ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS

The University of St Andrews is the third oldest English-speaking university in the world. Founded in 1413, it has spent centuries educating students from around the world. As a non-campus university, they are closely integrated with the ancient town of St. Andrews with over 160 buildings making up the university infrastructure.

Application: University

Project Size: 45 Buildings

Working with Learnd/CEC since: 2019

Use Case: BMS Upgrades, Remote Monitoring, Wireless BMS

How the University of St. Andrews worked with Learnd/CEC to carry out a BMS overhaul to implement wireless BMS solutions that allowed over 30 buildings to be added to the BMS system, and enhanced the types of sensors and controls they could manage to improve operating efficiency.

THE CHALLENGE

As Covid shut down universities around the world in 2020, the University of St Andrews in Scotland, like many others, was faced with the challenge of finding a way to bring students and staff back into the building in a safe way. Amanda Cook, St. Andrew’s BMS Manager, had been working with CEC/Learnd engineers for years while they were part other BMS companies, and thought they could be up to the challenge.

‘Amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the eventual reopening of university buildings, it was important to recognise that some staff and students might have had concerns about returning to the office. In response to these concerns and to ensure safe fresh air levels, all teaching rooms were fitted with a CO2 sensor. In our naturally ventilated teaching rooms and in addition to monitoring air quality, we also wanted to encourage occupants on when to open windows and doors. For our mechanically ventilated teaching rooms, our goal was to verify and prove that the mechanical ventilation system was working as it should.

Amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the eventual reopening of university buildings, it was important to recognise that some staff and students might have had concerns about returning to the office. In response to these concerns and to ensure safe fresh air levels, all teaching rooms were fitted with a CO2 sensor. In our naturally ventilated teaching rooms and in addition to monitoring air quality, we also wanted to encourage occupants on when to open windows and doors. For our mechanically ventilated teaching rooms, our goal was to verify and prove that the mechanical ventilation system was working as it should.

Amanda Cook – BMS Manager, University of St Andrews

With this in mind, the team knew they needed a solution quickly. But with over 160 buildings that included many small buildings that aren’t connected to the overall BMS system, or incredibly old buildings (dating back to the 12th century) retrofitting new controls and sensors would be problematic as running new cables would be impossible due to various constraints. Exploring wireless solutions was a logical step to get more coverage of the rooms in their buildings. While Covid was the initial driver for this project, they knew that if they could get increased visibility in their teaching spaces, it would help them understand and diagnose problems in buildings across the campus.

When it came to finding the right solution, they wanted full control over their wireless networks, and for it to be fully integrated into their existing BMS head, while also creating even more added benefits for different applications.

‘There are some lab units where temperature and humidity need to be closely monitored, and several of our labs have -80-degree freezers which occasionally are being moved around, we need to ensure they are maintaining the correct temperatures.’ Cook says. The idea was that this wireless system infrastructure would not only help them with re-opening buildings but would continue to be a solution to put more sensors into these areas to get better visibility of the entire campus.

‘We did some research to look for what was available that could be deployed quickly – but most companies were promoting an off the shelf, cloud based, stand-alone system’ Cook explained, ‘then after speaking with CEC we realised they could do a more bespoke, wireless solution for us that would also fully integrate to our existing BMS. They told us they quite liked the challenge of the more cutting-edge solution, and it gave us the confidence that we could work with them to try something new.’

Once Cook and her team felt confident that CEC/learnd was the right team to deliver the solution, they got to work on the new wireless system.

THE SOLUTION

Once the decision was made to implement CEC/learnd’s solution, time was of the essence. Buildings were soon going to be reopened for the start of the next semester and it was imperative that staff and students felt safe coming back to  the University.

They had over 450 teaching rooms and other spaces across 45 buildings requiring CO2 monitoring. In order to integrate the wireless system, CEC/learnd worked with Cook and her team to implement 6 LORAWAN networks covering the entire University of St Andrews network.

