Industry Standard Communication Protocols

In an effort to achieve true interoperability for multiple pieces of equipment from different manufacturers, there has been significant effort focused on developing standard communication protocols that all manufacturers will adhere to. The advantage of so-called "open" protocols is that, for example, a chiller control panel can share data with a variable speed drive controlling a chilled water pump in order to reduce energy use, with near "plug and play" simplicity. The current market is built around proprietary control systems, making communication between devices from different manufacturers difficult to accomplish in some cases. Open protocols are intended to shift the industry away from proprietary systems that limit control system sophistication and user-friendliness.

Though two standardized protocols are now widely known—BacNET (developed by ASHRAE) and Lon-works (based on the Neuron chip, developed by Echelon Corporation)— and a number of others are being developed and implemented as of this writing, their implementation is still not yet at the scale it needs to be provide true interoperability for a wide range of system types.

For the time being, inter-device communication is typically accomplished using communication "gateways." A gateway serves as a translator between the communication languages of two different pieces of equipment, allowing them to share data and operate syn-ergistically. A gateway can either be a stand-alone piece of hardware, or may be a built-in feature of some DDC panels. Systems integration consultants are often involved on sophisticated control system projects to ensure that all devices are able to communicate with one another.

In the future, it is likely that use of industry standard ("open") communication protocols will achieve critical mass, and as a result nearly all manufacturers will adhere to them. At this point in time, however, their use is still limited.

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