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Best PCs for Building Automation Systems

By ·Categories: Industrial IoT·Published On: April 30th, 2021·5.9 min read·

Building automation systems are bringing HVAC, lighting and access control to the future. Imagine a building automatically changing to suit the needs of the people within it by gathering and reacting automatically to data. It may sound like something out of The Jetsons, but making intelligent decisions is exactly what modern Building Automation Systems (BAS) are doing today. If you have a smart thermostat in your home, you already have experience with a type of building automation. However – commercial, industrial, retail and medical spaces are taking BAS to the next level, all powered by some incredible technology.

Building Automation Systems for Real-Time Decision Making

In today’s interconnected world there has never been more of an emphasis on not only making the right decision, but also executing it at the right moment. BAS allows for centralized and efficient control of a building’s systems to make decisions in real time.

Like any Internet of Things (IoT) application, building automation requires deploying local devices in order to collect, process, and execute on data. But, what kind of computer is right for building automation? Here are a couple real-world building automation project examples to help illustrate the important considerations when selecting BAS hardware.

Best PCs for Building Automation Systems

When looking at building automation systems, your requirements may change depending on the location for the hardware. Data collected from the Edge from HVAC systems, boilers, and/or power metering systems, is delivered to the systems that use the data to make decisions. Therefore at the Edge of your network, you usually can use a lower-powered device to interface with local PLCs, sensors, and machinery. However, you should not neglect specifying the right device for the job as they are the eyes and ears of your BAS. 

Define Environment and I/O Requirements

Typically the deployed environment of these devices are not the cleanest – such as elevator machine rooms, boiler rooms and the like. Therefore, an industrial fanless PC from OnLogic is a great fit and will ensure the maximum reliability of your systems. You should also consider what connectivity you will need. For example, how will the data be collected from the machinery or sensors? Depending on the age of the building, you may need to communicate with BacNet, Modbus TCP/RTU, or OPC. So you need to have the right combination of LAN ports, USB, Serial, or Digital I/O to accommodate those protocols. 

For these types of Edge applications, a system like the CL210G-10 offers a ultra small form factor, fanless, and configurable to your needs. Perhaps the actual monitoring is being done off-site and you need to transmit the data you collect over 4G, OnLogic can outfit many of our systems with cellular connectivity to help accomplish this.

Small gateway computer showing antennas for cellular capability for building automation system


Once you’ve collected the data to feed into your BAS, then you’re ready for the next step to have a complete picture of the building systems. Depending on the scope of the project you may need gateways to aggregate the data first from the Edge or send the data to a cloud service like AWS or Azure. These will typically need to have more power than an Edge data aggregator. A system like our Helix Series provides the same reliability as the smaller devices but with increased Comet Lake Core i performance. If you need even more power than that, our Edge Servers with Xeon Scalable processors are available as well.

Helix 500 and Helix 600 stacked on top of eachother

Access Control and Security Systems

One of the key systems that is part of a BAS is access control. Access control simply means controlling what, when and who can enter your buildings, parking garages, etc. For entry systems like a keyfob system for an apartment building, we can deploy RFID enabled readers at the Edge and connect those to an Edge PC to be managed.

The same applies to vehicles. However with the growth of machine vision and AI inferencing we have some additional tools we can use. With Toolkits like OpenVino we can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to read the license plates of cars trying to enter your garage and compare them against a list of authorized vehicles. In order to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) at the Edge, you need to provide additional processing power. With OpenVino you can leverage the processor, integrated graphics (IGPU), or a Movidius vision processing unit (VPU). A great option would be our ML100G-53 which brings improved IGPU performance with Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake with Xe Graphics. For use with other toolkits and frameworks OnLogic offers Google’s Coral VPU and a line of GPU enabled computers.

Surveillance Cameras

Consider the Total Stack

As mentioned above, the age of the property will heavily determine the sensor and machine information connections. The U.S Energy Information Administration’s Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) regularly makes available information on the commercial building market that can give us some key insights: 

  • There are almost 5.9 Million commercial buildings in the United states as of 2018. A combined total of nearly 100 billion square feet.
  • More than half of commercial properties in the US were built between 1960 and 1999. 25% were built after 2000.

With older buildings you will need to account for legacy HVAC, elevator, and other connected systems. And, you will need to work with older communication modules. BACnet is still the defacto standard for the building automation industry even though it was standardized over 25 years ago in 1995.

Deploy the Right Software for Building Automation Systems

Therefore, not only do you need to deploy Edge devices from OnLogic that can communicate over RS-485, but you also need to deploy the right software as well. Whether an application can natively use or can ingest and normalize BACnet and legacy protocols can be key to the success of your next project. Consider whether you will have fieldbus devices aggregating sensor data in front of your Edge devices or if they will take in the data directly which will also help you determine what I/O needs for the PC.

Inductive Automation’s Ignition package is a great fit for your next building automation project. Ignition has a number of modules for data ingestion whether that be BACnet, Modbus, OPC, or a specific PLC manufacturer such as Allen-Bradley or Siemens. Pair that with Ignition Edge IIoT, specifically designed to enable Edge to Cloud connectivity via MQTT for the ultimate in easy to use and scalable BAS solution stack. OnLogic offers a line of PCs loaded with Ignition Edge ready PCs for your next project.

Architecture Diagram of Ignition

Ready to Get Started?

With industry sources expecting major growth of building automation systems in the near future there has never been a better time to get started. OnLogic’s team of solutions specialists are ready to help you select the best building automation hardware solution. Contact us today! 

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About the Author: Cole Wangsness

Cole is the leader of strategic partnerships at OnLogic. He works to enable the technologies that customers use to solve problems today and in the future. When not working, he enjoys training his dog (she's 9, but he tries anyways).