It has been a while since I wrote my last article in the Intense School resource page, so I welcome back all my readers and students. Previously, we mostly discussed Cisco Technologies, the CCNA curriculum in particular. I think this is the right time to discuss something new which will help you understand the full scope of being an Information Communication Technology (ICT) professional.
Many people think that an ICT Engineer only does some software development or writes some code in a command line interface in a control room (Data Center or NOC) to monitor and troubleshoot computer networks. Let me tell you that this is just a half truth: due to advancements in IP networking, we can connect and control almost everything in the Internet and become the de facto ruler of machine-to-machine communication. This gives ICT engineers a huge opportunity to work any verticals or industry. In this article, we are going to learn how an ICT Engineer can work in Smart Building technology.
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Smart Building is nothing but advanced and integrated building technology systems. These systems include Building Automation, Communication, Audio-Visual, Security and Public Safety. Smart Building uses an IP Network as backbone infrastructure to provide convergence of all building engineering services. The Internet integrates all building engineering services and serve as the 4th utility (after water, HVAC and power) within a building. It gives the building owner and developer great flexibility and cost effectiveness in terms of design and deployment of building technology systems. Integrated building technology not only provides the actionable information but it also reduces the operation cost for the building owner and the tenant.
Before discussing Integrated Smart Building technology, let’s look at traditional building engineering services.
From the above diagram, you can easily understand that in traditional building engineering services, multi-proprietary separate building systems run within the building premises and are controlled by separate control units. This type of system is more costly to deploy, and even harder to manage and more expensive to maintain during daily operations.
Imagine 10-15 years back, when telephony, Data Network, video surveillance systems, cable TV, and building automation contractors need to work seperately and lay their cable and accessories. It was time consuming and needed way too much project coordination. Due to technology advancements, IP networking protocols and Ethernet networks, we gained the capability to run all these services in a single integrated network. It gives the developer a better chance to run all building engineering services in a common platform, thus needing less coordination and making it easier to manage.
Research also shows that 75% of total builiding costs (Construction + Operation) is obtained during building operations. Using integrated building systems lets us save more money during daily operations even if we have to invest a little more in the initial construction stage. In the long run, this solution is also economically viable for the building owner.
From the figure above, one can easily understand that the building owner or main contractor can give all these building engineering services to a single systems integrator contracting company to do Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) work, which will be easy for their project management team to manage during all phases of construction.
I hope that you have now grasped the basic idea about smart building technology. Let’s discuss more about traditional building service engineering.
Building Service Engineering or electro-mechanical work is a multi-displinary engineering task. Building Service Engineering primarily divides into Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering & Plumbing or Public Health Engineering (MEP), all of which are subdivided into several other small engineering services.
The building services engineer works closely with other construction professionals such as the architect, structural engineers, quantity surveyors, etc. In the figure below, you can see that I merged the Plumbing and Mechanical parts together for better understanding, and we subdivided Electrical Engineering into Power Engineering (low and medium voltage, electrical wiring) and Lighting Systems, and most importantly, the ELV Engineering.
In Electrical Engineering, ELV stands for Extra Low Voltage Systems, Low Current Systems, Electronic Systems or simply as Telecommunication systems. By definition, any electrical system which has circuit work <50 Vrms (in case of AC current) or <120 V (in case of DC current) is known as a Low Current/ELV System. You may know that most of our Cisco switches and routers, CCTV, HP servers and storage components work in this voltage range. During my university days, I was also not aware that ICT components can also be called ELV Systems. As this is an electrical engineering term, most IT and Telecommunication engineering guys tend to take power and voltage as granted, so we simply never thought about or gave importance to it.
Let’s discuss the typical engineering approach to constructing a Smart Building. From the figure below, you can understand that the Building Owner or Developer can go to any design consultancy company (ex. Atkins, Jacobs, etc.) and ask them to design their required building’s (ex. hotels, residential complexes, hospitals, etc.) infrastructure. Once the architect completes the design and the valuer estimates the approximate budget, the developer asks for tender from local and international Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contractor (such as L&T).
Remember that every building has its own requirements, so the systems you will find in hotels may not be the same as in universities or hospitals. During this stage, the Building Owner also assign a Project Management Company (ex. Hill International) to manage and coordinate with all parties during project execution. Sometimes the design consultancy company can offer Project Mangament also (such as Saud Consul), and I personally prefer this way to avoid working with too many parties.
Normally a building owner would award an entire project to an EPC contractor (main contractor) for a lump sum of money, providing an opportunity for easier project management, especially in cost control. For MEP work, the main contractor normally gives a subcontract to an M.E. Contractor (such as Tata Voltas) or they could also have an in-house MEP department (such as Saudi Oger), and then give ICT & ELV Systems Integration to a systems integrator (such as Qatar Technology Group). Sometimes the ELV Systems integrator company works under the main contractor directly but in most cases they work under an MEP contractor as an ELV subcontractor.
In general, for any type of smart builiding the estimated cost for ICT & ELV Systems is 10-15% of the total budget of the project. Usually, during the tendering phases the procurement and pre sales engineer of the systems integrator select a list of approved vendors and suppliers in coordination with the client’s approved material lists. Once a system integrator wins the bid, they evaluate how much resources they have and how much they have to outsource it.
