Control Terms 101

KileyroundKiley Sheehy
Account Manager

When it comes to the construction industry, there is a lot of jargon that gets used on a daily basis. Most project members will likely understand the more common ones, but the definition of “common” may vary from trade to trade. Each group has its own set of common lingo that other teams might not be familiar with, so with that in mind, I’d like to focus on ten control-specific terms you should add to your vocabulary.


Control systems have a wide range of regularly-used terms. Let’s start off with the basics, as defined by ASHRAE:

  • HVAC: The equipment, terminals, and distribution systems that provide, either collectively or individually, the processes of heating, ventilating, or air conditioning to a building or portion of a building.

  • Building Automation System (BAS): An energy management system, usually with additional capabilities, relating to the overall operation of the building in which it is installed; this includes equipment monitoring, protection of equipment against power failure, and building security.

When you boil it down, HVAC is the setup of machines that make a room or space warmer, cooler, or more conditioned in some regard. The BAS is the digital automation that takes operation of an HVAC design out of someone’s physical hands, and moves it onto a computer interface. This makes it a computer-based system:

With the advent of a BAS for HVAC, we can eliminate much of the opening/closing and turning off/on of equipment and devices behind hard-to-reach ceiling tiles, or up in lofty mezzanines. Often times you’ll hear BAS, BMS, DDC, and EMS used interchangeably across control installers and manufacturers. ASHRAE also defines them all near-identically:

  • Building Management System (BMS): An energy management system relating to the overall operation of the building in which it is installed. It often has additional capabilities, such as equipment monitoring, protection of equipment against power failure, and building security. It may also be a direct digital control (DDC) system, where the mode of control uses digital outputs to control processes or elements directly.

  • Direct Digital Control (DDC): A type of control where controlled and monitored analog or binary data (e.g., temperature, contact closures) are converted to digital format for manipulation and calculations by a digital computer or micro-processor, then converted back to analog or binary form to control physical devices.

  • Energy Management System (EMS): A system of computer applications used by building engineering staff to monitor, control, and optimize the building's operating performance (e.g., energy consumption, occupant comfort levels). EMS optimizes building operating performance through supervisory control programs that utilize core BMS functionality.

An EMS is a more refined definition of a BMS, focused exclusively on operating performance with things like IAQ (indoor air quality), occupant productivity and comfort, and energy output as key metrics.


But what do these things control?

A BMS is constructed to automate all of the HVAC equipment in a building - chillers, air handlers, fans, cooling towers, and much more. All things designed to move BTUs in and out of a building space via heating and cooling air and water to deliver a required temperature and humidity.

Anywhere you might hit a stat on the wall and call out a need for heating and cooling would be a HVAC zone:

  • HVAC Zone: A space or group of spaces, within a building with heating, cooling, and ventilating requirements, that are sufficiently similar so that desired conditions (e.g., temperature) can be maintained throughout using a single sensor (e.g., thermostat or temperature sensor).

Common items you might see wired up on a BMS would include:

  • Actuator: A device operated either electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically, that acts as a motor to change the position of movable devices, such as valves or dampers.

These devices actuate the position of dampers allowing airflow into an air handler, through ductwork, and down to a space. Valves are also actuated to open and close to allow fluid flow through piping in a building. It’s a nightmare manually opening and closing all dampers and valves across a building or campus of buildings, which is one of the great advantages to implementing a BMS.

  • Sensor: A device or instrument designed to detect and measure a variable.

Whenever a measurement is taken in a building (such as temperature, humidity, CO detection), a sensor is the measuring tool. It’s also the tool that reports back to the BAS.

  • Variable-frequency drive (VFD): An electronic device that varies its output frequency to vary the rotating speed of a motor, given a fixed input frequency. Used with fans or pumps to vary the flow in the system as a function of a maintained pressure.

A VFD serves to automatically optimize speeds for anything that spins in a circle. Fans, motors, and pumps are the three main users of a VFD, and they’re huge in power consumption. The more we can automate the work of these items, the more savings a building owner will see.


So there you have it! These are ten commonly-used control terms you can now comfortably use on the job. Hopefully these definitions will help you better understand some of the lingo being used on your next project. After all, you can’t collaborate with others if you don’t understand what they’re talking about!

Winter Feature Update

DavidroundDavid Vasquez
Head of Customer Support

You made it! Only one month left in 2017, and it’s a big one. After dodging the candy and turkey and Black Friday madness (or embracing all three, we don’t judge here), December has finally arrived. With the glut of gifts and celebration right around the corner, we thought we’d get ahead of all of that by releasing a little something for you early. Take a look!


