The employee productivity is vastly impacted by the office environment. For instance, over-cooling and hot-spots impact employee productivity by 8-10%, reveals Harvard School of Public Health report. The same report shows that high CO2 and volatile organic compound levels present in most conventional buildings have direct negative impacts on the cognitive ability of occupants. However, every problem renders equal business opportunities and in order to enable our readers explore these opportunities, Nimeesh Kumar from Electronics For You had an interaction with Gaurav Burman, VP and Country Head at 75F- an intelligent building system solutions company. Excerpts below.
When and with what thought 75F was conceptualised ?
75F came into existence in 2012-2013, when the founder and CEO, Mr Deepinder Singh based in US noticed a problem with the existing thermostats of his house. His daughter used to wake up crying at night as the temperature outside dropped. However, the thermostat in the interiors did not really adjust properly and compensate for it. While he looked around in the market for a better solution, he did not find anything suitable and intelligent.
With his background in electronics, telecom and microelectronics, he decided to set up a company to address this problem. This is how 75F began providing comfort solutions to households. Gradually our founder realized that commercial space is far more attractive than residential space and we turned into a commercial solution provider. With the help of cloud computing and IoT, we are now delivering comfort as well as energy efficiency services.
When did you begin your operations in India? What challenges did you face?
The operations in India started about two and half years back and that was the time when I came on board. In India we have both R&D engineering and commercial operation. Our operation in Indian market was conceptualised based on its wide difference compared to the US market. This because US has moderate climate whereas India mostly caters tropical. While in the US market we have to focus more on comfort and automation, in India we need to focus more on energy efficiency first and then on comfort and automation. Here we use more of chilled water in HVAC systems and there forced air is put to greater use.
While US has a more mature market with new technologies coming in, India has a cost driven market and it takes more time for new technologies to get accepted here. These factors made us create distinct products for Indian market and set up a trusted business here. Also, it becomes easy for us to expand our business to Middle-East and East Asia from here as climatically, these markets are similar to that of India.
How is the product range in India different from what you offer in USA?
The base of the technology is same but there are additional features and modifications. For instance, there is something called the dynamic chilled water balancing which we only sell in India and not in US. Similarly, in North America we offer reheat solution which is not so common here and is used only for industrial solutions. Air Quality Management is a concern here but not much in demand there. However, the core technology like the central control unit, the smart nodes, the sensors and overlying software and cloud-based algorithms remain the same.
How are these systems integrated with advanced technologies like cloud and IoT?
We have regularly tried to incorporate advanced technologies and systems through our extensive research and development initiatives to achieve our basic aim of OE2 – enhanced occupant experience and try to lower operational expense. The automated cooling and lighting solutions which are cloud monitored not only save energy but also reduce manpower usage in commercial buildings.
IoT based predictive maintenance solutions help us lower failure and replacement costs. This is possible through large number of sensors installed by us around the client facility which capture a large amount of data. Around 671 variables every 60 seconds are collected which go to data bank and algorithms are constantly enhanced by studying these inputs. For example, they would record heat load, occupant density, orientation of sunlight on the building and many more in data bank and generate results for optimisation which is forwarded to central control unit commanding the different systems accordingly. This data is then gathered on cloud which, with time is able to give predictive results based on past history. This makes the system more accurate and intelligent.
Another interesting feature is fetching of weather forecast data from the internet for any place in the world and using that for building management. This proves advantageous for HVAC and lighting system as they are lot dependent on ambient temperature and light outside. With all the above data a thermal model of the building is created every 24 hours in the cloud. This model is transferred to the local control unit for commanding systems for the next 24 hours.
Are these systems available for already setup offices or can be set up only in new facilities?
Earlier there were many solutions in the market which could only be installed in a new building and a green field project. When we realised about greater opportunities in the existing buildings, we started designing the architecture of the solutions that worked for retrofit buildings.
