The LX: DDC Controller, Translator & IoT Gateway in One

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Transcript

[00:00:03.900] – Scott Holstein

Hi Everybody, my name is Scott Holstein, I’m the Director of Marketing and Business Development for Computrols. Welcome to our webinar today. We’re going to be talking about Computrols, LX Controller, and how it’s able to function as a DDC controller, translator, and IoT Gateway. Thank you all for joining us. Hopefully, most of you are already familiar with Computrols, but for those who aren’t, Computrols is a manufacturer of building automation controls primarily known for our HVAC control system. Some of the unique factors that we offer outside of our exceptional service are our lifetime warranty, our ability to integrate to just about any third-party system, including a lot of our competitors’ legacy systems.

[00:01:03.520]

And then really the simplicity and that’s something that we’re going to talk about more today. What we’re here to talk about is the LX Controller and some of its very unique features beyond having a lifetime warranty, which we offer on everything that we manufacture, we’re going to discuss the ins and outs of this product and what makes it truly unique. We’re going to get kicked off by giving you a little bit more background on Computrols. We’ll talk about the LX Controller hardware features.

[00:01:34.560]

Then we’ll get into how the LX looks as a translator or gateway into BACnet IP. Then we’ll be talking about using the LX within CBAS and then we’ll save time for the end for questions and answers will address what we can as we go along. Today, I am also joined by our manager of Strategic Partnerships, Mike Clayton. Mike’s been with Computrols for about 20 years now and has basically filled every role you could possibly imagine. Mike, helps me out with sales and marketing, works closely with our R&D team, helps train our technicians, and of course, is a big part of the success of our distribution partner network.

[00:02:14.210]

So a little background on Computrols. As I mentioned previously, Computrols is really best known for our simplicity and our ability to empower our customers. Everything from the way that we design products to the way that we price our products is really built with our end customer in mind. We want to empower our end users to ultimately be able to operate these systems autonomously. We really remove all of the chains, you get the same access to our tools that our own technicians do.

[00:02:44.390]

You know, one of the things that we try to accomplish by doing this is making sure that we don’t have ongoing maintenance contracts. We often brag that you’re not having to make service calls all the time to see what’s going on with this, that or the other, and then being forced to upgrade to the latest hardware and software. This has been a problem in our industry for a very long time. Thus why our founders decided in the early 90s what we’re going to manufacture our own hardware here. They said we’re not going to obsolete anything.

[00:03:15.150]

Computrols was started back in 1983 as a service company, our founder was an HVAC control technician himself, was out in the field servicing those systems when he saw a lot of opportunity and a lot of shortcomings from the manufacturers that were out there. So in the late 80s, he hired on a software developer. They began creating the first version of Computrols building automation software, better known today as CBAS.

[00:03:41.750]

And what they did at that time was the integrated the front end into existing control systems. And the whole idea was we were going to make this software program as simple as possible so that building engineers could be empowered to operate their own systems. Soon after that in the early 90s, we kept running into the problem of planned obsolescence, of product churning, which is really something that makes our lives a lot more difficult as building engineers and contractors who go out and resell these products.

[00:04:12.010]

So like I mentioned, we began manufacturing our own line of HVAC controls that time for the lifetime warranty of everything we manufacture. And one of the ways that we’re able to do that is by manufacturing in the U.S., all of our manufacturing comes out of our headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana, although we started with HVAC controls and that continues to be a major calling card for us. Our system also encompasses lighting, access, and fire alarms as well.

[00:04:39.800]

So just a brief overview here as to how Computrols goes to market. We have our headquarters just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. This is where we do all of our manufacturing, all of our administrative work, all of our engineering. And then outside of that, we also have branch offices scattered throughout the country. And then in addition to those branch offices, we employ service and distribution partners throughout the country who are typically mechanical or controls contractors who want to represent their own line of DDC controls. They find that our value proposition is so much different than the rest of the competition that they really jump on board and want to bring that to their customer.

[00:05:21.520]

That’s just a little bit of background on Computrols and how we go to market. That said, go ahead, Mike, take it off.

