The Great Debate

Glad I’m not a Product or Marketing Manager for a Building Automation device manufacturer. Unless you’ve got a really sharp and clear crystal ball or you can read tea leaves (some prefer cannabis) you’ve got a really tough job.


The problem is knowing the direction of the Building Automation industry and aligning your products to follow that direction. Image you are the Product Marketing Manager for an energy metering company of say $10 Million dollars or so. You’re facing a real rat’s nest of thorny problems with huge dollars on the line based on your call.  You decision can literally make or break a company in these times. Let’s look at some of the issues.


Let’s start with the one you’ve got the least control over. Most buildings are government owned. Federal, State, Local. There’re post offices, police stations, prisons, schools, universities and a ton of others. In case you haven’t noticed the government is pouring huge amounts of money into projects all over the place such as wind, solar, energy conservation and all the rest. But that money is controlled by people with all sorts of different agendas and political constituencies to feed. They are pretty much not in the business of making the best call as the call that benefits their interest groups the most. If you’re the governor, your thinking about your next reelection campaign, judging how much money your gonna need and looking around for sources for all that cash. Projects will be started, stopped, suspended at the mercy of these kinds of people. Yes, it’s cynical but realistic, alas a topic for another day.


Then there are technology issues. What should we support in our power meter? We’ve got Modbus now but Ethernet is the standard. What application layer over Ethernet, well that’s a 2nd question. Ethernet will cost us more than our Modbus solution.


Is there more we can add to the Power Meter to make it more valuable with an Ethernet link? Probably not. The distributors, integrators and customers that use these devices just want energy data. Fancy web interfaces and other crap isn’t going to add any real value to the customer, flashy yes, useful…not so much. Then we have to address the question of cost, will adding Ethernet increase wiring costs? Probably will.


Ethernet is still point-to-point, and you need a switch. Sure switch prices are have gotten pretty low but they’re never going to be free. They still require labor to install them, panel space to mount them, power to run them and lots of wire to get at them. All those costs add up. Making the case that the old Modbus way is not only just as effective but also cost effective. You actually save a lot with Modbus.  That’s why we created the a power meter gateway to move your legacy Modbus meter data to a BACnet or other EtherNet based network like our BACnet to Modbus gateway  (Part No. 460MMBS) to capture lots of meter data in one place and have a single BACnet interface.


Another dilemma for you is dual Ethernet. If you really intend to pursue an Ethernet solution you will need to embed a switch in your device. Now you’ve got daisy chained Ethernet and can cut a lot of those costs out. But your product is more expensive. Two RJ45 connectors, a switch, larger board, more complicated product…etc.


You’ve also got all the normal headaches associated with Energy meters. They are a highly regulated device that needs all sorts of certifications. If you make a mistake there isn’t a way to rush a fix out to the market. All your certifications have to be redone.


Yes, lot and lots of headaches for you, Mr/Mrs. Product Marketing Manager. At night, when I think of my problems it’s comforting to know that there’s someone else out there with lots bigger problems than mine.