To achieve this, some bespoke modifications needed to be done to design a system that would suit the university’s needs. CEC/learnd’s flexibility and ability to ensure they could integrate the solution into their existing system was what really set them apart for Cook and her team. Working with their Siemens PX system, the learnd/CEC team used a Modbus communication to translate the data into a format that the BMS could read, but this was easier said than done.

‘Whenever a new device is added to the University network, our IT department need to give it the green light. Extensive communication and collaboration ensued we were able to address the challenge, and CEC/learnd successfully devised workarounds to secure approvals and ensure the seamless operation of the new system.’

When it came to the sensors that needed to be tied into the network, the university used the opportunity to connect more than just CO2 monitors. The LoRaWAN system that learnd/CEC implemented covered the following applications:

  • Freezer monitoring
  • Incubator monitoring
  • Temperature, humidity and VOCs in buildings that have no BMS System.
  • Improved DHW monitoring for legionella monitoring

In addition to the wireless sensors, we also installed traffic light sensor that changes colour so you could see the air quality was safe – these visual cues along with signage put in place helped the students and staff members feel more comfortable’

Amanda Cook – BMS Manager, University of St Andrews

The rollout was extended to include almost 700 air quality monitoring sensors that also monitor temperature and humidity. ‘In addition to the wireless sensors, we also installed traffic light sensor that changes colour so you could see the air quality was safe – these visual cues along with signage put in place helped the students and staff members feel more comfortable’ Cook tells us. ‘The naturally ventilated teaching spaces had both CO2 sensors as well as a stand-alone CO2 traffic light display to encourage staff to open windows, while the mechanically ventilated teaching areas where fitted with CO2 sensors to provide reassurance that the mechanical ventilation was operating correctly.’

The wireless capabilities also allowed them to cover even more buildings in the campus that were previously inaccessible. ‘We have 160 buildings but 30-40 of them are not on our BMS, such as flats and other small buildings’ Cook explains. ‘The LoRa wireless range can comfortably reach one kilometre in town and perform surprisingly well against our oldest buildings with the thickest of walls.’

We have 160 buildings but 30-40 of them are not on our BMS, like flats and other small buildings. The LoRa wireless range can comfortably reach 1km in town and perform surprisingly well against our oldest buildings with the thickest of walls.

Amanda Cook – BMS Manager, University of St Andrews

This added level of connectivity in these buildings has given them more data and visibility into the hot water temperatures and space temperatures in a variety of buildings ‘We need to make sure our stored hot water temperatures reach acceptable levels in order to protect against legionella’ Cook tells us. ‘It also has the added benefit of reducing complaints as we are aware of issues before the end user.’

When it came to the specialised areas of the buildings, the -80-degree freezers needed to be monitored to make sure the temperature was correct but due to freezers occasionally being moved we needed a flexible solution. They added sensors to 60 of their freezers that are used in various applications around the university, which gives them early warning for any failures resulting in an increase of temperature.

When the project was said and done, each receiver in the system had the potential to have 400 points connected to it – massively increasing their overall data monitoring across the university, with scope for even more as there is still room to connect more points. The GUI was designed to allow for easy diagnosis of any problem. With critical alarms now set up on essential equipment and sensors, their BMS Head end gives a visual of where the issue is by flashing which building needs attention on their estates office screens and also sends an automatic email to the relevant person.

St Andrews Visual BMS system

Not only did the solution allow the university to bring staff and students back in with peace of mind, but it also increased the efficiency, visibility, and monitoring capabilities of their entire network.

THE OUTCOME

Cook, her team, and the university started seeing immediate results upon completion of the project when it came to staff peace of mind, and other universities and organisations started to take notice.

