The wireless future of building automation and why we need it

Reliability, versatility, easiness; a few words that I believe you haven’t heard in a discussion regarding wireless building automation systems. There seems to be a sense of general mistrust towards wireless solutions. And perhaps, for good reason: many wireless systems entered the market more than 10 years ago, and a lot of these were unfinished and are still unreliable, thus not fulfilling the needs and requirements of the customers and manufacturers. Regardless, wireless functionality is undoubtedly one of the most growing trends everywhere – also in building automation.

At Produal, we have taken up the challenge to change the negative attitude towards wireless solutions. Technologies have evolved in a massive way over the years, and we believe they are finally ready to reach the expectations that the previous generation of wireless systems failed to achieve. So, we started to collect the best technological innovations and began to refine them into the next-generation wireless solution that has a purpose: to create reliability for wireless building automation. Just like a culinary chef preparing a fine meal, we are using only the best available ingredients. Here, I want to dive into how we’ve prepared this dish and discuss how important our new system’s extensibility, scalability, and features are, and what truly makes them unique.

Because the majority of current wireless systems all contain the same basic measurements (temperature, humidity, CO2), customers aren’t really able to make major decisions based on them – other than ponder if these features are all found within one product family, and whether or not the measurements are accurate enough to meet the requirements of the customer’s current project.

So, how to compare systems with each other if their measurement options are identical? Well, we have to take a few steps back and look at the system on a bigger scale: options, features, and especially what’s the future of the system that is under consideration – is it really future-proof amid our rapidly evolving infrastructure?

Four necessary steps to become future-proof

Yes, the term future-proof might get thrown around a lot, but it’s worth stopping to think what it really stands for. Direct quotation from Wikipedia: “In general, the term “future-proof” refers to the ability of something to continue to be of value into the distant future; that the item does not become obsolete”. This has been exactly our goal at Produal: to design a system that is reliable and can be developed through its entire lifecycle and respond to its customer’s needs both now and in the future. What follows next are the steps we’ve taken to achieve this.

1. All our wireless devices can be upgraded either locally or via the cloud.

While a measurement system needs to be adaptable according to its customer’s needs, many systems tend to struggle with the evolution of technology. They either no longer correspond to the needs of their customer or simply become obsolete due to a constant wave of new software and security solutions. An intelligent system can be updated to meet the requirements of both today and tomorrow, and this is one of the key features of our new wireless Produal Proxima® system. All communication goes through a wireless gateway – ensuring that only one IP-based device is displayed externally, but also that every wireless transmitter can be upgraded remotely or locally.

2. Reliability of wireless communication

Reliability was one of the biggest focus points of our upcoming wireless solution. A network must be capable to function even if physical objects – such as walls – surrounding the transmitters are moving, thus interrupting connection. Transmitters need to be capable of rerouting themselves if their current connection is interrupted. The best solution to this demand was a MESH-based network, where each transmitter functions like a base station for other transmitters. This enhances the network’s strength considerably in every situation. In fact, MESH works like an invisible net of strings from transmitter to transmitter. Now, you might think “that’s nothing new, this type of MESH network is on the BMS market already”. But the key advantage of our new wireless system is a fully battery-powered MESH with extended battery life, and without the need for external power supplies to keep these routing transmitters on. This is the kind of MESH network you’ve never seen before.

3. Open fieldbuses for BMS and other systems, as well as interfaces to cloud systems.

We specifically wanted to avoid making a large number of different gateways for different protocols. Instead, we put everything you’d need in one product: one gateway with all the desired features. The customer doesn’t have to ponder what is the right automation protocol, because the customer gets them all, whether it’s Bacnet or Modbus. On top of everything, there’s also the possibility to upload any necessary measurement data to a cloud service.

4. The modular design makes it easy to:

1. Combine different measurements, options, and functions within a single product

2. Bring new product innovations into the system

Our foundation in this new wireless philosophy has been what we call PUMP, the Produal Unified and Modular Platform. Utilising this method we get enormous opportunities – design one feature for one product and share its benefits for all products, no matter whether they’re software or hardware. This unified platform methodology can also be witnessed in the wide range of options our wireless system has.

Pushing wirelessly forward

In the development of new buildings, versatility and modularity are crucial factors. The needs for working space can change – companies keep growing or decreasing in size. To make these changes easy to implement, we need customisable spaces, wireless transmitters, and devices that allow this scalability without a continuous need for renewed cabling. With continuous development in batteries and measurement technologies, we’ve reached a point where the battery lives of transmitters are high enough to withstand price comparisons with wired systems, even on a long term.

But is the building automation industry still ready for wireless building automation? Many have said that while the future is wireless, the prevailing installation method will rely on traditional wiring. But in the coming years, we will witness a big change in how systems are being built, and can already see the first steps taken. The recent IoT boom has introduced to us new wireless technologies, new metrics to measure in buildings, new applications, along with easier installations. A lot of things we could only dream of a few years ago.

But what explains the sudden enthusiasm for wireless systems? Money is the first obvious answer, but also our future: buildings are one of the largest carbon dioxide producers in the world. For example, buildings are consuming about 40% of the energy used in EU countries. That’s a lot. Even when we take into account these demands when constructing new buildings, there are still huge amounts of old properties that cannot just be dismantled and rebuilt. However, what we can do is renovate them to meet the current and future demands of energy consumption. And that’s where wireless systems are invincible.

Antti Salli
Product Manager / Transmitters and wireless solutions