The smart building is in the process of transforming the construction industry. Thanks to digital technologies, in particular the IoT, buildings are now becoming genuine service platforms, designed to benefit both users and operators alike.
For a long time, the main innovations within the construction industry have concerned materials or construction methods. Now, with digital technology becoming widespread, buildings are being installed with more and more technology, to the point that we now refer to smart buildings.
Offices, shopping centres and production facilities are now becoming platforms around which gravitate an entire series of services intended to facilitate the everyday lives of both users and operators. These services enable the smart management of power consumption, room occupancy, the maintenance of various pieces of equipment and even the interventions of service providers.
How does the smart building work?
The smart building comes into play from the design of a building, and continues right throughout its lifecycle.
It all begins with BIM (Building Information Modeling), a digital model that provides a virtual reproduction of the physical building. This enables the function of the structure to be modelled before it is even built, all in an open format allowing it to be shared amongst all stakeholders. The goal is to consider the building on the basis of its future uses, adopting a "Building as a Service" perspective. Rather than being a rigid structure, the building is becoming a collection of services, required to evolve and expand over time with a view to providing comfort for its occupants.
This model also enables more intelligent production: elements of the building, such as concrete slabs, can be designed in advance and produced in factories, rather than being cast on site. If these elements are fitted with chips, builders can also closely track the progress of the works. These solutions enable the shortening of construction times and the reduction of material consumption.
In order to be able to supply this model with real data, the building must then be connected, by fitting it with sensors. These enable the monitoring of the status of the building in real time, via platforms: temperature of the premises, condition of the equipment... They also measure the consumption and use of the building, by means of active remote meter reading: water, electricity, car park or meeting room occupancy etc.
Remote control systems must also be deployed in order to be able to control the various pieces of equipment within the building: heating systems, air conditioning systems, lifts, solar panels... Using artificial intelligence technologies, a number of actions can be automated so as to render the building as autonomous as possible: redistribution of surplus power to neighbouring buildings, switching on and off of the heating system based on the temperature of the rooms...
Finally, the smart building provides customised tools intended for the occupants of the building, so that they can interact with their working environment (stores, lighting...)
What are the use cases for smart buildings?
The primary beneficiaries of smart buildings are the occupants; those who live or work in these connected buildings. More often than not, these are employees within the service industry, however, the smart building also exists in hospitals, community housing facilities and industrial premises.
For employers, safeguarding the well-being and safety of employees is becoming a growing concern. In fact, offering a comfortable working environment is now recognised as a performance lever and a factor contributing to the retention of talented workers. Thanks to the services offered by smart buildings, companies can easily contribute to ensuring the comfort of their employees, for example, by having a faulty heating system or lift repaired before it actually breaks down.
The smart building also offers companies various opportunities to reduce their operating costs, for example by closely monitoring energy consumption, using solutions such as Voltyo. Likewise, the dimensioning of the buildings is also a major challenge. With new ways of working, such as the Flex office (offices are no longer assigned to a designated user, but are rather shared by all), mobile working or co-working, many companies no longer require the same spaces as before. To avoid paying for unused square metres, they can make use of solutions to optimise the occupancy of their premises, as made possible by the Ubigreen platform, for instance.
Finally, the smart building can be applied on a larger scale: intelligent networks, or smart grids, thus link these buildings with one another and with their environment, in order to manage power distribution on a district-wide scale, for example. In some cases, the same services can be deployed across an entire city, thus benefiting the whole community. These "smart cities" manage car parks, public lighting or water networks in a manner that is intelligent and increasingly automated.
The role of the IoT in the smart building
"The smart building is a sector that features extensively in IoT projects, for several reasons: on the one hand there are several pieces of equipment within a building, the function and consumption of which can be optimised. On the other hand, many users are suffering and long to benefit from the same innovations in their place of work as they make use of in their own homes," assesses Bertran Ruiz, director of the IoT Valley, which incorporates several start-ups specialising in the smart building.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key component of smart buildings. First of all, sensors establish the link between the physical world and the digital world, by collecting data within the building. Using suitable networks, they can then transmit this data to SaaS platforms (Software-as-a-Service) capable of utilising it to provide services with a high added value.
The IoT offers responses to many challenges. In order to offer genuine services, multiplying the number of connected devices is not sufficient. In a video for the Genesis platform, Rémi Visière, Head of R&D and Innovation for the construction company GA Smart Building, emphasizes that, "all of these systems must be able to communicate with one another, and it must be possible to control them from a centralised location. This is the real challenge. Furthermore, companies that hold a large stock of property will want to centralise their data for all of their sites, not just for one building." Technologies associated with the IoT contribute to interoperability, encouraging the development of new services.
Incidentally, the existence of connected buildings is not something new in itself. Construction companies specialising in Building Management Systems (BMS) have already previously offered such possibilities, however, until now these were reserved for very large corporations on account of their cost.
The IoT significantly reduces the costs for the implementation of such solutions, in particular the cost of the sensors and connectivity. "Several start-ups rely on the IoT in order to widen access to the services associated with the smart building. This will allow innovation to be made accessibleto all," asserts Bertran Ruiz.
What are the advantages for corporate property players?
For construction companies, the smart building is now a real differentiator, and a source of added value for their customers.
As for the operators, they now have access to multiple services, from which they can pick and choose depending on their needs. These services help them to manage buildings in real time, in a simple, intuitive and affordable manner. One example is the MerciYanis Facility Management platform, which enables the centralisation of incident management and the centralised controlling of service interventions.
Smart buildings also offer companies that provide maintenance and repair services the opportunity to reinvent their business model. Using the data collected, these players can actually take preventative action in maintaining pieces of equipment, making use of predictive maintenance tools. They can also trigger certain interventions, such as the cleaning of a room, based on the occupancy of the rooms, or indeed at the users' request, thanks to solutions such as that produced by Axible Finally, "BIM also facilitates the work of breakdown experts and other service providers, by helping them to understand where and how to take action," points out Rémi Visière.
Points to remember:
Thanks to digital technologies, the entire lifecycle of buildings is being transformed.
Now hyper-connected, buildings are becoming autonomous and can be controlled remotely.
The IoT makes these smart buildings available to all.