Smart buildings: drawing on engineering
As cities are becoming smarter to accommodate ever-growing populations while combatting climate change, buildings need to do likewise. With centralised management and hypervision systems, both the design and operation of buildings are being revolutionised so as to offer the best possible efficiency, comfort and security. And this revolution is also happening in the engineering professions involved in making buildings smart. Read on to find out more.
Urban construction methods are evolving and so are the ways we construct our buildings. Today’s buildings need to meet three main objectives: to be designed and fitted out to improve the well-being of the people who live and work in them, to be shaped and run in a way that limits their energy consumption, and to meet the physical and digital safety needs of the modern world. These are the underlying requirements that are propelling the gradual development of smart cities.
Although engineering doesn’t directly respond to the first of these objectives, it is overflowing with talent and tools that can provide solutions for the two others.
Efficiency and safety – the art of supervised management
Right from the construction phase of a building, engineers can put in place a centralised technical management (CTM) system. First of all, an audit is performed to ascertain where is best to install the sensors, cameras and other automated devices which will ultimately give the building’s manager a global view of how the building operates. Next, supervision or hypervision platforms are designed, such as control rooms, so that the building can be managed with precision and agility in its operational phase.
Assystem’s engineers have extensive experience in this area. Just as they do in nuclear power plants, they can oversee control rooms in buildings so as to precisely manage them and leverage the data collected in order to constantly enhance their efficiency.
Each sensor and automated device contributes to the smart management of a building’s equipment, such as air conditioning, heating, blinds and lighting. They act as data collection vehicles which issue alerts if a piece of equipment isn’t working properly or breaks down or if the temperature in a particular area is unusual, etc. This information is highly valuable for optimising a building’s energy consumption and reducing its costs.
As well as improving buildings’ performance in operational and financial terms, engineers can also help enhance their security – a vital consideration in today’s world –by using sensors and cameras for surveillance and for managing access controls.
Smart approach = comprehensive approach
While new technologies help make buildings smart – notably by enabling them to communicate – in order for these tools to be optimised they need to form part of a comprehensive approach. That is why a building’s engineering offering should encompass engineers’ expertise and involvement right from its design phase through to its operation and the maintenance of its equipment. A comprehensive engineering offering is built around two main aspects. First, CTM systems, which form the brain and spine of a building’s smart management and help to optimise not only energy performance but also security considerations. And second, in-depth upstream reflection in terms of the future uses and users of the building and its surrounding spaces.
Smart design and management is now used not only for standard buildings, such as offices, but also for Operators of Vital Importance (OVI), which are buildings where security requirements are particularly high. In France, there are around 250 OVIs. In order to put in place security solutions for these buildings we need to be able to visualise the comings and goings and movements in each area, right from the design phase. Do all the rooms need to have security systems? What about the lifts? Are some areas, such as the entrance hall, more vulnerable to attacks and should they have special equipment? Will other rooms be dedicated to specific types of users and if so will they need an access ID system? These are all questions that engineers can help answer.
To cite just one example of how engineering and new technologies are contributing to creating smart buildings, Assystem’s engineers have recently worked on a large-scale project that consisted of installing 2,500 automated devices, 3,300 energy meters and 60 concentrators for managing 4,000 offices spread over 38 floors, as well as 50 lifts, in a major building owned by the municipality of Paris.
In the area of security, an illustration of the work carried out by Assystem’s engineers is a project to enhance the protection of both the rolling stock and infrastructure at sites owned by RATP (the Paris bus and underground rail operator) in order to combat intrusion, vandalism and other types of threat. Assystem’s mission entails researching, designing and installing the central supervision system to increase the supervision capacity to up to 100 sites as well as designing, supplying and commissioning detection equipment (intrusion detection and CCTV) for new sites and incorporating this equipment into the overall system.
The complexity of today’s projects obviously also means that engineers need to work in coordination with many other players and forge partnerships with companies that are developing state-of-the-art technology. Examples include Genetec and Axis which joined forces to supply smart cameras, and the Arc Informatique/Codra partnership for supervision software.
Industrial IT and project management: two key skills
The smart building revolution is therefore well under way and is shaking up a fairly traditional industry. It is asking engineers to take up new tools, as the automation needed for the buildings of today and tomorrow require specific industrial IT skills. And the involvement of an increasing number of different players and centralised management systems automatically calls for expertise in managing complex projects.
All of these skill sets can be offered by young engineers. While the transformation taking place in the industry is enabling the most experienced engineers to renew their vision and enthusiasm, it is also giving new arrivals the opportunity to promote their knowledge and creativity.