Building Services Automation: Save energy and costs with simple computerisation of your factory environment

Within any plant automation strategy, the tendency is to focus on specific production lines and equipment to achieve efficiency within the production processes directly.  In this article we show how a focus on the automation of the actual building services can bring about real energy and cost savings for the business.  In a time when brexit, global tensions and the pandemic are creating uncertain futures, a business strategy that focuses on profitability through the reduction of resource use could play an important part in future success.


Focus on resource use and finding the energy savings in automation of heating, ventilation, cooling, security and lighting.

This could be for the running of the building itself or to support personnel within it.  Analysing each of these building processes, the resources they use and whether automation could reduce their use is a relatively simple way of achieving greater profitability within the business, particularly in older factory environments with legacy systems and processes.

Known as a Building Automation System (BAS), an automated, centralised control of these systems and their associated resources can not only improve efficiency and reduce energy, it can also improve comfort, machinery conditions and security within the plant environment itself.  Further added benefits include historical records of operations for compliance, notifications of malfunction as well as remote access and control of sites, particularly those plants of an isolated nature.

Most industrial sites constructed after the year 2000 will incorporate some form of BAS, and even those prior to this timeline may have retrofitted systems.  Typical automation will consist of a combination of mechanical and electrical systems and equipment, connected to microprocessors that talk to each other and potentially feed into a central computer.

Also known as an “intelligent” or “smart building”, systems may use protocols such as BACnet, with standards for heterogenous networking starting to homogenise through the efforts of bodies such as the IEEE Standards Association. 

Many kinds of methodologies can and should be incorporated into building automation, including optimal starts, adaptive learning, trim and respond functionality, predictive control, load shedding and enthalpy calculation abilities.

Application in HVAC

One of the primary areas in which automation of building services can have an impact, HVAC represents a real opportunity to save energy use and costs through automatic running of systems. It has been said that simply running systems at 20% less pace could reduce energy usage by as much as 50%. For example, an air handling unit, for which the motor can be sizeable with considerable energy use, can be automated to run more slowly or only at certain thresholds or peak/non-peak times. Addition of a variable speed drive could well reduce unnecessary volumes of air and, in older systems, there may be a singular supply of air with a set temperature point, causing unnecessary cycling of compressors at times not needed. HVAC systems running at fixed rates should be replaced with those programmed to respond to data on weather conditions, occupation or level of activity.




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Heat recovery systems

Air compressors can be used to repurpose by product heat and divert it for use in systems for building heating. Using automated systems, control fans and dampers allows this equipment to communicate with each other as a networked system. For exampling, only pulling heat from the compressors when certain data points have been identified e.g. building temperature or building occupancy. This could even be networked into zones within the factory environment, each using the repurposed heat as a resource when required, with excess being discharged when not required. The heating of water is also a potential application, with handwash stations or systems with heavy water use tapping into the heat recovery system through networked controls and mechanisms.


Water systems can be made to work smarter also, including both water sources used within the factory and the discharge of waste water or trade effluent. Cooling water can b monitored and used/chilled depending on specific load requirements and changing pressure on off-peak times to slow down the water can prevent pumps from having to run at full capacity constantly.


Examples of best practice lighting automation include the implementation of operation schedules can be set up for lighting systems so that energy can be saved during periods of non-occupancy. By saving runtime and power output the building is able to both save energy and reduce potential maintenance costs. Both internal and external lighting can be automated, with use of motion sensors another possibility.

Tangible pay-back times

When faced with few or high-risk strategies for growth in revenue, reducing costs is a legitimate approach to increase profitability within the business.  Implementation of automated systems to reduce resource usage typically have very tangible pay-back times and predicted results.  This gives the business a confident option to pursue to improve profitability.  Many older buildings that have bolted on BASs have seen realisation purely through the energy, cost, maintenance and insurance savings that have been identified at feasibility stage.  The tracking of energy consumption is also relatively easy and so KPIs are available at every level of stakeholder. 

se data, don’t just gather it

Building Automation Systems typically include both software and hardware to create a network of electronic devices that can interpret data and control systems according to desired patterns and thresholds.  Incorrectly configured Building Automation Systems are thought to account for up to 20% of unnecessary building usage.   One of the key considerations in any automation strategy is how the data collected will be used to bring definite actions that meet the KPIs of the business.  It is relatively easy to install sensors and similar equipment to recognise thresholds and data points.  Building this data in to talk to mechanisms that take suitable action is the more complex part. 

Identifying the gaps an opportunities for better resource usage is the first place to start, mapping out which data, equipment and systems are required to connect with each other in order to remove these wastages.  Ensuring those engineers involved in the project have the right skills to connect the machinery to the actual controls is key, as well as the application of the whole system to specific environments.  For example, a food production setting has very different requirements to that of a car manufacturer, where legislation, worker tasks and product conditions may vary considerably.

craig gardiner feg

This article is by…

Craig, Gardiner, Head of FEG Global Automation & Electrical Engineering

Craig not only has expert, qualified skills in in-house programming, sequencing and equipment, he also has decades of experience across different sectors, including Food & Beverage, Nuclear, Chemical, Oil & Gas.  This gives him intricate understanding of the application of automation in a wide range of factory environments.  From food contamination consideration to the risk of explosion in energy environments, Craig has the knowledge required to apply sector-specific regulation and standard processes to any automation project. 

Craig is able to specify equipment based on site needs before designing, programming and commissioning the control panel, which can include touch screen technology and all associated controls and HDIs. 

His specific PLC experience includes Siemens, Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Omron, all of which may differ in protocol. 


The hidden energy savings are everywhere on a site, it’s often just a case of thinking about building services differently. Here at FEG we have knowledge and experience not only of the equipment and systems required for effective automation, but also for its application in different factory environments and sectors.

Head of FEG Global Automation & Electrical Engineering
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