Look Ma, No Wires: Schneider Electric Innovates with IoT
The Internet of Things doesn’t show up on the front page of Schneider Electric’s website, but IoT is showing up in every one of its new building and renovation projects. The European company, which has revenues of 24.7 billion euros and 142,000 employees, is using IoT to lead the digital transformation of energy management, automation, and physical security.
Steven Turney, security program manager, has been with Schneider Electric for 20 years, always in some area of physical security and building systems integration. He acknowledges that his part of the industry “moves at the pace of coal being built.” But IoT is speeding up that process.
In the past, he notes, buildings had wires everywhere and disparate, siloed systems. Supporting it all was labor-intensive and costly. System integration didn’t exist in most properties.
“It takes an immense level of pressure from the environment to get this industry to change,” says Turney. “But the level of integration IoT gives us was never possible as short as 10 years ago.”
Back then, he recalls, solutions used switches and relays to turn on lights, open doors, start or stop motors, and switch railroad tracks. While engineers can do amazing things with eight relays and six switches, each one adds an extra layer of installation cost, lots of copper cabling, and ongoing support.
Turney points to elevator integration as an example. “In a 30-floor building, I would need a bank of relays, two per floor per elevator cab, meaning at least 180 relays and wiring up and down all 30 floors. With IoT, I do the exact same thing with a simple IP network drop per floor. Plus, I get an app that lets me see everything about my system on my phone.”
Physical security technology has advanced in the same way. “Cybersecurity and protection have a huge learning curve, not just for the tech people but for the building people, and the users as well,” says Turney. “It still sounds silly to some building security people, but the cloud enhances the security of the system. Your company may have one IT security guy, but Amazon and Google and so on have two or three thousand people focused on security.”
Traditionally, Turney continues, the physical security market has been so fragmented that good ideas have not been able to move the market. “IoT lets new companies step up with the cloud advantages and stand out in the crowd,” he says. For instance, making and tracking credential cards for older systems was a difficult and ongoing process.
“Today, with IoT, I can have mobile credentials in my phone for multiple buildings— and people don’t forget their phones,” Turney says. When necessary, access credentials are easier to revoke with IoT-enabled systems too, he adds.
Turney regularly advises integrators on how to succeed in physical security using IoT. “Freshen up your cybersecurity networking and encryption protocol knowledge,” he counsels. “The IT guy in the meeting will ask questions and you don’t want to say you don’t know.”
Don’t be afraid of using wireless on a retrofit either, Turney adds. “Some people in older buildings are still trying to figure out how to get a wire from point A to point B. Often they don’t consider that the cost of labor for cabling is more than the cost of wireless technology. If designed and deployed right, it will work.”
It will also be “greener,” because it uses a lot less copper. Indeed, Schneider Electric was the solution architect and integrator for a new building in The Netherlands called The Edge. Packed with wireless IoT-enabled technologies, The Edge has been named the most sustainable building in the world by British rating agency BREEAM.
That’s a loftier accomplishment than most office towers will ever achieve, but an example of what’s possible when you say goodbye to old-school automation techniques and hello to the Internet of Things.