Communications

What comes KNXt for KNX in Australia?

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By now, electrical contractors all around the country are likely to have heard of KNX. What you may not know is that industry is currently debating whether to formally adopt the standard in Australia.

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In the early 1990s, three automation industry associations– Batibus, EIB and EHS – were each competing for their place in the European standardisation of home and building control. Individually, this competition restricted the growth of each system until, in 1999, they were amalgamated into one.

The result was KNX – the world’s first open, royalty-free and platform-independent international Standard for home and building control.

Based largely on the EIB specification, KNX adopted the configuration mechanisms and communications media aspects of EHS and Batibus to develop a new international Standard to improve on interoperability between different countries’ requirements.

In 2012, the KNX National Group Australia was established as the local representative of the International KNX Association to foster the technology locally.

The proposal to introduce the KNX standard in Australia has been met with some opposition. One body that has voiced concerns is the Lighting Council Australia. Below, Electrical Connection lays out both sides of the argument in the interests of creating an unbiased commentary on the issue.

Industry Compliance

Lighting Council Australia – The KNX protocol is not the primary protocol for control and automation of lighting equipment in Australia. Lighting Council Australia estimates that KNX compliant products occupy only a small percentage of the building and home automation market in Australia. We question the need to publish an Australian standard when the majority of the market will be non-compliant with that standard.

Lighting Council further suggests that the limited numbers of suppliers of KNX products in Australia would likely mean there is decreased competition in the Australian market if the current majority of the Australian automation market is denied access to projects due to the specification of the KNX protocol as an Australian Standard.

KNX – The group of draft standards known asAS/NZS 14543.3 Parts 1-6 has not been proposed to be a mandated standard. The purpose of the Standard is to define the protocol and mediums used in the communication between applications such as lighting, blinds and shutters, heating and ventilation, security, AV, etc. in order to provide a total control system. It is not the intent of these Standards to define a control system within an application such as lighting.

This can be demonstrated in the case of DALI lighting controls, where on many successful projects worldwide a DALI control system is used for the lighting system but the DALI system integrates into a total building control system along with other disciplines such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, using the ISO/IEC 14543-3 Standards.

Many building services engineers have indicated their frustration of being tied to application-specific systems where a total building control system requires different systems (often proprietary) for lighting, heating, ventilation, blinds and shutter control. 

The KNX protocol, as defined by IEC 14543-3 and the proposed AS/NZS Standard, provides a means for these services and other applications to communicate via one protocol, allowing a simplified approach to building automation.  Having a protocol defined by a standard provides security for users against changes made by manufacturers according to their will.   

Benefit to the community

KNX -The lack of an Australian/New Zealand standard in this sector does not provide a mechanism for convergence of a variety of applications into an easily integrated system. The purpose of this draft AS/NZS Standard is to provide such a mechanism.

A major feature of this Standard proposal is that the defined protocol is non-proprietary and independent, and is freely available to all market segments and manufacturers. This will promote competition in the market between manufacturers that will benefit the Australian community.

The effect of not having a building automation standard in Australia encourages numerous protocols across the market with no compliance between them and leaves the industry subject to manufacturer’s decisions on product/protocol life cycle.

The intent of the AS/NZS 14543.3 Parts 1-6 is to provide a defined, open protocol where various manufacturers or applications can communicate effectively to allow interoperability. While standalone systems may be acceptable in domestic situations, the lack of standardisation in commercial developments can cause increased costs due to individualised control systems on various applications and duplicated resources.

Lighting Council – Every Australian Standard must demonstrate positive net benefit to the community as a whole. All Australian Standards must provide a value or benefit that exceeds the costs likely to be imposed on suppliers, users and other parties in the community as a result of its development or adoption and implementation. In this case, the lighting industry is saying that it does not use the KNX protocol in Australia now and significant costs would be imposed on lighting suppliers and installers if KNX were to become the Australian Standard.

Other industry stakeholders have not yet been consulted on whether they will be impacted if KNX were to become the Australian Standard.

ETS configuration

Lighting Council – KNX products are required to be configured and commissioned by a software tool called ETS. ETS software is licensed and controlled outside of the standards process and offshore to Australia by a commercial entity. If KNX is published as an Australian Standard, ETS would tie the Australian Standard to an overseas commercial entity.

KNX -There is no obligation whatsoever imposed in the ISO/IEC 14543- 3 Standard to have products compliant to the Standard certified by the KNX Association, nor does the Standard mention the compulsory use of the ETS Software tool for configuration of ISO/IEC 14543-3 compliant products.

It is fully left up to the manufacturer to decide whether or not the company would wish to join the KNX Association and/or whether the company wishes to label the product with the KNX Trademark (only then requiring certification of the product by KNX Association).

