Greg Fitzpatrick, CxA
Business Development Leader- IoT and Integration-Cochrane Supply and Engineering
The BAS Team from Limbach Company Pontiac, MI.
- John Glaeser – Controls Group Manager
- Ernie Bristle
- Chris Panek
- Kody Immink
- Irawat Singh
- Rob Melvin
One of the things that always helps with establishing best practices in any industry, is a deep dive into lessons learned. When exploring the world of IP technology and OT networks, there are several areas of deployment that can present a learning curve. I had the pleasure of speaking with the controls group at Limbach Company about some of their experiences while deploying this new technology.
1. GREG: How long has Limbach been exploring the possible use of IP devices and what made you comfortable in deploying these devices and their supporting networks in your customer’s buildings, considering that this technology is still new to the industry?
Ernie: Over the course of the last two years we have seen the interest grow, more so with our new construction projects. It has been mostly a customer-driven request.
John: We have also had situations in existing buildings where the existing MSTP network was not in the area where we needed to add a device but extending the IP network was a much easier and cost-effective option.
Kody: Our control division at Limbach has been considering the use of IP-based controllers since their inception. The determining factor has always been either the design specification or the customer’s preference. We have influence over this decision on a case-by-case basis. In general, we prefer the use of IP controllers for primary equipment (AHUs, Plant Controllers, primary systems, etc.)
2. GREG: According to technical documentation everywhere, we know that BacNet over IP devices can be up to 1,000 times faster than the fastest MS/TP devices. As an MSI how have you found this increase in communication speed to benefit the overall performance of the network and the Building Management System?
Ernie: There is a better response time to accessing the information from IP Based devices. The one area that still needs improvement is with Distech’s Envysion software. Its graphical interface doesn’t load quickly. The ability to take advantage of the increased communication speed depends on the underlying network layout and topology.
Rob: Programming devices and downloading controllers is much quicker and easier with IP networks and devices. It cuts down on programming and commissioning time.
Chris: Having greater control over the BMS network installation provided a number of benefits on a new construction project. We were able to have the network ready to go for commissioning and for running and monitoring temporary heating and cooling.
Kody: We primarily see the benefits of this speed increase when it comes to programming and commissioning. The substantial speed increase allows our control technicians to tune PID loops and control logic at a faster pace. We are also able to tune the BACnet network for faster polling when utilizing IP-based controllers. This allows for more responsive graphics and trend charts.
3. GREG: We know that BacNet MS/TP devices are supported by an RS/485 network, unlike IP devices that are supported by an IP/OT network. How would you describe your installation group’s experience with designing, deploying, and commissioning an IP network……… Has it been a major learning curve? If so, has the learning curve been worth it to your company considering you’re now able to provide the latest technology to your customers?
Ernie: I cannot speak of new installations. However, the site that I have been working on already was using IP Based equipment and we are replacing it. No real learning curve there. As an experienced IT person, I have found the customer’s existing IP infrastructure can be improved for more efficiency and fewer single point of failure.
Kody: We have had tremendous success when installing a dedicated OT network. The use of Optigo Network’s fiber optic technology has allowed us to program, integrate and commission our systems at a faster pace. It also allows us to be more agile and responsive to our customer’s future requests. Having the ability to add IP devices, assign IP addresses, create VLANs, and secure switch ports on an OT network has proved to be extremely beneficial for new and existing projects.
4. GREG: I’ve talked to a few MSIs across the country and they say that programming and commissioning IP devices is much faster than MS/TP devices and that they have experienced significant labor savings. Has Limbach gotten to the point where you see those benefits? Either way can explain the feedback that you are getting from your installation group regarding the differences between the two devices.
Ernie: Based on using Distech IP-based equipment, I can see the quick response while commissioning the controllers.
Kody: IP-based controllers are absolutely faster in regards to programming and commissioning. The responsiveness and faster update times when making changes to the control logic is an absolute game changers.
5. GREG: Do feel like your experience with deploying IP/OT networks will make your company that much savvier when attacking large integrations with several technologies being deployed by multiple contractors? If so, which areas do you think will benefit the most……. Does it help in areas like coordination, commissioning, and data aggregation or are you seeing other areas?
Ernie: With proper planning and design, the biggest benefits will be commissioning along with troubleshooting. With BacNet, every piece of equipment is daisy-chained and with an IP backbone that isn’t required.
Kody: The utilization of an OT network is absolutely crucial when it comes to being able to program, integrate and commission DDC controllers with a more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective approach. We have seen a significant reduction in the amount of time required to get our equipment connected and programmed when utilizing an OT network.
6. GREG: One of the major areas of concern with owner IT departments, when MSIs install these networks and connect them to the internet, is cyber security. Have you found that the industry has provided products that address cyber security while giving you VPN access? If so, have these products been easy to deploy?
Ernie: An IT department can set up VLANs strictly for the BMS Equipment and they can not only create firewall rules on the managed switches but also create a secure single point of entry from the internet, thus removing the potential need to have cyber security on each piece of BMS equipment.
Kody: Cyber security is absolutely a valid concern in today’s world. The advantage that installing an OT network has is that it is largely isolated from the customer’s production IT network infrastructure. Utilizing Optigo Network’s ‘OneClick Secure’ we are able to whitelist authorized MAC addresses and block any unauthorized access to edge switch ports. This allows us, as the MSI to take a security-first approach. We have also been able to have secure VPN remote access through the use of the Tosibox Lock 500. Tosibox’s use of industry-standard encryption has allowed us to maintain confidence that accessing the remote customer site is safe and secure.
7. GREG: Do you see Limbach using IP devices more often when doing negotiated work and design-build projects where you are making the decision regarding the technology being deployed in your customer’s buildings?
Ernie: Limbach will continue to pursue using IP devices when the choice makes
the most sense. In new installations, we will recommend it to the customer for
speed, efficiency, and down-the-road troubleshooting.
Kody: Limbach will certainly continue to recommend the use of OT networks for
the underlying BMS infrastructure in every project. We will also continue to
recommend the use of IP-based controllers for primary equipment such as AHUs,
Plant Controllers, and primary systems.
GREG: It sounds like Limbach has embraced the rapid change in our industry and you
guys are attacking it head-on! After experiencing the advantages and efficiencies
during installation, and hearing Kody use words like “Game Changer”, it appears that
you guys will be rapidly moving out of the “MSTP Zone” and moving toward offering
the latest building technology and future-proofing your customer’s buildings!
John: That’s Definitely the plan!