Internet of Water: Embracing BACnet for Commercial Systems

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Way back in 1987, ASHRAE experts developed the BACnet protocol as a communications standard for Building Automation Systems (BAS). BACnet has since earned the respect of specifying engineers, facility managers, controls experts and service technicians worldwide as it’s now the leading technology in building automation.

BACnet offers an open architecture and the ability to control and monitor any building automation process—from water sourced heat pumps and chillers to boilers and volume water heaters.

At North Andover, Mass.-based Watts, one of the largest and most diverse manufacturers in the plumbing and mechanical and HVAC market, BACnet has been incorporated into several of its brands’ technologies, most notably through its HVAC and snow-melting controls brand, tekmar; “IntelliStation” digital mixing stations for commercial domestic water control and tempering by their brand, Powers; and for Benchmark boilers and Innovation water heaters (via their “EDGE” controller), offered by the company’s brand, AERCO.

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation Systems

“For us, BACnet is so useful because it’s a standardized communication protocol that interconnects and ‘talks to’ all other BAS-connected technologies throughout an entire facility, and also facilitates remote monitoring and control,” said Amar Dhore, AERCO Software Engineering Supervisor. “When fully integrated, all communications can work through one BACnet device. That’s the advantage of standardization, and what it enables.”

New York-based AERCO is one of the nation’s leading suppliers of commercial condensing boilers and water heaters for a variety of industries. Several years ago two of AERCO’s brands—Benchmark boilers, andInnovation water heaters—adopted the use of BACnet to offer sophisticated communications through their EDGE controller and ProtoNode gateway, the key interfaces to BAS for legacy system communications.

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation SystemsAERCO offers a multi-protocol, communications gateway to support integration with customers’ building automation (BAS) and energy management systems (EMS). The plug-n-play package supports build in integration with BACnet/IP, BACnet MS/TP, Modbus RTU, Modbus MSTP. AERCO also has a ProtoNode Gateway to support legacy products like Benchmark standard, Modulex EXT boilers; Innovation and SmartPlate water heaters.

AERCO’s EDGE features built-in translation for BACnet/IP, BACnet MS/ TP, Modbus RTU and Modbus TCP protocols; these communications are selectable and configurable via touch screen (No DIP switch needed). With this easy access to data, customers have ready access to more data. They can also choose and map BAS points of his interest to access, control and monitor devices.

In fact, the company’s Benchmark Platinum boilers can be managed effectively with an app that connects with the EDGE controller. With the app, a service technician or facility manager can monitor or balance hydronic system flow, perform a wide variety of system diagnostics, or  combustion analysis and calibration.

For building owners, the EDGE permits trouble-free management of all boiler/water heaters  functions—whether one unit or up to 16 units, connected in a cascade.

The EDGE controller also permits flow balancing—a function that allows elimination of balancing valves and also reduces commissioning costs, one of many operations enabled through the built-in communications via BACnet IP, BACnet MS/TP, Modbus IP or Modbus RTU.

Start-up and maintenance functions are also simplified. Boilers +/or water heaters can be calibrated through assisted or manual operations, a big time-savings advantage. The assisted options offers guided steps that automatically adjust precise air/fuel ratios for optimal performance.

AERCO access and control security:

AERCO managers understand the importance of security and have taken steps to make BAS communication secure. EDGE offers built in security using IP and MAC address. Once the security is enabled, user needs to enter front end BAS MAC and IP address. Once done, Edge will only accept the communication from the BAS with specified MAC and IP address.

tekmar’s 680, 681 + 284

Vernon, BC-based tekmar Control Systems, a Watts brand, is a world class integrated engineering and manufacturing company that provides solutions for the HVAC industry. For the past 38 years, tekmar has earned a reputation as the leader in complete control solutions for hydronic radiant floor and baseboard heating systems, multi-stage boilers plants, and automatic snow melting controls.

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation Systems

tekmar provides energy-saving control solutions for a broad range of hydronic systems—whether within a building, or outside (for snowmelt or turf-warming)—while assuring no-compromise comfort control, system efficiency and durability.

The company’s technologies provide:

  • Setpoint controls—offering precise temperature control for domestic water storage tanks, pools and hot tubs.
  • Boiler + domestic water controls—These technologies are designed to control temperature and operation of multiple boilers or volume water heaters. Multi-staging controls provide significant energy savings while also enhancing system reliability.
  • Heating controls—Here, tekmar offers controls to provide zoning solutions for heating systems; specific models are designed for use in hydronic heating, radiant heating, HVAC systems, and baseboard or “hydro-air” applications.
  • tekmarNet 4 zoning controls—These technologies connect to thermostats to control operation of heating system zone valves or heat pumps for precise delivery of heat.
  • Snowmelt control and sensors—Snowmelt control systems measure and control road, driveway or walkway surface temperatures to provide safe, snow- and ice-free surfaces, and at the lowest operating cost. Controls may connect to electric or hydronic systems as the source of warmth. Fully automatic controls, or manual controls can be chosen.

“Our specialties are boiler and snowmelt system controls,” explained tekmar’s Cleber Alves. “One of our unique products is the new BACnet snow/ice sensor interface 681—designed to measure the presence of snow or ice and interfaces with the BAS to activate or deactivate electric or hydronic snow melting systems.”

