Schneider Electric: AV pros have much to gain from taking on building control and automation

AV integrators have a lot to gain from understanding, interfacing with and even taking responsibility for wider building management and control systems. Tim Kridel explores why, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid, with Kas Mohammed, VP Digital Energy at Schneider Electric UK & Ireland.

TK: Some AV integrators have begun using industrial control and automation systems for certain parts of their projects, such as for controlling projection screens and window shades. What are the benefits of using industrial control/automation products rather than AV-specific ones? For example, some say that the industrial products are more cost-effective, more reliable and better able to meet building, fire and safety regulations than bespoke AV products. Maybe another is that industrial products make it easier for AV firms to expand into smart building applications such as controlling HVAC for energy efficiency.

Kas Mohammed [pictured above]: Industrial controls provide a wide range of benefits - from making buildings more resilient and operationally efficient, to helping to reduce a site’s carbon footprint. To create a truly smart building, the integration of multiple devices on a single smart platform, and their ability to interact seamlessly with each other, is essential. Interoperability ensures every device and application feeds into the overall goals for a project – whether that’s to lower costs or carbon or improve occupant experience. 

Furthermore, when looking at choice of supply post-occupancy during the service and maintenance period, it can be extremely helpful to have an open source and open protocol system as opposed to relying on a single source (such as an AV-specific product) – this choice can help lower the long-term risk and cost involved in a project.


TK: What do AV integrators need to know about using industrial control and automation systems? For example, are there any key considerations regarding interfaces/protocols, specifying/choosing products or other aspects that affect a project’s success? Any pitfalls that they should be aware of?

KM: When using industrial control and automation systems it can be helpful to use tools like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Specification Tool, to generate technical electrical, mechanical and sustainability specifications to ensure that all decisions being made in the building’s design are working towards the same goals of being sustainable, human-centric and efficient.

It’s also valuable to have not only a knowledge of the control systems, equipment and protocols, but also a knowledge of the applications. For example, whilst opening and closing a blind for enhanced vision of a screen is a fairly obvious application, there is also the possibility of complex strategies around the heating or cooling benefits in the operation of blinds and in turn the interaction with the heating and cooling plant systems. Indeed, those interactions and needs may change throughout the day as the sun rises or sets and it moves around the building, The temperature conditions within a space and current use of a building are all very dynamic factors that smart controls take into account.


TK: Some AV projects must accommodate a building’s existing industrial control/automation systems. For example, an AV integrator might be hired to install a Crestron or Extron control system for conference room equipment such as displays and loudspeakers, but the client also wants the AV system to be able to control the room’s lighting and HVAC systems, which are managed by the building’s existing industrial control/automation systems. What do AV integrators need to consider to ensure that the bespoke AV system can support/interoperate with the building’s existing industrial control/automation system? For example, is that where a protocols and platforms such as KNX and BACnet would be useful for bridging the two worlds?

KM: Again, open protocol and open source are two primary factors to consider here, as the integrator can be assured that common open protocols are supported and the interfacing between the two is made simple as a result.

KNX is commonplace in lighting controls and automation in high-end residences. There is also the lighting protocol DALI, whilst BACnet is the predominant protocol in use in heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Fortunately, a tool like Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Building is able to interact with all of these to make integration far easier and more cost effective to achieve the client’s ultimate ambition.

It is important that any integrator clearly understands the client’s needs before commencing works of this nature, not simply doing something as it is perceived to be clever or an engineering challenge. All integrations should be designed to deliver against a clear client need whilst improving the user and occupant experience in the most energy efficient and future-proof way.

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