After it gets finalized they assign a senior ICT & ELV Engineer as the Project Manager (check diagram below for work flow structure) for the entire life cycle of the project. The PM will be assigned in an on-site office with the Construction Manager, Project Engineers, Site Engineers, Site Supervisor, Site Technician, Document Controllers, Material Controller, general labourers, and other staff.
As you can see, the entire project work is normally handled by two or more Project Engineers. In most cases, one of the Project Engineers have specialist knowledge in ICT Systems such as passive (structured cabling) systems, active (networking) components, security systems, or audio-visual systems. The other would be more experienced with Building Automation & Control Systems, though both engineers must understand each other’s scope and will need to coordinate every day the during the entire project phase.
Please remember that in big projects such as airports or oil and gas plants there may be several project engineers specializing in security, communication, audio-visual, automation and control systems separately. However, I have seen most companies assign two project engineers for executing work and keep site engineers (junior engineers) in different systems because it gives them cost effective solutions.
In the visual diagram below, we see the scope of work for project engineers in a particular smart building project. Note that the scope of work can change per project basis.
An ICT & ELV Engineer working for a systems integrator contractor company should be proficient in the following techno-managerial skill sets:
|Preparation of Design & Documentation||
|Site & Coordination Work||
I hope you now have a clear idea about the scope of work for ICT Engineers in a Smart Building construction. Before doing a case study, let’s look at some common terms you may encounter:
ICT Passive Components: Simply put, passive components work without power. They are mainly used for telecommunication wiring in a building environment, sometimes also called as Structured Cabling Systems. Common passive components include: racks, cabinets, fiber optics abd UTP patch panel, UTP cables, back box, floor box, etc.
ICT Active Components: Any type of Telecommunication Systems which work by using power are called ICT active components, which include switches, routers, wireless components, CCTV, access control, etc.
Due to advancements in Power of Ethernet (PoE) technology, most telecommunication devices now run over Ethernet (Cat 6 Cable). This provides greater flexibility and less wiring in built environments.
Please remember that intelligent buildings need Intelligent Structured Cabling Systems, so if you run cheap cabling solutions you may end up losing your entire network due to bad cable management. For more details about structured cabling systems, please visit websites such as Commscope SYSTIMAX, Panduit or Brand-Rex to learn more about telecommunication wiring devices.
Case Study: Cisco’s Connected Real Estate Solutions
Suppose you are working for a Systems Integrator company as a Pre Sales Engineer and one of your clients ask you to propose a solution where every building engineering system will be connected and controlled using an IP network backbone. Cisco called this type of solution as Connected Real Estate Solutions (Connected Hotel Solutions in case of hotel constructions), where every machine will be connected and controlled by using an Ethernet network.
Below I made a logical design of such a project where data, voice, video, BMS, RMS, access control, and surveillance systems are all connected and controlled using IP backbone infrastructure.
From the design you can see that we use a two layer design approach only instead of Cisco’s three. We collapse the Distribution and Core Layers into a single Layer as our building (ex. five-star hotels, hospitals) is only a medium sized network, so we won’t need the three layer design approach.
The core/distribution layer switch (ex. Cisco 6500 series) is located inside the Data Center Room, sometimes called the Main Distribution Frame (MDF). Each system’s endpoint runs horizontally with UTP/STP Cat 6 cable, and is connected to the nearest access layer switch (ex. Cisco 2960 series) located at the Intermediate Distribution Frame (IDF room). Each IDF room’s access layer switch is connected vertically by redundant multimode fiber optics backbone cable to the Main Distribution Frame Rack.
For services such as IPTV, IP Telephony, Wireless Access Point, Digital Signage, Access Control, CCTV Systems, Building Automation Systems, and Audio-Visual Systems, each will have their own control unit located at the Data Center and using the same network infrastructure of the data network.
As you can see, the dish antenna is installed on the roof and runs towards IPTV head-end which is present inside the Data Center, and from there it will be connected to the core switch. In the technological offer, you have to prepare a high level design very clearly, and once it gets approval, material submittal and low level design will need to be submitted separately.
Once physical installation of all endpoints, racks and active components are completed, the testing and commissioning stage will start. In this stage, you need a good systems integrator to be working with you to integrate all the systems. The client’s IT manager will typically come to the site in this stage to work with you before the final handover of the project. Normal guarantee of active components is one year after the final handover of the project.
I have spent a lot of time to prepare the visual representations for most of the key elements and I hope you will find it useful. I wanted to share more about this topic, but it is impossible for me to write all those in one article. If you want to know more about Smart Building Engineering then get yourself the book written by James Sinopoli.
Building Engineering is a multidisciplinary engineering practice and is complex in nature, so you might need some time to understand it properly. Whether the building is smart or green or just normal, there will always be some ICT and ELV work, which creates a great opportunity for any IT Infrastructure professional who want to make a career in the construction industry.
I would like to thank everyone for reading this article. Remember: green buildings have lots of similarities with smart buildings, but the former has greater flexibility in terms of energy management. If time permits, I will discuss more about green buildings in the near future. Please use the comment box below to write your feedback, as your feedback is very important to me.
References and Further Readings: