With hospitals looking to cut spending, optimizing facility operations and implementing energy-efficiency strategies have emerged as common objectives. The path to achieving both goals is reinforced by building automation systems (BASs) that optimize facility performance.

With the latest technology and products able to connect to and control multiple systems throughout several facilities as well as provide increasingly detailed data and metrics to analyze building performance, a BAS offers the opportunity to improve facility management and cut energy use almost anywhere it is used.

The potential payoffs of a BAS and energy management, one of its key components, continue to get the attention of health care facility directors and managers, according to the latest survey of 171 hospital decision-makers by the Institute for Building Efficiency, a research arm of Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), Milwaukee.

The just-completed 2012 Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) survey found that 86 percent of the health care facility respondents called energy management either "extremely important" or "very important to their plans," says Dale Kondik, health care solutions development leader, JCI. That's up from 65 percent last year and 52 percent in 2010, he says.

In addition, more health care facilities are utilizing the data that a BAS can provide. Hospitals that record and measure energy use data weekly are at 50 percent this year compared with 41 percent in 2011. Hospitals that review and analyze that data on a monthly basis are at 49 percent in 2012, up from 44 percent last year, says Kondik.

"They're starting to look at the data and use the data," he says. "So it's trending up on both, measuring and recording, and reviewing and analyzing."

The trend to capitalize on the data-rich benefits of a BAS is a function of the need to work as efficiently as possible as facility staffing levels get as lean as possible, says Kondik. "Hospitals need to work smarter and this is how the industry is doing that."

BAS capability has broadened to monitor and control systems outside of HVAC to include life safety, security, lighting, hot water generation, medical gas and even elevators. Energy-saving opportunities are available in spaces not traditionally considered.

Union Hospital, Terre Haute, Ind., is using Johnson Controls Healthcare Environment Optimization (HEO) to simplify its clinical workflow, meet reporting requirements, reduce risk and save energy in its surgical suites. HEO integrates Union's BAS with real-time surgery scheduling to reduce annual energy costs by nearly $6,000 per operating room (OR).

The system sets back volumetric flow rates in real time while maintaining temperature, humidity and differential pressure when patients are not in the room. With HEO, the room can be ready for surgery within seconds, ensuring a safe, comfortable and efficient OR for patients and clinicians, according to JCI.

Data and flexibility rule

While Web access to a BAS has become standard, affordable computer hardware and software that generate an abundance of data to analyze are key developments, says Jim Beam, director, product portfolio and operations, Ingersoll Rand Global Health­care Practice, Davidson, N.C.

"With the systems today, you can collect so much data. The key is: What do you do with the data?" says Beam. For example, systems can produce trending information on an operating suite's temperature and humidity or other building measurements such as pressurization for isolation rooms, he says.

Specialized software that produces detailed data sets enables hospitals to conduct more predictive diagnostics and ad­vanced energy management functions than ever, he adds. This enables facility managers to know when service may be necessary on infrastructure before problems occur.

The development of customized dashboards with remote access and user-friendly graphics also make the latest BAS software a boon to facility directors and managers, Beam says. "You can utilize those to monitor medical gas systems or operating room suites and monitor a lot of data at one time," he says.

Ken McQuillen, health care programs manager, Siemens Industry Inc., Building Technologies Division, Buffalo Grove, Ill., agrees that making data accessible in a highly readable format is an important trend. "People are looking at dashboards to bring the wealth of data that's available in a BAS and make it more meaningful and useful for people not only in the facilities department, but also for other people within the hospital," he says.

Improvements in interoperability and integration among a BAS and components are major developments and critical for hospitals upgrading their BAS, says Roy Kolasa, open systems integration global market manager, Honeywell Building Solutions, Golden Valley, Minn. He advises facility directors and managers to insist that systems consultants or designers specify open communications systems such as BACnet or Lonworks that can be scaled to accommodate future hospital changes.

Honeywell's new ComfortPoint Open building management system is the company's latest technology to control and optimize heating and cooling equipment. The system improves ease of use through Web and mobile accessibility, and reduces energy costs with built-in utility meter management tools and advanced energy reporting. It also provides flexibility to grow and expand with end-to-end BACnet integration.