[00:05:28.830] – Mike Clayton

Thank you, Scott. I appreciate that. As Scott mentioned we will be mailing out a copy of this presentation and although this is focused on the LX component, specifically as it relates to the rest of our product lines, if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive and not, please let us know. We can certainly set up something targeted for the software side of things.

[00:05:50.190]

The LX Controller. This is our flagship HVAC controller. What you’re looking at here are four different sizes of board; eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and sixty-four. The number refers to the IO count. That’s true Universal I/O. So there’s no jumpers or dip switches – nothing physical that we change on the board. It’s all software selectable. That right there offers an incredible amount of flexibility and provides a real ease of use when it comes to engineering projects because you don’t have to worry about how many output modules you have or input modules simply count how many points you need to control, determine how many spare points you want, and size the controller accordingly.

[00:06:35.070]

It’s important to note that the IO count is the only difference between these four boards. Memory, speed, capacity, is all the same between those four. Again, the only difference being the IO count. And we’ll take a closer look at what this board does for you momentarily. We also have a VAV and a Unitary line, these look visually similar, both have Belimo Motors, the Belimo Motors have a five-year warranty. The electronics under the hood are also manufactured by us.

[00:07:11.360]

This coupled with the LX is really our hardware line. So we wanted to show you this to kind of explain how that fills out. The VAV lineup is application specific for VAV applications. The UNI you get direct control over the IO. The VAV can also communicate using different protocols, BACnet, Teletrols, Siemens FLN. So coupled with the LX, you’re really presented with some powerful integration options there, and we’ll show you how that will play into things and a little bit later.

[00:07:43.990]

The LX Controllers feature what we call a two-piece board design, what this gives you right off the bat, is notice there’s no electronics or any other moving parts on this board other than an on/off switch. So it’s easy to hand this to the electrician or the installer and then keep the money, the expensive brain board at the office for later use. What it also allows us to do is two main advantages. One is serviceability. If you notice, the brain card snaps in and it’s a tool-less design meaning you don’t need any tools, just a thumb screw and a clip to unplug the brain.

[00:08:19.350]

So if you have a questionable issue with a controller, you can unplug the suspect board and plug in a known good one, set its IP address, and walk away from it. The software will push a configuration to it, and you can easily troubleshoot a controller that way. But what it also shows you is on the right is the LX and on the left is the X-line. That board on the left was first produced almost 20 years ago. Very capable board still out there in large quantities, but if you or your customer had made the investment, whether it’s two decades ago and now want to upgrade to LX to take advantage of some of the new features we’re talking about, it’s as simple as unplugging your old brain and plugging in the new one. There’s no need to radically rework a panel or anything like that. So really showing a testament to our dedication to forwards and backwards compatibility and not obsolete products.

[00:09:12.200]

So taking a closer look at the LX, this is our 16LX, couple of user-friendly features. Number one is silkscreened the datasheet right to the front of the board. So if you’re wondering how to wire up a relay or an input or, hey, what’s that that output rated for? – you could see a binary output is rated 24 volts, DC 50 mA. So right off the bat showing our kind of commitment to usability, not hiding the sort of information behind a log-in or burying it on a website, but instead putting it on every single controller that leaves the factory.

[00:09:44.320]

The four-in-one points, as we mentioned, true universal. Any point can be any type of input or output. And that’s a big feature when it comes to engineering projects like we mentioned. Up at the top left are the two RS45 ports. This is how we handle integrations. The board is IP based, but those are two twisted pair of communication channels. Now, those two ports are completely independent of one another, and they either one of them supports every protocol that we support. So that capability built into every LX that goes out the door.

[00:10:21.400]

It is a license controlled issue. So if you don’t have a need for BACnet MSTP, you don’t have to pay for it now, you can add it later on. Or let’s say you’re using one channel on every air handler to do BACnet to the VAVs, you have another channel available to, let’s say, do Modbus for power metering down the road or something like that. So our part about giving you flexibility and expandability and scalability, at the very basic level of the controller.

