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Clawson Manor 2.0Building Automation

In 2016 Johnson Heating and Cooling L.L.C. was contracted to upgrade a building automation system that would control the mechanical systems for a 17 story high rise near Detroit, Michigan.

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Good is good, but better is better!

In 2010, Johnson Heating and Cooling, LLC was contracted to design, program, install and tune the building automation system for this 17 story building. You can read about the 2010 project HERE. The finished product, back in 2010, was impressive, successful, robust, and saved the customer a whole lot of money. Over the years between 2010 and 2016 some devices were added and some modifications were made. In 2016 additional equipment was added to the structure, so at that time it was also decided to build upon the previous success of the 2010 system and upgrade and expand the automation system on-site.

There were several considerations in the modification to the 2010 system, which were generally: 1. increasing available server processing power, 2. increasing system robustness against cyber-attack, 3. protecting critical components against the damaging effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and lightning, 4. expand system functionality to incorporate newly installed equipment, 5. install additional program functionality based on research done about newly developed technologies (see CoolingLogic™ HERE) in order to decrease energy consumption and increase overall system efficiency, 6. install additional alarming functionality and additional alarm-related sensors (like floor moisture sensors), and 7. installing a new battery back-up and new I/O modules.

The old server operated well and was designed to handle an extreme load of computation, but then it was also under extreme loads of computation. Because the quality and specifications of commercially available servers improved, so did our ability to acquire and install an upgraded server model. The new server improved the end-user interface experience significantly due to faster latency rates and also allowed for more flexibility in terms of the computational load that we could put on the server. It is a suspicion of mine that there is an inverse proportionality between the percentage of output (relative to the maximum potential output) and component life-span. For example: consider engines. For a small engine to produce a certain horse-power, it will wear more quickly than a larger engine producing the same horse-power, likewise, a small processor will wear more quickly than a larger processor, if each processor is doing the same amount of computation. Of course, when it comes to electronics, statements like that above would need many caveats and qualifications to always be true, but as a general rule of thumb, it seems reasonable to consider things in that way. If the above is correct, then using an upgraded server would increase the life-span of the server being used, not to mention the benefits gained by having a new device, rather than one that already had some wear and tear on it.

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There is no doubt that American computers are being exposed to more and more cyber-attacks, both from within and from outside the country. While internal cyber-attacks are may be increasing at a rate proportional to time or proportional to the number of computers in the country, threats from outside the USA are increasing at an alarming rate. Until recently, few people outside the USA and Europe had access to computers because economically or due to a lack of sophistication in their country those people found it hard to obtain computers. Consider the fact that World War two left much of the world’s economy was decimated, but now things have only just began to reach equilibrium. Fiber optics and increased bandwidth make International hacking more feasible & we have noticed an up-tick in foreign attack attempts against systems which we maintain. Weather it is due to US culprits using international proxy servers overseas or whether the attacks are simply originating from overseas, it does not matter. The fact of the matter is that overseas attacks are on the rise in a rapid way.

As with almost every automation customer, we installed an enterprise-grade hardware firewall ahead of the automation server and configured it with rule-sets that took weeks to create. In the controls industry, typically controls contractors don’t do much in the way of security and security guys don’t do controls, but to the benefit of our customers we do both fields well. Now we install hardware firewalls with every automation server as a matter of course- understandably, that may sound obvious, but that practice is not common.

What do EMP, EMI, and lightning all have in common? They all mess up and/or destroy the operability of circuitry. It’s fascinating to study electricity and magnetism, and it’s especially fascinating to study the history of the development of the field of the "electrician”, later called an “electrical engineer”. Today’s electrical engineers would know the name James Clerk Maxwell, just as much as an HVAC guy would know the word Honeywell, or a senator would know the President’s name. As one might expect, James Clerk Maxwell was, arguably, the greatest electrician or electrical engineer of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. One could say that he was arguably the greatest electrician or electrical engineer of all time, but then one would also dive into theological arguments about the Wonderful Creator, God Almighty, and also about Solomon, etc. Not considering the higher arguments about God and Solomon, etc., and using “simple speak”, one could argue that Maxwell was the greatest electrician, electrical engineer, physicist of all time. Albert Einstein said this of Maxwell when he was asked if he ever stood on the shoulders of Isaac Newton “no I stand on Maxwell’s shoulders”. One great scientist or inventor stands on the work (or “shoulders”) of another, learning what he has discovered or invented and then furthers the work. What makes Maxwell such a fantastic scientist is that, like Albert Einstein and Nickolas Tesla, he developed very much novel material. To the point, and the reason for mentioning Maxwell, is that his theories and equations paved the way for better understanding electromagnetism, and that was only about 150 years ago.

