete as building managers are becoming increasingly concerned over issues such as installation time, manageability and cost savings.

Indeed, both residents and operators of modern facilities are increasingly demanding integrated electro-mechanical and IT infrastructure.

ELV systems integration fully supports the three key IB construction elements: communications network and office automation; building management system (BMS); and integrated services infrastructure. Many such systems are being deployed with data networking and local area network (LAN) architectures that facilitate monitoring and increased diagnostic capabilities over a standard Ethernet LAN using the IP normally reserved for internet communications.

Aside from increasing infrastructural efficiency, the minimal electrical load of ELV systems provides enhanced safety and reduced operational costs.

ELV network integration needs less cabling and wiring which, combined with the low voltage, can reduce ownership and maintenance costs by around 15%. In addition, the optimised automation delivered by ELV systems integration equates to savings in manpower needs such as security guards, faster response times to technical problems and a far more pro-active approach to maintenance of facilities.

ELV integrators such as Telematics continue to develop technologies and services that further enhance centralised building management capabilities that have a direct and often costly impact on building operation and management.

Another factor that makes such firms services valuable is the trend towards higher facility standards and stricter building codes and laws.

There is a lot of work to do as many operators and owners consider building management systems as pure costs rather than crucial investments, but it is hoped that developers will be convinced of the superiority of automation and systems integration in ensuring facility safety, efficiency and regulatory compliance.

In an increasingly technology, economy and environmentally conscious global property market, tenants, operators and owners are favouring efficient and pro-active strategies to building management. ELV systems integration provides an edge in satisfying market needs and meeting stringent operational and management requirements. 

Mike Atkinson is managing director of Telematics.

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