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May 24, 2021

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The Video Surveillance Report 2023

Intelligent buildings

How the KNX open protocol can support smart building systems integrators

KNX UK President, Paul Foulkes, explains the value the KNX open protocol can bring to systems integrators and why it can open up new business opportunities for installers.

Is the silo approach to security, or for that matter lighting and AV, finally defunct? Can a business model built on discount points hard-won from proprietary suppliers still work in today’s multi-faceted smart control market?

People want much more in their homes and workplace: they want to integrate heating and cooling, shading and energy control and entertainment with security. They don’t want them installed in parallel. So, given the existence of a globally-proven, robust open-source automation platform that makes bringing it all together easy, why not? That platform is KNX.

What is KNX?

During the weird year of lockdown and tiers, KNX has gone from strength to strength. It celebrated its 30th birthday as the global open control protocol and Sony took its count of manufacturer members past the 500 mark. That’s 500 manufacturers making controls that are guaranteed to work together, guaranteed to be backwards compatible, and guaranteed to enable systems integrators to broaden your horizons by designing interworking between applications controlling several different aspects.

The real value add in automation comes from the quality of a systems integrator’s thinking, and the combination of skill and talent that creates scalable, flexible solutions that meet customer expectations and, above all, are just reliable.

Don’t limit yourself by starting with a proprietary control system that only controls one or two aspects of building control. Instead, leapfrog straight to an open protocol platform that offers the control of the majority of the building’s requirements. You can still add your favourite proprietary control for, say, AV on top. Using gateway devices.

The big risk with relying on proprietary solutions is that they might require you to update an installation’s central controller when a new range of keypads is released. Meanwhile, with a KNX-based system and KNX-certified products,  a systems integrator would have simply programmed the new keypad design into the existing system, made a quick physical swap onsite, and then continued an amicable and profitable long-term relationship with the customer.

There are KNX devices and solutions for every application, it may be lighting control with Theben DALI Gateways, BMS integration with the ABB application control or visualisation & remote access with the Gira X1/S1 combo.

But, that’s not to say you have to ditch your favourite systems or familiar products because, for the most part the proprietary players have already made the KNX choice and created the gateways required. Control4 and Savant both offer a native IP connection to KNX simplifying the integration of KNX lighting and comfort, with audio and video entertainment for homes around the world. Crestron has an IP to KNX gateway, a bi-directional Ethernet interface capable of addressing up to 250 KNX objects, while even Lutron can be interfaced using third party software.

Even consumer solutions are coming to the KNX party with Sonos, Apple Homekit, Siri, Alexa and Google home all able to either control or be integrated with a KNX system. For advanced users, SDKs and Object servers enable custom integrations to other platforms. With KNX as the underlying automaton platform the limits are endless so there is no need to be restricted by the limits of a proprietary platforms.

KNX integrators in the UK have been delivering high end projects in the UK market for many years, made possible because of the range of user interfaces. The KNX ETS programming software hasn’t actually changed fundamentally, but the skin it lives in has evolved making using it ever-easer. This underlying stability is the real strength: you are investing time and energy in a platform that you will be able to use to consistently deliver projects with lifecycles extending into decades. KNX UK Association members are now maintaining and expanding systems they installed 15 years ago, adding more sophisticated security devices, for instance, or building in the whole new approach to entertainment that has evolved since the CDs that were prevalent when their system was first designed.

Not all updates need to be done at once. Projects can be phased, or evolved as lifestyles change: children may leave home or older lifestyles begin to call for automated help with assisted living. All of this can be catered for with the cross-application flexibility of KNX without having to go back to the drawing board. As KNX is a system with distributed intelligence, there’s no high-risk central point of failure and new devices can simply be attached to the nearest node, a switch or sensor perhaps. Changing a KNX system is not disruptive – the customer will hardly know you’ve been there.

The international KNX Association has already indicated that 2021 will be a decisive year for proving that the KNX IoT 3rd Party API holds many advantages for parties outside the community to connect to KNX data. In the commercial smart building arena, KNX is also playing a key role in promoting a secure multi-standard IP-based infrastructure to replace the inefficient, still-widespread use of siloed solutions. The KNX Association, working with BACnet International, OCF, Thread Group and the Zigbee Alliance have announced a new initiative: “IP Building and Lighting Standards” (IP-BLiS).

Big or small, commercial or residential, simple or complex, there will always be a KNX solution that  makes sense. Don’t let the proprietary systems fool you: why be good at one or two things for the length of the project when you can be good at many things for the whole life of the installation?

Find out more from KNX.

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