Terrible jokes aside, that answer isn’t actually a million miles away. While there isn’t a universal definition, the common understanding is that a smart building utilises IoT (internet of things) to interconnect devices, with the purpose of making the building operate more efficiently.
This isn’t exactly a new concept; in 1968 Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey (film buffs out there will know the silver-screen adaptation by Stanley Kubrick). A film about a sentient ship that was able to control and regulate itself to maximum efficiency – with a twist. Well, when you take out all the sci-fi sentiency and creepy robo-inhibitions, you’re left with the screws and nails of real-life smart buildings.
On the flip side, industrial revolution 4.0 (sometimes referred to as IIoT 4.0), actually is fairly new to the modern world and might not be something you’re familiar with. It sounds fancy and futuristic but what does it mean?
Well, the way that industrial complexes and facilities are run is changing – in a big way. In fact, these changes are likely to apply to pretty much every business owner with a large estate and, further into the future, may trickle down to homeowners for residential uses. Industry 4.0 is the integration of smart technology into businesses and facilities. The reason this is needed? Well, in the past, and up until now, large estates were – and are – producing tonnes of waste: Money waste. Energy waste. Carbon waste. Efficiency waste. And it’s understandable. Up until recently, facilities managers and asset operators didn’t have the kind of visibility that modern tech offers. Historically it’s been a lot harder to expose problematic assets and operational methods. Now in the strange utopia of 2021, that visibility exists, and it brings with it a brand-new way of doing things. In fact, it could be argued that smart buildings, and the tech used to facilitate them, are the very screws and nails of industry 4.0.
What Actually Makes a Building ‘Smart?’
There are a few moving parts at play that make a building really smart. IoT and interconnectivity is at the heart of the entire operation. Communication between devices and the cloud is the key pillar that transforms a regular, dumb building, into a straight-up genius-level facility. Facilities like The Bright Building in Manchester are great examples of buildings that utilise smart infrastructure to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
Connecting Assets and Devices
Connecting devices and assets is a completely transformative step towards reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Energy managers out there will know, having all of your energy data in one place is a total game-changer. Having a unified centre of operations for all business assets, from lighting to ventilation, allows users to identify patterns in usage easily, and prevent them from missing underperforming assets.
Generating Renewable Energy
I recently wrote about microgrids and the reasons they’re exponentially growing in popularity: Microgrids, IoT, smart buildings – all of these are cut from the same cloth. Many facilities managers are transforming their estates into microgrids to fully reap the rewards of generating renewable power and being able to store excess energy as well.
Solar panels and energy storage batteries are a great way to regulate your own energy consumption. The main result of this happens when the sun is shining, your facility is powered and your battery is fully charged. Once the sun dips away, you’re able to use that stored energy, rather than have to resort to the national grid. In some cases, you can even create a new income stream by selling power BACK to the national grid. Crazy, right? You can read more about microgrids in my last blog.
Gaining Visibility and Taking Control
Unlike HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, real-life smart buildings give you control, allowing energy managers and asset operators to get the most out of their entire estate or facility. Your connected devices can provide energy and operational data, anything from temperature to lighting can be recorded and monitored in real-time. This gives you the power to do more than just a few things, but to name a handful of examples:
Predictive maintenance, anomaly detection, asset automation, real-time triggers and alerts – these are just some examples of solutions powered by visibility. You can probably imagine how these sorts of features help to keep your building functioning at maximum efficiency.
Why is IIoT 4.0 Such a Big Deal?
Historically, industrial revolutions have had one major impact – consumption. The empowerment of mass production through big industrial changes has resulted in more manufacturing, more consumption and more emissions. While this was once good news for manufacturers, these days, benchmarks are changing and owners of large facilities, buildings and estates have more considerations to make.
Regulation is changing frequently and there is now a new necessity for operations to be as agile as possible and able to navigate environmental regulations, health and safety regulations and many more dynamic influencers of business operations.
Net Zero Targets and CSR Goals
Let start with something we’ve heard a lot about recently. Net-zero. Businesses have been faced with corporate social responsibilities in order to contribute to the national net-zero drive in the UK. Part of this can be generating renewable energy, reducing wasted energy or optimising energy usage/refining operations. As you might imagine, integrated IoT and connected devices are likely to become a huge part of CSR goals in the coming years.
Agility, as in, when something as potentially threatening as covid happens, businesses are able to use smart tech to navigate the situation. When stores closed in 2020, those with IoT installed were able to maintain and control their facilities remotely, in order to keep unnecessary energy usage to a minimum. Not only is this excellent damage control but also contributes to those above CSR goals. Double whammy.
Safety, Air Quality
Not to flog a dead, or perhaps dying (hopefully) horse, but to use COVID19 as yet another example, safety at work has taken on a new form. Air ventilation has become an important factor in health and safety precautions so as to eliminate the threat of airborne viruses. Control of HVAC systems for effective airflow is now a fundamental part of health and safety regulation and must be adhered to in order to protect employees. Not only this but some businesses have integrated temperature detection into building access making entry smooth and safe for all.
How Do I Make My Building Smart?
My advice is to start small. Creating a smart facility doesn’t have to be daunting, the trick is to start by connecting up just a few assets. Once you’ve gained visibility of your asset data you can start to see the results, even if it’s just from a small test group, and then from there, you can really start to build – really, get smart. Integrating an energy storage battery is a great way to add to your smart estate for peak load shifting. Finally, to become as smart as it gets, you can introduce renewable energy generation into your estate – thus creating your own microgrid.
Here’s the best part, you don’t have to go it alone – if you’re looking for support in smart building integration, Hark can help. Just take a look at our work on the Bright Building.
For more information on smart building projects, get in touch today.