• Neall De Beer

How AI and digitized maintenance can help the property industry better manage building portfolios

A business transformation initiative is not just about technology. A lot of digitization solutions provide an opportunity to rethink how a business operates. SPACE+ Co-Founder Neall de Beer spoke to Honeywell's John Boothroyd about how the property industry can digitize to solve predictive maintenance issues and make energy savings.

Neall De Beer (NDB): John, tell us a bit about Honeywell and your role...

John Boothroyd (JB): Honeywell provides technology and software that keeps buildings and cities running, planes flying, factories running and workers safe. In 2018 we formed Honeywell Connected Enterprise (HCE) to accelerate our Digitization initiatives. Within HCE, I work for the Connected Building team and am responsible for the development of our Predictive Maintenance and Energy solutions.

NDB: What are some of the biggest challenges in the digitization of the property industry?

JB: Getting buildings connected efficiently at scale has been an issue for the industry.  The problem here is having a lot of equipment from different manufacturers.  We’ve been playing our part to facilitate this with our plug and play gateway that translates all the building information into a common data model so that you can run the same application across buildings - irrespective of whose technology you are running in the building.  

NDB: How do you think the real estate industry can best drive the adoption of technology?

JB: I think one of the big things the industry can do is make technology easy to use.  This is actually harder work than it might seem.  In 2015, our CEO stated that he wanted Honeywell to become the Apple of the Industrial world.  So we started hiring a lot of User Experience designers and they worked on our physical and digital products and we have a culture now that they are involved in everything we provide for our customers.  Returning to the example of connecting our buildings through a gateway – using this design process we have “consumerized” our building connectivity gateway.  We post the gateway to the customer site, they plug it in, scan the QR code with their mobile and complete a couple of set up steps and we are connected and interpreting data from their building.  It’s no more complicated than connecting a home internet service.

The other thing industry can do is work with each to make our solutions interoperate.  There are many pieces to the Digitization puzzle and if vendors can collaborate it makes the customers’ lives easier.  So we are starting to open up APIs so that, for example, our Predictive Maintenance solutions, can send data to our customers’ existing maintenance management systems so that we can dovetail into their workflows.

NDB: Where do the biggest opportunities in maintenance lie?

JB: There are some technologies that are quite mature around analysing building data to find things that are not working effectively.  So your building technicians can arrive on site (often digitally in the Covid world), already knowing what the top things are they need to focus on to improve energy efficiency and comfort levels – and the performance improvements of working this way are really noticeable.  We have standardized on Digitized Maintenance in the buildings we maintain and increasingly helping customers apply this in buildings that others maintain.  So there is an opportunity to deploy this kind of approach to buildings that don’t yet have it. The emerging big opportunity lies in the application of AI to building operations.

NDB: How does the AI work?

JB: We're seeing some great results from the application of AI to building efficiency.  We've developed an approach where our AI learns how a building operates – it builds a model of how the building responds to things like weather, occupancy and equipment parameters. And it works out what combination of parameters will lead to the lowest energy use in any given situation.  It looks ahead and adjusts settings every 15 minutes without any human intervention.  What we have found is that this approach can deliver significant HVAC energy savings.  We have tested it over quite an extended period and now we are rolling it out to customers who subscribe.

We are also applying AI to the prediction and diagnosis of maintenance problems.  We have started with chillers, where we are getting very high diagnostic reliability and are able to predict a number of important problems.  

NDB: What are the biggest ESG challenges the property industry faces and how are they being adressed?

JB: When implementing ESG initiatives there are many trade-offs to consider.  Take for example, achieving a particular LEED rating.  Because LEED is based on scoring there can be several ways to achieve a particular score.  The impacts on sustainability and the business will be different for different designs that achieve the same score and some are easier to predict than others.  I think the best way to address this challenge is to conduct pilots and use those to help standardize on the optimal approach.

There are many choices that are currently considered optional – for example choices of materials, sourcing and fixture efficiency.  It would be great to see some of these which have low incremental cost but for which the benefits are difficult to quantify just become standard.  This could happen through industry schemes, governments using their regulatory or purchasing powers or through industry leaders driving them as reputational “must haves”.

John Boothroyd is Global Director of Product Management at Honeywell.

You can find out more about Honeywell here https://www.honeywell.com/en-us/honeywell-forge/buildings

Honeywell is a Main Stage Sponsor at SPACE+

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