Lincoln Logs, Legos, and Legacy Systems

Image of the Free Universal Construction Kit by FAT Lab and Sy-Lab.

Buildings account for 39% of energy consumption in the United States, more than either industry or transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Building upgrades reduce both operating costs and energy consumption, but the process is expensive and can require a major sacrifice in building productivity. Today, there is a focus on making buildings more energy efficient, such as with the installation of a new HVAC control system. An appealing approach is to utilize existing HVAC investments along with modern, energy saving control technology. A common issue with this strategy, however, is that Legacy systems use proprietary communications protocols while newer ones embrace open technologies. This is where I draw the analogy: how can we get Lincoln Logs to connect with Legos? At The S4 Group, we do just that by bringing older HVAC systems into modern head ends, making them more efficient, while streamlining the process and significantly lowering the overall project cost.




One of the drivers behind the popularity of our products is the capability to migrate existing installations over time rather than an all-at-once replacement. There are a myriad of benefits to this strategy. For one, not every owner is able to afford the cost of de-commissioning a building and replacing his entire HVAC investment at the drop of a hat.

Imagine a building owner, or an integrator, has a building’s control system go down because of an equipment failure, such as a failed floor level controller. Now imagine that the controller is no longer manufactured or readily available. Traditionally, the owner has had two options: try to find the broken part or replace the entire system. This is where our products aim to save the day: we bring control of legacy Systems into modern, open protocols - BACnet or OPC.

What sets our routers apart from our competitors’ is the ability to leave a building’s existing supervisory controller and HMI (Human Machine Interface) in place, allowing it to co-exist with a modern building automation head end that implements an open, fully integrated, system.

In terms of sustainability, what sense does it make to tear out a whole system if only one part is broken? S4 technology enables owners/integrators to replace outdated infrastructure with modern components, either as they fail, or- more ideally- over a period of years, replacing components as it becomes convenient, such as during a building remodel or the installation of a new chiller.

Our customers, using the S4 Open technology, usually report a day one installation cost savings of around 90% vs. the alternatives. Most integrators, who generally represent a controls manufacturer and/or distributer, tend to want to rip out all of the existing controls and overhaul the whole system with their own controls.

Currently, the S4 Open Appliances modernize legacy Johnson Controls Metasys® installations. In addition, we have some great new products on the way that will further expand the integration options.

The S4 Open: BACnet-EnOcean Router is far enough into the testing/bug fix stage that we were able to demonstrate a version of it at the NFMT show in Baltimore this past March. Also in the works are the BACnet-Novar Router and the BACnet-FLN Router. The Novar Product, also currently in testing, targets many of the large retail chains such as REI and Staples, enabling them to bring control of their existing HVAC installations to BACnet.

The S4 strategy benefits the building owner via overall savings, as well as the integrator/controls distributor who implements it. S4 technology enables the integrator to come in with a much lower bid than his competitors, thanks to the savings in equipment and labor. Once the integrator gets the initial contract, the building is essentially his and all future controls purchases are made through his company, so long as he doesn’t give the owner a reason to find a new partner. S4 Open products offer the competitive advantages of lower cost, time-effective integration solutions for integrators. We are more than happy to give live demonstrations, over the web, of our products functioning in our lab. Our BACnet-N2 Router has been our go-to device in saving older systems; however, our newer, soon to be released products aim to further improve existing technology by enabling wider integration capabilities, akin to enabling Lincoln Logs and Legos to play nicely together.