[00:10:53.380]

As I mentioned, IP based, so we can leverage the existing network in a building often or pull your own, if you have sites that are geographically separated. We can leverage the Internet for that connection. So you’ll notice there’s no complicated architecture here in terms of concentrators and network gateways and network masters and a bunch of little parts that are a nightmare to troubleshoot when things are going wrong. Pretty simple. Software network, cable, and controller. IP based protocols like BACnet IP, Modbus IP, and others, they come directly out of the front-end PC, which would be a Windows-based PC running the CBAS software.

[00:11:32.460]

So, again, real simple network architecture, pretty easy to troubleshoot. And you actually don’t need any hardware at all from us to be able to accomplish those protocols. The LX protocol as a platform – excuse me, the LX platform across all controllers, when we talk about IoT Gateway, it’s got Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities built into the product. There’s a USB port on it which greatly enhances our ability to expand our platform out to a wireless ecosystem that we’re currently developing, such as duct sensors, room sensors, people counting, indoor air quality. All of these things are seeing greater and greater demand these days, and having wireless capabilities is certainly a timesaver when it comes to reducing labor.

[00:12:19.960]

So taking a look at the network architecture, as we mentioned, pretty simple. PC running software, network cable, controller. In this case, they’re showing the ports on the 45 one doing VAVs and the other doing power metering. It’s important to note that when we do talk about integration when we connect to devices on those 45 ports, those points “live” on the LX Controller, not in the front-end. So if I’m integrating with a string of Modbus devices on the 45 port and I place a schedule on something, that schedule lives in the LX Controller, not in the front-end PC, so it’s a very robust solution to that.

[00:13:00.210]

The LX is not just simply taking messages and blindly passing them back and forth. It’s actually an intelligent controller in that integration role and allows us to take several protocols and stitch them together cohesively not just several vertical silos that are kind of duct together. As we mentioned, we scale easily campuses, high-rises from one controller to many. The software can be opened as a workstation, meaning the exact same software can be shared across many users and we can all work simultaneously editing schedules or tuning PIDs or whatever you would do in your BAS system. We can all work together simultaneously and not step on each other’s toes.

[00:13:43.580]

We also have a product called CBAS Web. This is an appliance that installs locally no job and no flash, HTML5. This can provide some web capabilities to that CBAS system for those that are interested. But it’s important to note that that’s optional and can be removed. Some security-conscious clients really don’t want any web capabilities so very easy for us to, it’s very easy for us to accommodate those people.

[00:14:07.880]

So let’s talk about integrations. How do the LX fit into those sort of roles? What are you looking at here is a typical Metasys system you’ve got a legacy JCI computer, some NCMs or NAVs network control modules, and network application engines that are supervisory controllers, and then underneath those will be floor controllers. VAVs, VMAs the X-9100s, etc. So the LX comes into play, what we do is replace those network controllers and use our LX Controller in its place.

[00:14:43.020]

We also replace the Metasys software with our front-end software, and our software has several distinct advantages over Metasys and most other software packages, and I’ll explain those in a moment. But the takeaway here is that it’s a very minimal process. You know, it’s not very complicated. Remove that other network controller, install ours, and then we’re communicating with those existing controllers as is. Now, one thing that we have an advantage of is having that hardware line. If you notice, we’ve shown here our VAV controller in line with the other controllers.

[00:15:15.410]

So if I’m integrating to, let’s say, 30 Johnson Controls VMAs, I’m communicating with them, everything’s happening, and VMA number 12 fails on us. You can actually take our VAV product and install it in that same communication line as those existing Johnson Controls controllers. So it’s attractive to owners, but it really gives them a scalable solution to move forward after the integration. Let’s integrate, provide a new front-end, several benefits there, and oh yeah, as things fail on the floor, we can replace it with Computrols controllers that have the lifetime warranty and we’re not having to go on eBay or Radwell trying to buy used controllers.

[00:15:54.860]

So very distinct advantage, something that having the integration capabilities coupled with a full service hardware line allows us to execute on.