Tom Smith, Head of Technical Services, Estates made the following statement about the project:

“The work in this area was congratulated by national Trades Union as exemplar for the Higher Education Sector in how best to apply low-cost technology to monitor CO2 levels (and additionally – humidity and temperature) within a legacy Estate comprising mechanically and naturally ventilated teaching spaces. The enrichment of data about real-time air quality conditions in these spaces allowed for interventions that lowered risk of Covid transmission, and also the ability to trace covid transmissions, and reinforce Covid control measures and behaviours which gave confidence to our staff and students.”

The work in this area was congratulated by national Trades Union as exemplar for the Higher Education Sector in how best to apply low-cost technology to monitor CO2 levels (and additionally – humidity and temperature) within a legacy Estate comprising mechanically and naturally ventilated teaching spaces. The enrichment of data about real-time air quality conditions in these spaces allowed for interventions that lowered risk of Covid transmission, and also the ability to trace Covid transmissions, and reinforce Covid control measures and behaviours which gave confidence to our staff and students.

Tom Smith – Head of Technical Services, Estates, University of St Andrews

As lockdown restrictions eased, most universities were getting staff back into the classroom regardless, but the scale and data visibility that the University of St. Andrews had in place for air quality monitoring to help ease this transition was unmatched.

Now, some of this did come at a trade-off. As you can imagine, opening windows in the middle of winter in Scotland will affect the building temperatures. But with the other optimisations and monitoring in place they were able to mitigate it well. ‘Our Mechanical Ventilation will ramp up and down depending on the CO2 levels, so they’ll ramp down as the CO2 reduces’ Cook tells us.

The biggest thing for them was ensuring that the mechanical aspects of the systems were functioning correctly so the university could maintain a safe working environment. A lot of these sensors were on the return ductwork using hardwired CO2 sensors. But thanks to this project, they now have more confidence in their systems. ‘It gives us the confidence that our mechanical ventilation is functioning properly because we have multiple data points monitoring the spaces as well as sensors in the return duct.’ Cook explained.

It gives us the confidence that our mechanical ventilation is functioning properly because we have multiple data points monitoring the spaces as well as sensors in the return duct

Amanda Cook – BMS Manager, University of St Andrews

With the smaller, previously non-connected buildings, there were immediate benefits seen through this visibility ‘With increased visibility of the temperatures in these spaces we can be alerted as soon as there is an issue with the heating in the building rather waiting on a member of staff complaining. We have a works request system but if we can address any issues before students or staff are aware, we can focus on being proactive rather than reactive improving confidence and improves the efficiency of the Estates team’ Cook tells us.

When it came to working with CEC/learnd, Cook gave us her thoughts ‘It was reasonably easy for us, we had a great team which helped’ Cook shares. ‘The hardest part of any project like this is finding someone who is able to do the work, is aware of all of the requirements, and works with us to meet them all.’

When asked why CEC/learnd was her first choice for partnering with her team on this project Cook told us, ‘They’re ahead of the curve. They’re good at identifying what is right technical solution for the University and they have the experience to know what they’re talking about and be able to execute.’

As someone who is well versed in BMS and their capabilities, we asked Cook what she would say to other estate managers who are looking to upgrade their systems or looking to implement new technology. ‘Make sure you understand your buildings’ needs, requirements, and objectives’ She tells us. ‘Ensure you make full use of the BMS to optimise energy consumption with energy efficient strategies, and don’t underestimate the importance of IT security when implementing new technologies.’

Cook also emphasised the expertise required to execute a well-built BMS, ‘Do your research, see what is out there and if you are not an expert in BMS then consult with professionals who are.’ She cautions, ‘and make sure you choose a system that can be easily integrated to other systems to suit your needs.’

While the pandemic might be over, there’s still more work to be done on the University of St Andrews BMS systems. Cook tells us ‘now that we have the LORAWAN backbone in place, we have plans to extend our sensor capabilities even more with different use cases.’ Some of these future projects include under desk occupancy sensors, leak detection, and more. Through the installation of a wireless system, the University of St Andrews is continuing to stay at the cutting edge of connected universities, and we can’t wait to help them bring the next stage to fruition.