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NIST, Industry Partners Form Consortium To Help Building Systems Communicate

Nine control system manufacturers and one software company have joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology in a cooperative research and development consortium to help overcome communication barriers among building systems, making it possible for such systems to share data and work together.

Consortium members are: American Auto-Matrix Inc., Export, Pa.; Andover Controls Corp., Andover, Mass.; Delta Controls Inc., Surrey, Canada; Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.; Landis and Gyr Powers Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill.; PolarSoft Inc. (a software company), Pittsburgh, Pa.; Siebe Environmental Controls, Richmond, Va.; SnyderGeneral Corp., Minneapolis, Minn.; Staefa Control Systems Inc., San Diego, Calif.; and The Trane Co., St. Paul, Minn.

These industry partners will be testing a standard communication protocol known as BACnet--Building Automation and Control Network.

Today's building industry faces many difficulties when trying to get building systems from different manufacturers--for functions such as fire detection, security, and energy management and control--to talk to each other. Currently, systems from different companies, and in some cases from the same company, use specific communication methods that often are incomprehensible to each other.

"BACnet will make it possible to have a truly `smart' building, where all systems work together and are controlled from a central location," says Steven Bushby, an electronics engineer in NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

Initially, says Bushby, BACnet will be used primarily in expanding or upgrading components of single control systems, such as those for heating, ventilating and air conditioning. This will enable building owners, for example, to purchase controllers from manufacturer B even though the original HVAC control system was purchased from manufacturer A. "Right now, building owners are `captive customers,'" says Bushby. "If they want to modify the control system, they either have to go back to the original manufacturer or set up separate, independent control systems." He adds, "Using BACnet, they can build a system to best suit their needs with pieces of equipment from different manufacturers, much like you would build a custom stereo system."

Bushby says this new technology will stimulate innovation, promote new product development and give building owners and designers more options.

Consortium members will develop prototype control products or software that implement BACnet or tools for developing and testing the implementations. Tests will be conducted at NIST during the next two years primarily to verify that BACnet can enable different manufacturers' products to communicate and to identify problems before it becomes an industry standard.

Developed by NIST and building industry experts, BACnet has been published as a draft standard by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Bushby expects it to become final this year.

Others interested in joining the consortium can contact Bushby at (301) 975-5873, e-mail: stbushby [at] (stbushby[at]enh[dot]nist[dot]gov) (via Internet).

A non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. NIST has participated in more than 400 cooperative research and development agreements since 1988.

Released March 1, 1994, Updated November 27, 2017