So today, thanks to Maxwell, Tesla, and Einstein, we have some understanding of electromagnetism, but 200 years ago people had very little understanding about such subjects. Simply understanding that moving magnetic fields in the presence of conductors induces current and that current in conductors creates magnetic fields was not well understood, not to mention quantified. So 150 years ago Maxwell quantified the phenomena and 100 years ago Tesla put the phenomena to useful purposes and further quantified. Today, the phenomena of magnetism is still not completely understood, but what is understood (among other things) is that electrical current creates a magnetic field which is capable of travelling through space and then inducing a current in a conductor.

So what does Maxwell have to do with the controls work at Clawson Manor? The answer is that EMP/lightning can cause electrical voltage spikes in electronic circuitry which can cause damage to electronics and we protected some (most) of the equipment on-site against such an event. Remember, Clawson Manor is a 17 story high rise, which is well above the tree-line and other buildings for miles around- basically it is like a giant lightning rod. Essentially, simply having a lightning bolt hit the roof of the structure could cause a magnetic field of enough intensity to induce enough current to fry electronics in the system. So how did we protect the components? We installed several quick reaction “surge protectors” on the primary power lines, installed a battery backup, installed quick reaction “surge protectors” on the Ethernet cabling going to the server and hardware firewall, we placed system components in steal boxes akin to Faraday cages, and we used shielded (usually twice shielded) cabling for most of the project.

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It’s an unusual term to use pertaining to work, “manipulative person”, but as it pertains to our work, that is exactly what we are. As with every piece of equipment, we very manipulatively controlled the equipment such that the operational efficiency of the entire system could be improved/stream-lined. For example; given that cooling with outdoor air can result in a cost per BTU of heat transfer which is 10% of that for cooling with conventional refrigerant cooling systems and the fact that Clawson Manor has significant thermal capacity, we programmed the system to cool more in the mornings so that outdoor air could be used to greater benefit. There are extensive writings about the benefits of utilizing thermal capacity, precooling, etc. at, a website for Johnson Solid State, LLC, which holds a patent portfolio on related technologies. Supporting documentation detailing heat-loads, thermal characteristics, best practices and their patented technology can be found on the site. Needless to say, it’s less expensive to cool when outdoor air temperatures are cooler and the coolest part of the day is typically just after dawn.

A concern expressed to us was that because there are ten boilers in the pent-house of the building, water would frequently end up on the floor and then in turn end up leaking into the suites below, causing minor damage. We installed a compliment of sensors capable of alarming, floor/water sensors, freeze/stats, etc. basically we want to ensure that our customer does not have any problems. Additionally, we programmed a more advanced form of system status transmission in that in addition to getting failure alarms we would also receive wellness notifications detailing all pertinent matters in one message. It’s complicated to explain, but basically we installed functionality which is State of the Art and is far beyond what our competition provides. As a programmer, maintaining a multitude of automation systems can be annoying because there is always something failing and there is always some alarm. We stream-lined the process so that, in one message, we could assess and prioritize the attention/urgency of the matters on-site. Anything that makes our jobs easier usually results in us being more effective, articulate, and competitive.

As stated in the write-up for Clawson Manor "1.0", we made mention to the fact that the building houses around 1,000 senior citizens and is a “system’s critical” facility. It was important to us that the system be robust and resetting the life-cycle of the electronics seemed prudent. Such as this was the case, we replaced the I/O with new I/O and rerouted some wiring to accommodate the quick reaction surge protective devices. Because we used “home-run” wiring for all of the critical systems, we have not had any issues with our wiring or connections since Clawson 1.0 and none of the controls wires needed to be changed. In the end Clawson 2.0 carried over all of the system functionality described in the Clawson 1.0 project and added some other important functionality which will save money, provide a higher level of robustness, improve server life-span, and do many other notable things.

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