The finance industries are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons but they remain a demanding environment for the installation of building services. We look at how the KNX building control protocol brought about time savings at Broadgate West in the City of London

The fast-paced world of high finance leaves no time for trial and error and last-minute tinkering when a company moves into new offices. Instead, the firm needs to be able to hit the ground running in a tailor-made office space that meets their bespoke specification. What’s more, due to the specialist nature of financial services businesses, those requirements are usually very exacting.

For the landlord, this not only means understanding the nature of their occupiers’ needs but also minimising the time and level of disruption required to make any changes to the building. Importantly, because technology and market trends can change financially based businesses so quickly, completion of the electrical fit-out may never be definitive. So the solutions found must not only be cost-effective, fast to install and unerringly flexible enough to incorporate any future changes without any fuss, disruption or undue expense.

Fast and flexible

When global financial services firm UBS took space in Broadgate West, a large commercial development in the heart of London’s financial centre, the company found that the Electrak Lightrak KNX lighting control system, already installed as part of the building’s Cat A fit-out, made tailoring the space to their needs quicker and easier.

“Although it is a lighting control system,” explains Electrak’s lighting control product manager Wayne Brewerton, “Lightrak KNX is designed to provide seamless interoperability with any KNX building control modules, which can be added to the system on a simple ‘plug and play’ basis [see below]. Any trained integrator can then integrate them to the system by plugging in a laptop anywhere on the system.”

This interoperability was a big benefit to UBS, which not only had its own specifications when it opted to take space at Broadgate West, but it was also aware that it would inevitably require reconfiguration of the space during its tenancy. The use of Lightrak KNX lighting controls has not only delivered an efficient lighting system but has made both small changes in lighting configuration and bigger changes – like the addition of new controls – quick, easy and hassle-free.

At Broadgate West, the lighting control system was designed to include presence detectors on all 11 floors to ensure that lights are switched on automatically when the building is occupied but that energy is never wasted by lights being left on unintentionally out of hours. Following UBS’ requirements, this Cat A system was quickly and easily modified to include manual switching, timed event controls and dimming and scene setting in addition.

“Presence detection is very useful as a blanket tool,” explains Brewerton, “but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and often companies need different lighting control solutions – or a combination of solutions – in different areas of their premises.

“For example, dimming and scene setting is very useful in a meeting room environment where there may be a need to alter the intensity of the lighting for presentations or evening receptions. The advantage of a KNX-based system like Lightrak is that such modifications are quick and simple, which makes tailoring the building to a specific occupier’s needs fast and hassle-free.”

Brewerton claims that Lightrak is easy to use because of the ‘plug and play’ technology employed in KNX products and the engineering software tool (EST) used to programme them. The lighting control system in the building was installed using Electrak’s buscom trunking, a busbar hybrid with power plus a separate integral communications bus.

Lighting control components then simply clip on and plug in anywhere along the trunking, and are then configured by any trained operator simply by plugging in a laptop anywhere on the bus.

A bespoke solution

As a new building with a flexible Cat A fit-out, Broadgate West provided a blank canvas for UBS, which the company was able to modify to suit its commercial and HR requirements.

A KNX-based, ‘plug and play’ lighting control system is just as user-friendly for buildings that have been round a bit longer, however.

“For older buildings that need to update their building controls or add new elements to the system, KNX’s compatibility with other protocols, including Dali and LonWorks, via off-the-shelf ‘gateways’, presents another major advantage,” says Brewerton. “That’s because a KNX-based system means that there is no need to overhaul the existing building control functions.”

KNX allows a flexible approach to managing specification of new building controls or upgrades to existing systems because it aims to ensure that different products marketed by different manufacturers can communicate seamlessly with each other. This interoperability frees the user from being tied in to one specific manufacturer, thus giving it a free choice of new components from the array of KNX products that are available on the market.

“KNX is much more than the latest trend in building control systems,” claims Brewerton. “Its flexibility, ease of use and efficiency have been proven in commercial environments across the world, winning it fans among contractors, landlords and occupiers alike.”

This article was originally published in EMC March 09 as Life in the fast lane

Anytime, anywhere

Billed as the world’s first open standard in home and building control, the KNX protocol is the culmination of 15 years’ knowledge and experience from previous standards, including EIB (European Installation Bus) EHS (European Home System) and BatiBus. The international quality standards, including EN, ISO and Chinese standard approvals offer guarantees of high product quality.

Designed for use in all building control applications, KNX is increasingly specified for new buildings, but it can also be used in existing buildings.

The KNX protocol has been designed to be simple enough for any trained integrator to use, and larger companies often train a member of their IT or estates team to act as an in-house integrator, driving down the cost even further.

The KNX Association also has partnership agreements with nearly 120 training centres internationally to help ensure that there is always KNX integration expertise available. What that means for the occupier is that they can take ownership of the building management system, configuring and reconfiguring any aspect of it as and when they need to. Potentially, the entire BMS configuration can be brought in-house, allowing the building to respond quickly to occupiers’ needs.