We use wireless technology to the largest extent possible and don’t have to run a lot of wires and cables. We tend to keep our components fairly small and do not have to cut into the false ceiling or duct. We try to place our dampers which control the airflow on top of the existing diffusers and do not have to do any major civil work. We construct and preconfigure it at the factory and then at the site. It takes hardly 10 minutes to fit in a damper and replace the diffuser and then connect it up to the false ceiling.
We cut the installation time by 70 to 80 percent in comparison to the traditional solutions. Also, because we supply as well as install the hardware and software, much of it is preconfigured. You need not waste time setting up and configuring it. In order to avoid inconvenience we mostly install it at night or on weekends.
What is outside air optimisation and why is it required?
There are two reasons why we need outside air optimization – to improve quality of air inside and to tackle energy efficiency.
The CO2 level in the air may affect the employ productivity inside a building up to 12%. This is why we have modified the rooftop package unit (RTU) economizer to make it more energy efficient and comfortable for occupants. Equipped with cloud computing data storage and processing power, it is more efficient than the standard economizer controller found in existing units. This saves up to 40% of the utility cost.
What was the need for cloud computing in BMS and what are the open source services that you are using?
The difference between a traditional building management system and our intelligence system is that we do not have lot of servers and networking equipment which are placed at the customer site because it takes up the space and there is a lot of expense involved. Also, no specialized manpower is required for maintaining such systems that was needed for the traditional systems.
With the newer systems we are able to take advantage of technologies like IoT, cloud computing and big data analytics. We use middleware service providers like Kelway and backend database hosting like Amazon web services. With all of these on cloud we are able to have better security features as well as lowered manpower requirement. We always try to use open source software which are generic and standard like Zigbee and open source APIs.
How does your IoT platform function?
The collected data from sensors is communicated using a LW mesh internally within the building to central control unit where it is converted to TCP/IP protocol. From there it is bounced to the cloud where it is analysed. It is compared to the desired set points and reverse inputs are sent back again.
Are you using your own IoT platform or some other platform?
Yes, we use our own in-house developed IoT platform because we wanted our specific requirements to be met efficiently. Most of the inputs we use are unique and system specific like temperature, air flow, humidity, CO2 and volatile air components. With all the information available on our system we are able to make optimal use of such information.
With in-house developed IoT platform do you plan to provide its services to other similar solution providers in future?
Of course as these days a lot of different systems actually work together and collaborate. For instance, we do not do fire suppression and control but somebody else may be doing the same and might not have such a rich tact to control HVAC and lighting. In that case if the customer wants both the functionalities on single interface we are open to it and our system has full capability of achieving it. In fact, there are several projects in which we are collaborating with other system providers.
What is the USP of 75F which makes it different from other service providers in the same space?
Our major USP has been providing greater comfort and energy efficiency with end to end services in building automation i.e. hardware, communication as well as software. Also, our technology approach is very customer centric with rigorous R&D and innovation.
Who are your major target customers and your clientele?
As of now, the larger corporates in health sector, hospitality and BFSI are our major target customers. This is because we want to cater those who want comfort and more of energy efficiency for themselves and their co-workers. But at the same time we are also working on providing solution for the medium scale companies as well as early adopters at the affordable price point. Our clients include companies like Flipkart, L&T Infotech, Mercedes Benz R&D Centre and Maple Tree Builders.
Apart from building automation what future you see of IoT and cloud computing?
The future is definitely in IoT and cloud computing because on one hand it gives you not just visibility but also make you able to control what is happening with different equipment and the environment around them. It is edge computing in true sense as it has started computing literally on edge where human beings live and work. The opportunities are tremendous as there is no facet of life where IoT cannot be applied.
What are your business strategies for future growth and development?
Our strategy works across three or four different vectors. The first is product expansion across the building automation space with additional features and functionalities. Next comes the channel partner strategy. While earlier we were doing it ourselves, the way forward is channel partner acquisition. Already we are having a bunch of channel partners in India as well as Middle-East and hopefully very soon we will have some in East Asia as well. We are also working on strategic alliance with OEMs and system integrators. Geographical expansion is our next focus like we started in India from Bengaluru and have recently opened our office in Mumbai. Another one in Delhi is coming up soon.