Controls-Con 2021 looks at what’s next in smart buildings

The building industry is transforming through digital connectivity, Internet of Things (IofT) technology and Operational Technology (OT). That was the message at Controls-Con 2021, a virtual Smart Building Controls and Master Systems Integrator (MSI) Conference, which offered attendees a look into the future of building automation and controls.

The biennial event took place virtually May 5 to 7, 2021, hosted by Cochrane Supply & Engineering, a Michigan-based distributor (along with Canadian affiliate Mississauga, ON-based Canada Controls) of building automation systems (BAS) and HVAC/R technology. According to Scott Cochrane, president and CEO of Cochrane Supply & Engineering, more than 1,000 people registered for the event, making it their largest conference ever.

The hybrid show was aimed at integrators, HVAC/mechanical contractors, engineers, technicians and facility managers, and included education sessions, an interactive virtual tradeshow, and networking opportunities such as discussion boards, attendee matching and the Networking Lounge.

One highlight was the general session, where speakers discussed innovations currently impacting the industry. “One of the major changes we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that most of the BAS products we’re working with today have become an IP enabled product,” said Cochrane in launching the session from the Motorcity Casino Hotel in Detroit. “With those products we can start to connect the building digitally to different types of applications in the digital world like never before. We want to advance technology within the BAS space to where it could be, where it should be as an industry.” As an example Cochrane unveiled a virtual mechanical room in augmented reality (AR).

Speakers discussed the fact that because the pandemic has shifted work away from commercial buildings, owners must find engaging, innovative incentives for businesses and workers to return. Even retailers may begin moving to a hybrid in-person and virtual platform, requiring much less floorspace. As a result buildings must consider offering OT for smart building controls and better air quality, and unique incentives like AR and IoT connectivity, as companies look for smaller, smarter offices. However, with greater connectivity brings increased risk of security breaches, and cybersecurity will be a huge challenge for the industry in coming years.

At the same time, industry suppliers are moving from providing products to offering ongoing services that enhance quality of life for building occupants. “There is a paradigm shift away from just energy performance to caring about the occupant’s well being,” said Martin Villeneuve, president of Distech Controls and senior vice-president of distributed building technology, Acuity Brands. “We have to keep this in mind when developing products, partnerships or technology.” Villeneuve then introduced Distech’s new Eclypse Apex controller, its most advanced series of IT controller for HVAC systems, with IP connected capabilities.

Future Controls-Con events will also be hybrid, said Cochrane, adding that the next conference “will be somewhere warm, where health and wellness will be front and centre.”

Cochrane Supply