However slow it may seem, technology is changing building engineering processes. One of the major developments on the horizon isn’t a device or program like the institution of BIM or drones. It’s a process. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is one of the most talked about technology applications in not only modern engineering but every vertical that uses data or information. While immediate impacts may be indirect, engineers can be assured that it will affect how they design and manage building systems in the future.
Research from the Department of Energy shows buildings account for 40% of energy use in the U.S., with 30% of that being wasted. By leveraging the Internet-of-Things, HVAC, lighting, and other types of electrical loads can see a cost savings of 10% to 25%. That’s a significant amount of cost savings for building engineers and developers alike.
What is the Internet-of-Things?
To understand how the Internet-of-Things (IoT) will impact engineering, it’s important to understand just what IoT means. The most basic definition of IoT is the concept of connecting anything that has an on and off switch to the internet. This encompasses a broad and large group of devices and machines.
For building engineering, this will involve connecting Building Information Modeling (BIM) to devices and machines to improve construction processes, provide safer environments for workers, and reduce construction waste. For building operations, IoT will mean more interconnectivity between any devices in the building; not just those typically controlled and monitored for main building functions such as heating and cooling, lighting, and security systems. IoT strives to connect everything.
Applications for Building Engineering
The biggest application in building engineering will be in smart building design. The infrastructure of most smart buildings today operate from a building automation system that is controlled either on one main computer or from a web-based system. As more systems gravitate to working from web-based systems that are stored in the Cloud, moving to IoT processes will become easier and more powerful.
Some of the possible ways that IoT can be implemented in engineering are:
- Sophisticated security systems: One big advantage of IoT for building design will be the ability to tie not only security cameras and occupancy sensors to a Building Management System (BMS), but they can report to a cloud-based system along with other operational building features, like automatic doors. Imagine a building that upon sensing an intruder not only can set off an alarm and alert the authorities, but can shut down and lock out any systems or areas that might be vulnerable.
- More efficient heating and cooling systems: It’s a known fact that HVAC systems are one of the biggest users of energy in a building. That’s why many large facilities implement BMS to control HVAC operations during low occupancy times. With IoT being more accurate and less expensive, sensors and controls can be implemented, which helps save even more energy than traditional stand-alone BMS.
- Overall control of building energy users: While the BMS typically controls HVAC and lighting operations, with IoT all other energy using devices in a building can be controlled. This means not only will the building be able to turn off lights and cooling and heating systems, but also coffee pots, copiers, computers, and any other device that slowly sips electricity from a building. All of these contribute to the 10-25% of cost savings created through the implementation of IoT.
Key Benefits of Internet-of-Things in Engineering
The applications for IoT in buildings is vast but also will greatly impact building design and construction integration as well. As design-build models become more common, BIM will be the primary method for controlling projects from start to finish. When combined with IoT, building construction will be leaner and more cost effective.
The key benefits of IoT in building engineering will be:
- Safer buildings and work sites: Forward thinking construction managers are already using sensors and technology such as drones and robots to improve the conditions on job sites. However, with IoT these sensors can be interconnected and report to the main system to give construction managers and foremen more real-time knowledge of potential job conditions so they can plan ahead to protect workers.
- Leaner construction costs: BIM is a powerful tool for integrating design to construction, and with the implementation of IoT, more processes during construction can be monitored and controlled. This includes material quantities and construction waste.
- Savings on Building Management Systems: One big advantage of IoT implementation is that it can be integrated with a Building Management System to save on costs. BMS can be expensive because its primary purpose is to control energy management through HVAC and lighting systems; therefore, it requires special installation and programming. Once the BMS is moved to a cloud-based system with digital sensors, the costs are drastically reduced.
IoT may sound like a futuristic and unclear term for most people, but the benefits are becoming more apparent to construction managers and owners alike. Over the next few years it will become part of building engineering processes. The ability to connect all devices and aggregate information in a cloud-based system is attractive to most owners that want to control building costs and conserve energy.
Combined with the BIM process and then integrated with a BMS for ongoing operations and maintenance, IoT will make a huge impact on how buildings are operated and maintained in the future. We’re just only beginning to see early benefits from adopters.
VIP Structures is an integrated design-build firm in Upstate New York. We find a better way to build through the perspective of our clients and building owners. Questions about our firm? Contact us below.