Comment: IoT is the future

Comment: IoT is the future
Published: 9 June 2019 - 6 a.m.

We live in a world where information and how to apply this information has a huge potential to affect our everyday lives, whether it is simply controlling the environment which we live in or improving the quality of a built project. Internet of Things (IoT) is an innovative move towards the utlisation of data and its application in our day-to-day experiences. And while it is not new, it is progressing at a rapid rate. According to Cisco, there will be 50 billion connected devices by next year.

An IoT ecosystem is made up of web-enabled smart devices that use sensors and communication hardware which when connected through the internet enable the exchange of data which can then be analysed without the need for human to human interaction. This data can be used to create a desired action or act as a key reference point to enhance the process within a given field. Because it is highly personal and based on actual data it is highly effective in creating a more tailored and personal experience allowing us to manage and control our environment based on our daily routine.

Information gathered allows users to personalise their own homes remotely based on their daily routine by allowing the management and control of areas such as room temperature or by intuitively assessing actual heat gain according to the number of people within a space and adjusting accordingly. By connecting our home to our smart phone, we can control the heating and lighting to switch on or off even when we are not at home.

Imagine a 40-storey residential building with 400 apartments. Each tenant has one car which requires an access card to enter the building’s parking and which takes three seconds each time twice a day amounting to around 240 hours per year. By linking your smart phone or your car’s GPS system to the gate, results in a saving of at least two-thirds of this time by around 160 hours. Time is, after all, a precious commodity.

There are many benefits of IoT’s role in our personal environment; however, for the MEP engineer having access to real information about the customer and user requirements helps make the end user’s lives much easier and more
comfortable.

In construction, IoT describes the ability to connect the building services to a singular online network. While traditionally the building management system of a hotel, school and apartment block has been doing this for more than two decades, IoT takes this a stage further to connect virtually all of the systems used in the building to a common platform. Many of us in the construction industry are using BIM which is the ideal foundation for IoT. A collaborative data system approach is the key to success for building owners and operators who want to be able to get meaningful data out of their building systems which can be used from the design stage right through to construction and later during operation and maintenance.

For a better understanding of the benefits of applying the IoT concept within the field of MEP we can look at examples such as hotel guest rooms that use a Guest Room Management System (GRMS) or home automation systems that control the internal environment such as room temperature or lighting through intuitive control devices. Sensors inside the rooms recognise the change in occupancy profiles of a space and adjust the fan coil units and fresh air supply of the space accordingly. In the past, buildings were typically heated and cooled throughout their life cycle regardless of occupancy levels. That no longer needs to be the case with intelligent monitoring.

During the design stage BIM can also help with decision-making for material selection which is a delicate process made more complicated when designers are faced with many different options. The tool enables comparison of multiple construction materials at the outset of a project to provide a clear understanding of the cost and of different material combinations or building designs. This tool also provides feedback during offsite production following up on delivery and, later, tracking the performance of the materials as well as providing an early warning in terms of routine maintenance requirements.
The benefits of having access to real-time information during the MEP design allows us to modify and enhance the design to provide a more cost-effective solution. Having access to information derived from hundreds of sensors that read and monitor all kinds of building information including the location of the occupant and their usage patterns gives users access to huge amounts of data at any time.

While IoT will undoubtedly help make our lives easier, one major advantage is that data can be extracted to help run a more energy-efficient building. A tailor-made Building Environmental Performance Assessment Dashboard system assesses the internal environment and can display real-time data of the environmental performance of the building, providing information such as energy use, water use, occupancy and indoor environmental quality allowing users to adjust levels and usage accordingly.

However, while IoT brings a lot of convenience, it will continue to be a major source of vulnerability for companies in the future. With billions of devices connected through the internet and huge amounts of personal data stored, the risk of cyber-attacks and the subsequent harm that can be done is high.
Data protection security and the security of devices has to be a primary area of focus going forward. The importance of maintaining building systems security will be crucial and designers will need to be aware of the actions and limitations of the current systems available on the market and will need to educate clients on how best to protect themselves from physical and cyber threats.

There is no doubt that IoT is the future not only within the MEP sector but also within our day-to-day lives, and with the right use and wider thinking, it will certainly enhance our way
of living.

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