The pandemic unleashed a perfect storm of chaos in global supply chains, affecting supplies of critical building automation system (BAS) components like semiconductor chips, which are necessary components for everything from smart sensors to flow controllers.
Here’s how a couple of smart industry players have pivoted to the new reality, overcoming supply chain issues to keep BAS operations up and running.
Cool Customers: Beating BAS Supply Chain Challenges
The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 unleashed a complex chain of events in global supply chains that continues today. The availability of microchips has been particularly hard hit, with supply chains already under pressure from tense U.S.-China trade relations being rapidly retooled to meet unprecedented changes in demand while trans-Pacific shipping costs have soared.
Today, the industry is playing catch up, with key Chinese manufacturing facilities and ports still closed due to continuing lockdowns. The result is that specialized chips required to drive today’s high-tech BAS systems remain in critically short supply, putting providers under pressure from project managers, owners, and corporate clients with employees ready to get back to work.
Feeling the Heat
What do the supply chain snafus mean on the BAS frontlines? While the chip shortage might seem distant, the effects have been felt rapidly throughout the industry and have included:
- Shortages of cutting-edge BAS equipment for new projects
- Longer lead times on orders for existing projects
- Difficulty in replacing components in existing systems
- Inability to upgrade legacy systems with new controllers
That’s putting providers under pressure, with many facing missed deadlines and higher costs on major projects while workers await equipment and buildings stand empty. The problem is particularly severe for larger providers, who are often tied to major proprietary systems with highly specialized chip needs.
Worse, the inability to guarantee customers that critical components of a BAS will be available adds even more uncertainty. Providers risk losing customers’ confidence that:
- Promised BASs will be delivered on time and will operate as promised
- Existing BASs will be maintained and upgraded as planned
- Legacy systems can be serviced and integrated with new BAS infrastructure
That uncertainty also makes it harder for customers to budget for installation, upgrades, and maintenance costs and make it more difficult for providers to quote on new work. Put simply, the uncertainty over supply chain challenges makes it harder for BAS equipment providers to keep their promises, affecting the customer relationships on which our industry depends.
Building BAS When the Chips Are Down
The supply chain tangles have been a major wake-up call for the industry and the upstream suppliers it depends on. Intel, Samsung, and Texas Instruments have all unveiled plans to build domestic semiconductor plants in Ohio and Texas.
Unfortunately, that capacity will not reach the market for some time, with specialized BAS equipment likely facing an even longer wait. In the face of that continuing uncertainty, the smaller open-source equipment makers and installers have proved much more nimble in finding ways to get new BAS equipment into buildings and keep existing systems running.
In particular, intelligent building systems equipment maker Distech Controls and its regional installation partner Conexus have been ahead of the curve in adjusting to the challenging conditions.
Go to the Source
Distech Controls is a maker of world-class open-source multi-protocol equipment, supplying smart BAS systems for facilities of two of the largest U.S. cloud computing providers, among others.
Distech realized early in the crisis that its supplies of chips and other components were at risk. The company worked quickly to switch to local, available sources for its ECLYPSE intelligent building platform and other BAS equipment.
In particular, the company prioritized redesigning and re-engineering its equipment to make use of available components. The all-in effort saw Distech’s engineering team spending more than half their time in the winter of 2021 reconfiguring equipment “on the fly.”
The move positioned Distech to continue delivering its equipment while other providers scrambled to find components on the global spot market. Distech was able to launch its AI-enabled ECLYPSE APEC controller while still rolling out its Atrius Building Insights analytics package.
Open Source Partnership
The open-source nature of Distech’s technology is critical to its flexibility. Distech’s BAS control and monitoring equipment is designed to seamlessly integrate existing building systems using common standards and shared protocols.
The company’s partnership with equipment provider Conexus is a big part of its strategy in the key U.S. mid-Atlantic region, where Conexus serves customers such as hospitals, government facilities, and major corporate campuses. Like Distech, Conexus is driven by an unwavering commitment to robust open-source systems and procedures.
Conexus and Distech: Your BAS Smart Source
Together, Conexus and Distech Controls are working to deliver single-portal integrated BAS systems that allow building managers to manage intelligent, sustainable energy management throughout a facility from a single portal.
These services are delivered through Distech’s fully scalable EC-Net platform, which integrates monitoring and control of HVAC, lighting, security, access, and fire control systems with:
- Easy web-accessible interface
- Real-time reporting and notifications
- Energy management analytics
The platform can also be integrated with enterprise applications to streamline accounting, tenant billing, and utility monitoring.