Don’t like your controls provider? Consider all your options.

Do any of these common issues sound familiar?  The system is not intuitive. The controls vendor never responds fast enough. It costs too much every time they come to work on the system. Alarms are not set properly but we don’t understand how the system operates, so we can’t fix them.

These are all valid concerns and you could probably add others. If you are considering changing your controls provider, you may want to step back and consider your goals and cost of the changes.

Where to start

If you are having trouble with a controls provider, you should always start by contacting them in writing with specific issues that you want to have resolved.  Your provider can’t fix what they don’t know.  Being specific about the issues and expectations will go a long way toward getting issues addressed – because all control companies want to keep good customers.   

An excellent way to get results is to find a champion in the organization and use them to express your issues to their management.  Sometimes the issues are minor and may be resolved with a control technician visit or some additional hardware.  Be sure to ask for a quote if the system is not in warranty, so you won’t be blindsided with an unexpected bill.

Still not happy?

If contacting the controls provider doesn’t work, and you still want to replace the control vendor, Brady Controls has what you need to evaluate your current system for partial or full replacement. 

Most systems installed today are either LON or BACnet* at the unit level (small unitary equipment).  Typically, they are preprogrammed or preconfigured controllers, with a specific sequence of operations burned into the controller. A good example of a preprogrammed controller would be a VAV box or fan coil.  These controllers should be easily reused in the new system.   

Of course, there are some exceptions that will need to be evaluated.  For example, systems with proprietary protocol, field programmed controllers, and finally (the most dreaded) legacy controllers can make the transition complicated and more expensive.

If you have a system that is mostly LON or BACnet at the unit level, you can replace the head end building automation system and get roughly the same functionality. The speed of the graphic refresh will not increase since that is a function of the number of devices on the link and the protocol.  

If using a Tridium product, a driver (protocol software converter) can often communicate with the programmable controllers. Communicating with the programmable controller will allow set point adjustment and scheduling but not wholesale programming changes in the controller. 

Keep in mind that you must have the software and knowledge to connect directly with the programmable controller to make specific sequence changes for these devices.  That means you may have to pay the vendor that provided the programmable controller to make the sequence changes and “expose” the points for action at the head end. 

A relatively easy change

If the programmable controllers are old or you just want a fresh start, changing the programmable controllers is not a huge deal.  Most controllers have a similar I/O count and can use the same inputs and output signals.  A clear sequence of operations will need to be hammered out so that both parties know what the piece of equipment should be doing at the correct time.   

Make sure the new control vendor has any existing control drawings so they can see what the engineer that laid out the system had in mind.  If you don’t have these, suggest that the control vendor provide a sequence for modification before the system is installed.

Do you have legacy controllers? Unfortunately, they are the most difficult to replace.  You can sometimes reuse the preprogrammed and preconfigured controllers with the use of a “bridge” or “gateway.” This is a cost effective way to connect to these devices but it does have some drawbacks:

  • Any programming that was needed to fix sequence issues may be lost in the upgrade. You will need to address these issues as they come up. This will be a hidden cost that the control vendor will not want to pay for since it is an existing problem. 
  • The speed will not change since the older protocols were typically slower. You may want to plan to replace these controllers as they fail. A great way to do this (without changing the existing communication link) is to install a wireless mesh in the area, so as boxes fail, they can be replaced and added to the system. 

One final option

Replace all the controllers.  To eliminate future issues, you should also require that the communication cable be replaced.  The new BACnet protocol has a higher speed and carries much more data so it is less forgiving with loose wires and “T Tap” installations. 

If you still have questions about moving to a new controls vendor and resolving your issues, talk to us at Brady. We may be the controls company you’re looking for.