[00:16:05.000]

Now, another new development is that the LX is currently undergoing BACnet testing, it’s going through the certification process. We expect that to be wrapped up here in a few weeks, and what that’s going to offer us is the ability for the LX Controller to communicate via BACnet IP. In this example we’ve shown that you’ve added whatever other supervisory software you want, and I could communicate alongside CBAS. CBAS would be your configuration tool and then whatever back-end and front-end you’d like to use.

[00:16:34.200]

It’s important to note that those sub-connected points, meaning the 45 points, those are also going to be represented via the BACnet IP connection. So it’s going to allow for some pretty robust translation capabilities in terms of some of the protocols we support that are kind of rare. You’ll be able to actually convert those and then leverage BACnet IP.

[00:16:59.440]

So when it comes to integration solutions, as Scott mentioned earlier, it’s one of our core competencies, we’ve been doing it for quite a long time. Here’s a various listing of some of the various protocols we support, both open and proprietary. It’s good to note that when we do integrations, we don’t just simply allow – here, you can connect some wires and you have to program all these points manually and things like that. We offer tools that will leverage, for example, with Johnson Controls, we can import their database files from their system, which allows you to speed up the process of performing an integration.

[00:17:36.710]

And whenever possible, we will develop those tools to make it easier for you to proceed and deliver on those protocols. It’s also important to note that we created all of these from scratch. Our ability to create these protocols is something I’m proud of. We’re constantly adding to this list all the time. So if you find yourself with some oddball old proprietary protocol, you may have been told there’s nothing that can be done with it. Give us a shot. Having the firmware team and the software team and hardware people, everybody under one roof, down here in New Orleans, really gives us some capabilities that you may not find with our competition.

[00:18:17.750]

We talked about the LX, some of the hardware features that it gives you as just a straight DDC controller. We talked about some of the integration capabilities, some of the expandability that comes with it in terms of IoT using things like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

[00:18:32.690]

How are people using this product in the real world? This is a project out in Southern California and the story you’ll see this over and over again.

[00:18:41.460]

The names may change, but basically the building a couple of 10 story buildings, and no one’s happy… At all! Ownership isn’t happy because the building’s inefficient, wasting money. Tenants aren’t happy because there’s numerous hot calls, cold calls, the building just isn’t performing well. The ownership’s writing a service agreement check to Siemens every month and really not getting what they feel to be value out of it because the problems aren’t going away. The building feels like they really don’t have a choice, though, because they can’t afford a full rip & replacement and they feel like they just have to stay where they’re at. There’s nothing that can be done.

[00:19:18.920]

Our integration capabilities and the ability to do what I call a ‘hybrid integration’ are what really can shine here. By hybrid, I mean, we will go in and replace central plant equipment controllers and maybe air handler controllers with the LX line, but then we’ll integrate using those 45 ports to the floor level controllers, things like VAVs, etc. So right off the bat, we accomplish several goals for the owner.

[00:19:43.520]

One we can eliminate that forced maintenance agreement that they were under with Siemens. Number two, we can retro commission the plant and maybe the air handlers because now we have direct control over them with our hardware. The LX line. We’ll tackle the VAVs as tenant improvements happen or build-outs happen, things like that. But we don’t have to do them right away. And this delivers some impressive numbers on ROI. Gets the tenants happy because the buildings performing better. Saves money because the buildings more efficient now, so a win-win across the board.

[00:20:16.400]

And like I mentioned, the names may change, but the story stays the same. And you’ll see this all across the country, that same kind of buildings that feel like they’re stuck because they only think it’s an all or nothing proposition. And we can offer them some stages to maybe fit into their budget in terms of what we can accomplish.

[00:20:33.550]

So here’s another building. A larger building here had multiple Johnson systems that even Johnson wasn’t able to truly integrate.