However, many of the manufacturers who have ISO/IEC 14543-3 compliant products have opted to ensure that their products are configurable by the ETS, as the ETS software is used by many thousands of system integrators around the world. Such manufacturers provide their own application software that is incorporated by the integrator into their project. The application software is offered as a free download by the manufacturer ensuring no additional cost burden is placed on the system integrator.

The reason for embracing the ETS software as a manufacturer for the configuration of ISO/IEC 14543-3 compliant products is the advantage for integrators to use one single common software tool across multiple vendors and applications. The software is essentially a commissioning tool with a single licence for the integrator. No additional licence is required for the project, irrespective of the project size, products used or manufacturers supplying the equipment.  There are also no on-going licence or royalty requirements for the integrator or for the project.

Frequency

Lighting Council – Another matter is the technical incompatibility of the KNX radio frequency with the Australian spectrum allocation (the 868MHz frequency is not allowed in Australia for low interference potential device wireless communication). This poses two issues.

Firstly, if KNX becomes the Australian Standard, global 868MHz products could inadvertently enter the Australian market under the overall KNX brand without an assessment of the radio frequency allocation and interference considerations. Wireless communication is increasingly being used in automation systems.

Secondly, the Australian automation market is moving towards wireless communication; however, this channel will either be not available under the KNX protocol in Australia or will be proprietary, causing an inability to communicate with other brand products and defeating the purpose of an open protocol and Australian Standard.

KNX – The radio frequency section of ISO/IEC 14543-3 (Part 7) has not been proposed to be adopted as an AS/NZS standard due to technical advice from the ACMA regarding the frequency spectrum. This may be addressed in a future Standards Australia project proposal with an agreed and ACMA approved alternate frequency. To alleviate confusion of the scope of the AS/NZS Standards a comment has been inserted into the preface of Parts 1-6 as follows:

“ISO/IEC 14543-3-7 (Part 3-7) has not been adopted as an AS/NZS standard at this time due to an incompatibility with the Australian Radio Frequency Spectrum Plan 2013.”

If the ISO/IEC 14543-3 (Parts 1-6) were adopted, it would still be illegal to sell radio frequency products of 868MHz even though they are outside of the scope of the adopted Standards, due to the ACM’s rules and RCM product compliance labelling requirements.

Internationally, work is underway to increase the suite of Standards of ISO/IEC 14543 to include wireless, the Internet of Things and other emerging technologies. The robustness of the ISO/IEC standards has allowed new technology to be continually incorporated into the existing Standards without the need to revise these Standards.

Future management of building automation standards in Australia

Lighting Council – Given the diverse range of interests in the automation market in Australia, Lighting Council suggests that a standards committee that includes all relevant stakeholders should be constituted and determine the appropriate building automation standards approach going forward. We suggest that such a committee should consider the current state of the relevant Australian automation market sectors and relevant automation standards as part of such an assessment.

Product and application areas relevant to home and building automation include (but are not limited to) lighting, HVAC, security, fire alarms, white goods and appliances, EV charging, cogeneration, electrical accessories, facility management and the Internet of Things. Builders, installers, facility managers, network operators and regulators should also be included in a comprehensive constitution.

There is also work underway at the IEC Standardisation Management Board level of which Australia is the convenor to map and review the large number of smart home/office building standards activities that are underway across the IEC, ISO, ITU, IEEE and other relevant industry bodies. The information compiled during this review will form a roadmap and could be used as part of the assessment of future Australian automation standards activities.

The ISO/IEC 14543.3 Standards will undoubtedly be included in the above mentioned IEC SMB roadmap and should be included among other relevant standards as part of an overall assessment of the approach to Australian and New Zealand building automation standards undertaken by a comprehensive building automation standards committee.

KNX – The Australian home and building automation sector has been operating for some time without a standard to work with which has seen many projects having multiple protocols operating independently of each other and creating on-going difficulties for service and maintenance of these systems.  Having an open standard that crosses the boundaries of different applications allows interoperability between application and manufacturers and simplifies the overall system.  

The Australian government and Standards Australia has a policy to adopt IEC standards wherever possible and the adoption of the ISO/IEC 14543-3 group of standards that define an open protocol complies with this policy. 

The Standard ISO/IEC 14543-3 has been proven at the international level in the home and building automation sector with worldwide manufacturers across multiple disciplines (lighting, HVAC, security etc.) embracing the Standard with their product development for many years.  The strength of this Standard has seen it already adopted in other countries and successfully used for many years. 

 In most instances the standard is not mandated, therefore not compulsory, so the market has an option on specification of the standard, whereas currently in Australia the absence of a standard does not provide the ability to ensure complete integration and interoperability of services.

Whilst considering the way forward in the wider space of building automation standards, development is a great concept.  We should not allow such considerations to delay adoption of current proven standards in the international arena that can assist the efficiency and economic performance of the home and building automation industry right now.

About Jacob Harris

Jacob Harris

Jacob Harris is a staff writer at Connected Home . When he’s not at work or at home with his family, he can usually be found fly-fishing for trout in local backwaters.

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