14 December 2018

The smart building is for now !

bernard vicens_2.jpg[INTERVIEW WITH : Bernard Vicens, Light, Home & Building Segment Director at EBV Elektronik]

The IoT world is gatecrashing the building and construction market. New technologies, new solutions, new names emerging! We take a quick tour of the subject with Bernard Vicens, Light, Home & Building Segment Director at EBV Elektronik.

Tell us something about the big issues in smart buildings

Smart buildings are on the rise, in newbuild as well as renovation. Viable, reliable solutions are already on the market or approaching the release stage. Three major fields in particular are concerned : predictive maintenance, implementing equipment that anticipates and avoids breakdowns in water and air management, lifts, heating systems, etc., safety to guard against accident risks—fire risks, gas leaks, air quality, water quality, and security against intrusion, hijacking of equipment, etc.

What technologies and industrial solutions are on offer for predictive maintenance ?

It’s in renovation that AI can really take things to a new level. Just add a few electronic components to existing equipment to stop potential malfunctions in their tracks. Take for example SmartEdge Agile sensors, which Avnet will be bringing to the market in January 2019: once they are installed on pumps or motors (HVAC, water circuits, lifts, etc.) and have understood the operation by a self-learning process, they are ready to detect any anomaly with no outside intervention, no cloud connection. Another interesting product is a new differential pressure sensor that consumes very little in the way of resources. It goes onto filters and HVAC units to ensure maintenance is carried out only when necessary.

Last but not least, EBV Elektronik has just released the Heracles 224G cellular communication module, which provides a future-proof transition between 2G and 4G. With this module, alert systems will run without intervention thanks to their built-in SIM card, which includes an 8-year prepayment that works in 33 European countries.

How can AI contribute to preventing accident risks ?

Accident risks are covered by the standards in force. But new technologies can tackle other needs too, for example by measuring CO gas, a deadly poison. This measurement is not a universal requirement at present but is possible by installing a simple sensor. Another technology is UV LED lamps, notably UV-C and UV-A. These are lamps that disinfect surfaces, equipment, and also air and water. The main entities interested are hospitals and restaurants, but these UV LEDS can also be used in small instant hot water heaters or HVAC systems. The market is expecting heavy growth in this area, with falling costs.

In the slightly longer term, spectrometric sensors could become widespread, enabling continuous analysis of air and water quality.

And what about equipment control and data protection ?

Data confidentially is obviously a crucial issue, but the equipment’s very use is also a potential threat. Imagine a malicious intruder hacking into the control system of a lift. Simple, reasonably priced solutions exist already in the form of ‘secure elements’, unhackable microchips containing encryption keys that will enable truly secure systems.

And security in buildings ?

That’s also a dynamic market. Connected solutions based on IR technology can manage things like entrance door access control by facial recognition or by an iris or palm scanner. Until recently these were the preserve of security-sensitive buildings, but they are now being developed for use by the general public. Infrared number plate readers can control a vehicle’s use of a car park: entrance, exit, position, EV battery charging, etc.

IoT’s impact also extends to building construction. Do you have some examples to give us ?

In parallel with BIM, a digital manufacturing file for each building is being formally defined. It will enable tracking of networks, different renovations, equipment updates and upgrades. It’s like a building’s medical record that will follow the building throughout its lifecycle to help avoid costly diagnoses.

Another interesting trend is the integration of sensors in materials, like RFID sensors embedded in fresh concrete to provide real-time information on pressure, temperature, and humidity during the operation.

There are also energy harvesting solutions that extract energy from the environment, for example autonomous systems with wireless switches, sensors, and controllers that make electrical installation in buildings immeasurably easier: these are available now to electrical outfitters.

How are these changes being accepted ?

Building-related companies haven’t really sized up these technological changes and the new uses that are taking shape. I don’t think there’s a good enough feedback circuit between order givers and solution developers. This information deficit is a brake on the hoped-for leverage ! We must go out and meet the order givers and privilege direct contact in order to make them aware of all these solutions. The BePOSITIVE exhibition will be just such an opportunity, and a very good one.

One last word on the subject of trades. I’m not going to talk about new trades in the building sphere but about new players entering the sphere. The new skills are often subcontracted out due to their extreme, exacting techniques !

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