[00:20:42.240]

So the building brought us in for an integration. We performed so well with that integration in terms of energy savings that they accelerated plans to do a full retrofit, wanting to transition to the hardware that we provide that gives them the comfort and security of a lifetime warranty going forward. So you can see here real impressive numbers on performance and ROI and taking to systems that had really been abandoned by that original manufacturer and breathing some new life into them and then showing the owner enough value to accelerate the transition into our stuff. So a really exciting prospect for us, and a happy building all the way around.

[00:21:21.780]

We talked about integration. Here’s where the LX can really shine. This property had four buildings under two different front ends with hardware from Siemens, Allerton, and JCI. Like many systems you find yourself with, it was less of an automation system and more of a remote control system. Everything’s in hand, everything’s bypassed. You know, people are just driving it by hand.

[00:21:43.400]

There was also a tenant overtime system from a third party that was just a mess. Had trouble integrating, you know, the building had a tenant overtime system, just couldn’t do anything with the BAS to make it truly automated.

[00:21:56.180]

So our ability to integrate to all of these different protocols and bring them under one front end really shines here. We replaced the JACEs with LX Controllers, brought in the Allerton via BACnet, Siemens via FLN and the JCI end too, and then also gave the time and overtime system a standard means of interacting with those various protocols. You know, the building was being able to manage things in-house, dropped energy consumption and solve their problem with the tenant overtime system. So another one where that ability for the LX to seamlessly integrate to those third party protocols really shined for us there.

[00:22:35.640]

So real quick, how do we use the CBAS software, the LX, sorry, with CBAS software? CBAS software, as I mentioned, this is an LX focused webinar, but if you’re interested in seeing more about our software, we can certainly set up something for you. In our software, we have what’s called a hardware view, and this hardware view shows you all the communication channels. Here, we have workstations, controller channels, etc. If I select the controller channel and controllers, now I’m seeing a list of the various controllers at the site.

[00:23:06.780]

I can add a brand new one if I want, using a template, or copying from an existing controller, and once that controller is added, I can then go to the points on that controller and I’ll see a list one three thirty-two as they’re wired in the field. Now, this particular panel has already been programmed, but if you notice, there’s add a point-blank here. These indicate that these points are open. They’re not currently configured in the field. They can be whatever it is we want them to be.

[00:23:33.220]

So if we select something like add a point, here’s where we name it and you notice you get a nice long point names, so you don’t have to use cryptic acronyms or things like that. But the important part is here, when we select configuration, it’s from a dropdown list, we don’t have to go and move DIP switches or jumpers, like we said, or do anything physical in the field.

[00:23:53.330]

Any point can be any of these types. So simply select the one you want and that change is automatically pushed down to the controller. If you’re working offsite, those changes are cued up to the next time you visit the site and then you can push those changes down. But it really is truly an incredible amount of flexibility. And also it’s good to note that you can always reconfigure a point. So if you no longer need a temperature sensor, you can simply delete it and re-add it as a different point type and now use it for lighting controller, whatever you have. So it’s not a one time deal here. You’re free to use, configure, and reconfigure points however it is you wish. So that’s kind of the portion that I’m handling for Scott here. That’s the LX Controller in a nutshell, to kind of recap things the, takeaways are; extremely capable, universal DDC controller capable of any sequence of operation you can come up with. Easy to program using the CBAS software. BACnet listed here.

[00:24:56.070]

It’s BACnet ready, now, the official certification will be coming here in a few weeks and really provides a powerful means of integrating and tying together multiple protocols and then giving you a hardware line to back it up should any of that hardware on those third party protocols fail.

[00:25:15.280] – Scott Holstein

Thank you very much, Mike.

[00:25:16.990]

And it doesn’t look like we’ve had any questions come through, so we’re going to go ahead and sign-off for the day. Thank you all for attending our webinar. And we hope to see you at our future webinars.

 

About Scott Holstein

Scott Holstein is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for Computrols where he began working in early 2016. Holstein has since entrenched himself in the building automation industry and has written articles for the Computrols blog, ControlTrends, and AutomatedBuildings.com and spoken at a number of industry events. Some of his specialties outside of sales and marketing include new technology trends in smart buildings, energy efficiency strategies, and the internet of things.