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Basics of Building Automation

Building technology mostly remains out of sight, but it’s there behind every wall and every window, and it touches us daily. Most of the time, we don’t even notice it, unless something stops working – since fault-free operation is the objective behind every component and solution.

Therefore, it takes some expertise to set up and operate a building system to function perfectly. Electrical engineers gain expertise in building technology during their studies, and system integrators and facility managers most often do during training – but ultimately, practical experience is what really matters.

Everything at a Glance

  • Open systems for expandable, future-proof building automation
  • Manufacturer-independence
  • Various fieldbus protocols for different applications
  • Sensor-based field devices
  • Advantages and disadvantages of a centralized or decentralized installation

The Automation Jungle – We Provide Clarity

Solid basic knowledge is essential for evaluating solutions on the market and selecting the right automation approach for each building.

Making the Right Selection

When selecting technology, whether for new construction of a renovation, it is important to obtain details about the advantages and disadvantages of open versus proprietary systems to make an informed choice among the various possibilities. Since an extremely high degree of flexibility is required over the entire lifecycle of a building, the planners should consider the not only current situation, but also other usage options that may develop in the future. Therefore, components should be available over the long term, and should meet established open technology standards.

Open vs. Proprietary Systems

An open system is characterized by the support of numerous manufacturers, who mutually agree on a standard. The components are thus “interoperable” and can communicate with one another. The more vendors participate in an open standard, the higher the likelihood is of finding a wide selection of devices on the market. That way, you are never limited to the technology of one specific manufacturer. When demands change, the modularity of open systems make adaptation and expansion less expensive and much easier.

In contrast, a proprietary system is manufacturer-specific. It is characterized by a smaller number of devices that can be combined with each other, since the manufacturer only provides access to a select number of participants. The use of proprietary systems means that users are dependent on the manufacturer for servicing, maintenance and expansion of the system. If the products used are discontinued, alternatives can be very difficult to find.

Fieldbus Protocols

A number of fieldbus systems are used for exchanging data on the automation level. The bus system determines the communication standard that can be used and the transmission media used to allow controllers and field devices to communicate. General advantages of bus wiring over conventional wiring systems include a reduction in thermal loads and lower wiring costs, as less cable has to be laid.

Field Devices: Sensors and Actuators

Every automation system needs sensors in order to function. Sensors are the components that record important status information and convert and transmit this information in the form of electrical signals. Sensors detect analog values such as room temperature, humidity, brightness and weather data, or digital values such as switch positions and sensor pulses. When designing automated control of building functions, you should carefully consider which factors should be allowed to influence the control – this choice will determine the sensors required.

Actuators receive the data telegrams and convert them into actions, like switching and dimming commands for lights, control commands for blinds, awnings, etc. or setting commands for heating element valves. For example, if the temperature is too low, the valve on the heating element can be opened to warm the room. Typical actuators include valves, servo drives and LED drivers.

Installation Types – Centralized or Decentralized

Comprehensive building automation requires numerous switching and control devices. These take up space in the control cabinet or suspended ceiling and must be networked with one another. Therefore, it is important to carefully plan the distribution of the components. The first decision: Will the installation be centralized or decentralized?

Centralized means that all components are located at one point, usually in a control cabinet. The wiring extends from there to the individual rooms. The Benefits:

  • A centralized installation is user-friendly, because maintenance and device replacement are easy to perform.
  • In addition, use of a centralized approach reduces thermal loads.

In an installation with a decentralized structure, the control components are distributed across multiple locations – on each building level or even room by room.

  • The advantages of this include the significant reduction in cabling expenses, and thus overall installation costs.
  • However, it is important to bear in mind that components hidden in suspended ceilings and mounting boxes are more difficult to replace.

WAGO in Buildings

Building Installation and Automation Applications

Whether you are planning lighting installations and automation in your office building, retrofitting a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system or involved with room automation in general, WAGO helps meet your requirements in buildings.

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