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Insights Behind ISA's Building Automation Systems Division

This interview was originally posted at

In 2011, ISA announced the formation of the Building Automation Systems Division in response to member demand for specialized information and sharing expertise around technologies and standards for Building Automation Systems:

The Building Automation Systems Division was organized for building automation professionals who design, build, install, troubleshoot, operate and manage building automation systems, and who seek to adhere to best practices to ensure optimum system operation and performance. The division was formed to aid these professionals as they apply available standards and technology to building control systems.

Ken Sinclair from conducted an email interview with Jacob Jackson, the Director of the new Building Automation Systems Division to learn more about it.  Here is the interview:

Sinclair: Why has ISA created a division for Building Automation Systems?

Jackson:  ISA’s Building Automation Systems Division focuses on using ISA’s 66 years of automation knowledge, experience and standards and applies them to the building automation systems. Our methodology harnesses the best from the many different industries represented within ISA in order to assist all of them. It allows the building automation community to create a common base to improve productivity, training, certifications, and to advance the Automation profession.

The purpose of this division is to be a home for building automation professionals within the larger automation society, to allow us to gain a consensus within the building automation market segment, and to use that as a basis for making change within the building automation industry. The BAS Division will start by marketing ourselves to peers as a source for certification and education, and Technical Reports applying existing standards to meet building automation needs.

Sinclair: Isn’t ISA focused on industrial and manufacturing?

Jackson: It has been over the past decade, but building automation was always one of ISA’s interests when its focus was more on instrumentation. It was even the foundation for one of the other vertical divisions, but as with many things it morphed over time into something else. So we’re really just pulling it back to the forefront. We do have broad support from industrial and manufacturing companies, but those same companies such as Siemens, Emerson, and Honeywell, etc. also have building automation divisions. So we’re moving back to our core of automation in general and creating focus groups to address specific needs of the verticals.

Control systems security standards is just one among many. Building automation are more similar to industrial automation security needs than versus say information technology. With respect to some of the other great organizations that support building automation, control system security is in no way related to electrical or mechanical engineering. ANSI/ISA-99 covers security of critical infrastructure, and automation firms are some of the main drivers of its components. As critical infrastructure is being required to be secured, it’s easier to use one standard for all systems than to attempt to reinvent one for each vertical market, and then to be faced with integrating them.

Some others that have peaked interest in the industry are ISA 5 – Documentation, ISA 18 – Alarm Management, ISA 95 – Enterprise Integration, ISA 105 – Factory Acceptance Testing, and ISA 101 – Human Machine Interfaces. So, ISA has been around for many years and has developed standards for much of the systems we see today in high performance building design. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel as we see many new and emerging organizations attempting to do.

ISA also offers professional certifications, such as the Certified Automation Professional, CAP. Many don’t know it, but the team that worked on that certification had a large group from the Building Automation market segment involved. So while it’s a generic certification for automation, the test includes questions about the Building Automation to ensure balance of knowledge for what a professional should know about the automation industry as a whole.

Sinclair: How do people participate? What is the benefit for them?

We are currently looking for volunteers to work on two Technical Reports. The first is applying ISA – 18 Alarm Management to Building Automation. Specifically the group needs volunteers who understand that standard, or are willing and able to learn it, and also understand the building automation industry. These volunteers will consider how the industry addresses items such as Alarm Storms, Root Cause, etc, and also how those are tied to some terms we are more familiar with such as Fault Detection and Diagnostics, Monetization, and other building management tools.

The second is applying ISA 95 – Enterprise Integration, which is the standard that creates models for how an automation system communicates with enterprise systems. What’s really needed here is the model definition for building automation, and a system for defining the extensions. Since that standard has been in use it makes it far easier to define, for example, the interface between a building and energy management system implementation on a campus and the enterprise accounting and facility management systems, because the standard defines large portion of the interconnection and then uses the model to define the process being controlled.

It will really benefit the participants to learn from their peers, and to come to a consensus on what is practical – what works and doesn’t work in this industry. It will also focus everyone in the group as to what are the issues that need our attention. Another bonus available for those who need them is that volunteers will receive professional development hours towards license or certification renewals.

Sinclair:  Is there anything else the division will be focused on?

Jackson: We are in the final process of getting approval from ANSI to develop a new standard, “Unified Functionality for Building Automation”. (ISA-111) ISA is looking for co-sponsors on the standard, since it’s unified, to bring forth a standard that helps define what automation the industry does in a building. As any who have worked in the field know, it becomes difficult to determine what features of building automation are available; automation may involve the lighting system, HVAC, life safety, access control, audiovisual, transport, etc.  It also can be difficult to determine if these separate systems can even communicate with each other since they are typically designed by different firms, installed by different trades, and commissioned by separate agents. And even in large firms where it may not be so difficult, there are still different drawing standards such that the electrical engineer may not understand such as the symbol a mechanical engineer used for a given sensor.

So the standard is going to focus on documentation (drawings and written), project management, installation, change management, implementation, operations and maintenance, and life cycle issues.

Obviously there is a lot of existing work to draw from, both within ISA and from outside. With the implementation portion we are really going to need the expertise of the protocol communities like BACnet, LON, and MODBUS. With operations we would look for input from sources such as ASHRAE/NEMA’s SPC201 Smart Grid group, BOMA, and IFMA.

ISA is working to establish working relations with numerous groups on that front, and we’re happy to say that some initial steps to establish them have already been taken.

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