May 03, 2016

Interview: Shedding Light on BACnet/IP Driver Updates

Posted by Joanne Bacharach

It’s becoming clear that fully-integrated Building Management Systems (BMS) monitor and control all major building components and systems—from lighting and HVAC to security and access controlare the future of the building automation market. And as more advanced hardware and software solutions enter market, it is imperative that facility managers and building owners design with interoperability and open standards in mind. This approach enables current and legacy components and systems to be effectively and efficiently integrated.

Already one of the most widely-adopted protocols, the Building Automation and Control Network (BACnet) is becoming increasingly important because it is a completely open, non-proprietary protocol gm-jb-bacnet-blog.jpg specifically designed to meet the communication needs of building automation and control systems.

Though Kepware’s connectivity platform has long supported the protocol, the May 3 release of KEPServerEX version 5.20 includes several enhancements that expand its capabilities. Joanne Bacharach, one of Kepware’s Senior Applications Engineers, spoke with Glen Marquis, Kepware’s Product Manager for Power, Utilities and Energy Management, to learn more about the BACnet standard and recent enhancements to the BACnet/IP driver.

[Joanne:] Can you give me a brief overview of Kepware’s BACnet/IP driver? Who uses it? Where?

[Glen:] The BACnet/IP driver is intended for use with building automation equipment and control networks. Process Controls Engineers, Facility/Building System Technicians, and System Integrators typically use it to easily and reliably connect BACnet-networked devices and non-BACnet devices. It enables them to monitor and control single building-level systems to large complex systems found at universities, industrial parks, hospitals, and corporate campuses. Our BACnet/IP driver exposes this data to an ever-growing list of client applications through a single server interface.

Some common applications include SCADA/HMI, Enterprise Historians, and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), as well as Internet of Things (IoT) platforms and Big Data/analytics applications.

How does the BACnet/IP driver communicate with devices?

The driver supports the BACnet protocol (which is often referred to as "Annex J") over Ethernet with the ability to poll many BACnet object types as well as receive Change of Value (COV) and Alarm and Event Notifications. It also includes several advanced features like Automatic Device Discovery and Automatic Tag Database Generation. The applications mentioned previously (SCADA, HMI, and so on) can gather the BACnet data over several open and proprietary communication interfaces, such as OPC, MQTT, REST, SNMP, etc.

What are the key enhancements to the driver in this release?

Since the last major enhancements made to the driver in July 2014, we’ve continued to collect market feedback on the features most important to end users. As a result, we have added the following features and functionality for V5.20:

  • Additional Standard Object Support: Added support for all Accumulator Object required properties as well as several optional properties, allowing users to read and write to the majority of BACnet Standard Objects. The Accumulator Object is primarily used to accurately monitor building processes including the collection of energy usage data from electricity, gas, and water meters for peak load management and account billing applications.  
  • Object-Level Command Priority: Added support for individually assigning a BACnet command priority to tags from a connected BACnet device. Previous versions allowed only one command priority to be used for all tags from a BACnet device.
  • Support for BACnet Alarm and Event Services for receiving alarm and event notifications of COV, Changes of State, Out of Range conditions, and so forth. Alarm and Event Notifications are used to inform operators if a particular event has occurred, such as an alarm. This group of services allows users to configure alarm conditions without the network overhead and on BACnet devices that do not support COV.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in building automation and energy management? How is Kepware positioned to respond to this rapidly changing sector?

There’s an increasing global demand for energy-efficient buildings, high-tech devices, and enhanced security systems that are central components of the Building Automation and Controls (BAC) market. I think this speaks to the increasing need for centralized visibility into building system networks to more accurately monitor energy usage. Building owners and facility managers increasingly feel the pressure to become more energy efficient, and thus need access to all aspects of their systems from one platform.

Following this trend, we’re seeing more users moving foward with truly integrated building automation and management systems, which are providing critical insight into building system inefficiencies. Over the past year, I’ve heard from customers discovering things like sidewalk heaters being on all summer or buildings spiking in temperature in the middle of the night. Without these automation solutions, we wouldn’t have visibility into these events. Most users discover that a significant investment in building automation has a payback far faster than they originally anticipated.

The BAC market is also experiencing the emergence of cloud-based data storage and management technologies, which validates Kepware’s strategies related to the Internet of Things, Big Data analytics, and web-services connectivity. In all, it’s an exciting time to be part of the Building Automation and Energy Management industry. I’m looking forward to seeing how advances in technology will bolster integrated BMS solutions, save energy, increase safety and comfort, and enable faster returns on investment.

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