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation SystemsAccording to Alves, the 681 uses tekmar sensor technology to automatically detect precipitation, then communicates with the BAS through BACnet MS/TP. This operation allows the BAS to automatically turn the heat source and distribution system on, or off, and provide operational status for all snow-melt functions. The 681 is ideally suited for commercial applications such as hospitals, schools, airports, ski resorts, business entrances, driveways, loading docks, and shopping malls.

The 681’s features include slab target temperature, automatic snow and ice detection, error codes, warm weather shut-down, melt pending function, cold weather shutdown, and supports both in-slab and retrofit aerial sensors—all with BACnet MS/TP communication.

IntelliStation digital water control

Public safety relies chiefly on the availability of clean water. As it can affect water quality, the condition of premise (building-specific) plumbing systems have a direct impact on the safety of those within the facility. The ability to remotely monitor and control water temperature, flow, and other parameters in a quick and precise way is vital to delivering healthy, safe water in an efficient manner.

Patents held by Powers, a Watts brand, function as the backbone for many products in commercial and industrial water temperature control markets. The company develops and manufactures thermostatic and digital mixing solutions to bring safety and comfort to modern plumbing systems.

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“IntelliStation and IntelliStation Jr. [a smaller version] digital water mixing systems are designed to deliver tempered hot water throughout a recirculation loop in commercial and institutional facilities,” explains Sr. Product Manager Bruce Fathers. “Our digital solutions can be integrated into a BAS to allow facilities managers to remotely monitor and control water temperatures.

“We offer most of the common protocols, with gateways to others if need be,” added Fathers. “Modbus and BACnet are native to our controller, so it’s integrated into our IntelliStation products with no additional cost. Most of our competitors do require an additional module at an added cost to facilitate BACnet. So, it’s become a competitive edge for us, one our customers have come to appreciate.”

According to Fathers, BAS is used to seamlessly monitor and control important facets of system operation—such as mixed outlet temperature, pressure, flow, and inlet temperature. The sensors all require connection/input points.

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation Systems

“For commercial domestic water systems, mixed outlet temperature is most important,” explained Fathers. “It’s typically set at 120°F, or 140°F—to either render [biogens/pathogens] unable to reproduce, or to outright kill them [point-of-use mixing valves are then used at showers and faucets to protect users. Facility managers have remote visibility to all critical datapoints.

Fast, responsive digital technology enables the collection of a large amount of data which can be stored and communicated through a building automation system (BAS) or locally at the controller, providing intelligence at the foundation of the entire plumbing system.

Internet of Water

Control of the water recirculation loop ensures safe, precise, and consistent water temperatures (+/- 2oF), supports energy conservation, and reduces energy costs. BACnet IP, BACnet MSTP, and Modbus protocols are supported.

Technology helps to fulfill these needs with digital mixing and connected components like sensors and cloud-based monitoring.

The extent to which COVID-19 has impacted public health and the increased prevalence of Legionella bacteria have highlighted the need for:

  • Visibility of water temperature, flow, and quality even when off-site
  • A way to remotely control water temperatures
  • Automated monitoring and reporting of premise plumbing water parameters and facility management activity
  • Connected products that help increase safety and efficiency
  • Reliable ways to reduce the risk of Legionella and other harmful bacteria

BAS empowers facility managers and engineers to proactively prevent issues before they arise, rather than having to react to or attempt to mitigate issues once they’ve occurred,” added Fathers.

Internet of Water, BACNet, plumbing, heating, tekmar, snowmelt, hydronics, Watts Water Technologies, BAS, Building Automation Systems

There are three main technology-driven components in a digital mixing solution:

  • Sensors, serving as eyes and ears
  • The controller’s algorithm (the “mind”)
  • Electronic, high-speed actuated valve, continually responds to sensor inputs, to maintain set point

“Our digital mixing controller algorithm processes data from the mixed temperature outlet sensor and signals the actuator to make adjustments to maintain set-points in real time,” continued Fathers. “Sensors relay key system data for pressure, temperature and flow for troubleshooting and optimization.”

Building automation systems give facility managers the ability to see vital data, quickly make informed decisions, and act, even remotely. Digital water mixing controls hot water delivery through a programmable valve or system that processes temperature, flow, and pressure data.

Serious risks, such as Legionella growth, scalding, and thermal shock are associated with mismanaged water temperature. Legionella bacteria are destroyed almost instantly at water temperatures above 160°F, but at temperatures between 70°F and 115°F, their growth is abundant. The Catch 22 is that uncontrolled and unmonitored water distribution systems can create high-temperature scalding hazards in bathtubs, sinks, and showers.

A proactive monitoring program  can help reduce risks, predict trends, and improve operational efficiency. Proactive monitoring enables three key control measures that help address modern-day public safety risks:

  • Allows for quick decisions based on real data
  • Allows facility managers to more easily manager their systems
  • Generates automatic reports showing trends and performance

Fortunately, there’s no Catch 22 to the use of BACnet technology. It facilitates fast, reliable communications between all facets of the network it operates in.  Watts and its brands rely on BACnet for many operational uses, successfully, and with no compromise.