Similarly, the Tracer SC BAS from Trane, a brand of Ingersoll Rand, is a flexible, scalable, Web-based product that uses open standard protocols to manage HVAC systems and more.

Apogee from Siemens Industries Inc., building technologies division, Buffalo Grove, Ill., is a system offering open architecture that provides control of all equipment from any location and allows full system integration. Scalability ensures that future expansion demands, energy-efficiency goals and operating budget needs are realized regardless of the size of the facility.

Higher technology

With the proliferation of smart phones and digital tablets, BAS operation and data increasingly are available through mobile Web interface and applications custom-designed for portable devices, sources say.

Honeywell's ComfortPoint allows facility personnel to access the system online and also by using the company's EasyMobile client interface to manage and control equipment from mobile devices.

Likewise, Trane's Tracer SC features an upgraded user interface that supports multiple browsers providing easy access to facility information via smart phone or tablet and is redesigned to optimize user efficiency and productivity.

Use of wireless systems continues to grow but most BASs still utilize sensors or controls that are connected to a controller. "Most systems that are installed today still use wired sensors and wired communications network cabling," says Beam.

Kolasa says a very small percentage of systems utilize wireless solutions and technology, in part because of wireless data possibly interfering with medical equipment.

"Typically, wireless products are implemented when driven by difficult retrofit opportunities," he says. But utilizing wireless technology to add temperature, occupancy, CO2 or humidity sensors to capture data that improves efficiency are excellent applications for wireless components, he adds.

Cloudy future?

Some consultants and designers claim cloud computing — with its ability to store building system data for access by enterprise level systems monitoring sites across multiple sites or to analyze building performance — is the future of BAS technology.

Beam says BAS cloud computing largely is unexplored by hospitals but he encourages facility directors and managers to at least explore its potential to enhance building performance. "In many cases, this could be a way to leverage data that are already available through their building BASs," he says.

While hospitals are not utilizing cloud-based technology much today for building management systems, the future looks promising, says Kolasa.

Technology is being implemented that enables cloud-based services, including system optimization with continuous tuning or commissioning for cutting energy use and advanced diagnostics that reduce maintenance costs and increase system uptime.

Ironically, rather than the latest technology offering the best solutions, good old-fashioned retrocommissioning or continuous commissioning may hold the key to maximizing BAS performance.

It's one of the hottest facility improvement trends in the market, with one-third of the hospitals in the EEI survey saying they have conducted retrocommissioning at their facility in the past year to improve system efficiency, says Kondik.

Other products in the BAS marketplace include the Advanced Pressure Monitor 2 Central Display, which was jointly developed by Phoenix Controls, Acton, Mass., and Setra Systems, Boxborough, Mass. The Central Display is a BACnet MS/TP device built on the same hardware platform as the BACnet APM2.

It allows a single display to show the status of up to eight networked APM2 pressure monitors. Room conditions are consolidated onto the touchscreen display, allowing single-touch access to the information on the screen of each networked APM2. It is scheduled for release this fall.

The WebCTRL BAS from Automated Logic, Kennesaw, Ga., offers time-lapse graphics, a new feature that uses the ability to trend past building data. Facility managers can check data in 24-hour segments to view changing conditions within their buildings as far back as data exist using all WebCTRL graphics. This gives facility managers the ability to quickly identify issues that impact energy efficiency and occupant comfort.

Finally, GE Digital Energy, Atlanta, recently released Multilin EPM 6010, a power meter that offers users the benefit of being able to communicate using both the BACnet/IP and Modbus TCP protocols depending on the desired application.

The EPM 6010 meter provides accurate and timely energy use data allowing the BAS to respond better to changes in demand. It gives building management systems access to an impressive 40 predefined BACnet objects, which allows the meter to integrate seamlessly into the system.

Jeff Ferenc is senior editor for Health Facilities Management.

Sidebar - For more information

For further details on the automation products featured in this month's Marketplace article, readers can contact the following vendors:

Automated Logic

GE Digital Energy

Honeywell Building Solutions

Ingersoll Rand Global Healthcare Practice

Johnson Controls Inc.

Phoenix Controls

Siemens Building Technologies