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Smart Building Systems Designers

The Job

There are four core aspects of a smart building, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA):

  • Connectivity: TIA says that there are at least 26 different communications protocols and types of networks that are designed for in-building use.
  • Data: Vast amounts of information are collected via sensors, video, and other technology and studied using data analytics and artificial intelligence to assess conditions inside and outside the building and deliver services across building systems.
  • Interoperable building systems: Buildings systems—water, electricity, heating and cooling, lighting, telecommunications, sewage, air quality control, fire safety and suppression, security, and safety—are built so that they are interconnected (with the assistance of the Internet of things and other technology) in order to keep the building operating effectively.
  • Intelligence: This refers to machine learning and artificial intelligence that are used, according to the TIA, to “increase the capability of systems to predict, manage, prevent, and react to situations as they arise.”

At the beginning of a new building project, a smart building systems designer meets with the client to determine their goals and budget for the building. The designer must have a thorough understanding of the clients’ business before providing suggestions on design solutions. Then the designer and the client work together to establish specific metrics that can be measured once the systems are installed to determine ongoing performance (or the lack thereof). Finally, the designer conducts an engineering or cost impact analysis to quantify cost savings or other customer benefits.

For a project that involves retrofitting an existing building, the designer meets with the client to determine what systems or systems they want to upgrade, their budget, and their goals for the project. For example, if a client wants to make their building’s heating and cooling more energy efficient, the designer would suggest that these systems be set up to turn on and off based on room occupancy. They also might recommend that connected weather stations be added outside the building to optimize internal heating and cooling, as well as air quality. Finally, they might advise connecting internal systems such as heating/cooling, water, and ventilation via the Internet of things so that information can be gathered and studied regarding how the use of these systems affect each other during the day. Adjustments can then be made to optimize the efficiency of each system.  

Once a plan is created to design a new building or retrofit an existing one, the designer uses building information modeling systems software, computer-aided design software, or proprietary smart building systems design software to create and configure the building control systems as defined by the contract documents. He or she creates flow diagrams, sequence of operations plans, network layouts, electrical schematics, and other design documents as required. They also develop and test the software programs that will operate the interconnected building systems. Each system must be designed so that it can be reconfigured or expanded to meet changing client needs.    

After the plans are created, they are reviewed, revised (if necessary), and sent to the project manager, who supervises the construction team. After the building is constructed and the systems are installed, the designer assists in the validation of the system’s functionality and troubleshoots problems with the project manager, other designers, and trades workers (e.g., security system installers, heating and cooling technicians, electricians). They also train the building’s superintendent and his or her team on the use of these systems.

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