360 Photo Capability

Big news! As you know, taking 360 photos is more than a little convenient when you’re on job sites. With a single image you can capture an entire room with incredible depth and share it with your colleagues. We like innovative technology here at Fieldwire, so we’ve embraced this amazing documentation tool by incorporating 360 functionality with our software. On our iOS and Android apps, you can now capture 360 photospheres with the help of a Ricoh Theta or any similar camera. Just connect it directly to Fieldwire and start snapping away, and you’ll be able to view 360 photos right there on your mobile device.

360 photography is in open beta mode for all Fieldwire users throughout the month of December. Come January, it will become a premium-only feature. So check it out now and see if it’s something you want to take advantage of in the coming year! Learn more here.


Reports on Mobile

More exciting news! You can now send out your saved report templates from the iOS and Android apps! Any reports you’ve created on web will now be accessible on our mobile apps, so you no longer need to wait until you get to your computer to share task information with your colleagues. Just click the button at the top of the Tasks screen to start sending them out.


Batch Plan Tag Editing

While you’ve previously been able to manage plan tags for multiple sheets, you can now do so from the batch editing tool located within the Actions menu on the main Plans page of your project. Just select your plans and then click the Actions button, and once you choose the “Batch Edit” option you will see that plan tags can now be edited in the same spreadsheet table for editing sheet titles and descriptions. This handy update should make managing your plans even more efficient in Fieldwire.


Create New Task Locations on iOS

This final goody is for our iOS users. When specifying a location for your tasks in the iOS app, you can now create brand new locations directly from the app; previously this was only possible on the web version of Fieldwire, but now there’s nothing stopping you from adding new locations within tasks on your iPhone or iPad. And for Android users, the location field is now available as well!


We hope these early holiday surprises help add more efficiency and convenience to your projects so you can ring in the new year the right way. We’re particularly excited to bring you 360 photosphere functionality, because we know that demand continues to rise throughout the industry as time marches on. So get out there and remember to make a funny face when you snap those 360 photos!

Fieldwire is free for small teams on Apple iOS, Android, and on the web. We support 200,000+ projects worldwide, and we look forward to helping you manage yours in 2018!

Leveraging Mobile in African Construction

EdouardroundEdouard Bidault
European Business Development

The future of construction management in Africa is interesting. From April 2016 to March 2017, I was working in Cameroon as a project engineer for Razel Bec, a French general contractor specializing in public works. I was in charge of heavy civil work on a 5 KM, $90M canal project in Yaoundé, managing 8 teams (roughly 80 people in total) that included 8 foremen, 3 superintendents, and 6 subcontractors under my supervision. While the scale of the project wasn’t surprising, what I did find surprising was that everyone had a phone in their hands.


Since there is a lot of construction going on throughout Cameroon, workers would be moving from one site to another, often taken far from their homes and families. They would carry mobile phones with them in order to stay in touch with and send money to loved ones who could be hundreds of miles away. This made communication with my crews a lot easier as well; in the beginning it was difficult to get hold of specific people since the canal project stretched along a large distance. It would often taken 1-2 hours just to do a full walkthrough of the site. But being able to call workers up on their phones helped alleviate that burden, and since everyone relied on mobile technology for personal needs, internet and mobile coverage was strong all along the canal.

Phones became a new type of tool while on-site. Foremen could order more concrete or ask for additional equipment, all just by making a call. With this increased mobile activity, African construction teams can benefit by making use of the management resources available on the technology that they already possess. With an estimated 880 million mobile phones, Africa is the second largest market for mobile in the world (behind only Asia).

There are 54 countries in Africa, with a combined 1.1 billion inhabitants, and often mobile is the primary source that people have for internet connectivity. Fixed line internet grids are expensive to develop and are often in poor condition; in Uganda, there are 200,000 subscribers to mobile internet versus the 22,000 fixed line subscribers. 88% of all internet traffic in Nigeria goes through mobile - in the United States, only 30% of traffic is via mobile. And while smartphones may only currently account for 20% of total phones in the African market, they accounted for 46% of total phone sales in 2016. Investment in 3G and 4G networks is also on the rise, so the growth trend is clear to see.


What does this mean for construction? It means modern project management software is now an option for streamlining daily on-site activity. Countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa have large numbers of smartphone owners, and as more African countries continue to switch to smartphones then this mobile technology can be applied on job sites all around the continent. And why shouldn’t the smartphone trend continue? Prices have dropped tremendously since the early 2000s, with certain Chinese manufacturers even offering devices starting as low as $20. Affordability and prevalence are changing what smartphone owners look like. What once could have only been owned by the wealthy is now owned by everyone, and the heavy reliance on mobile internet in Africa means this technology is here to stay.

The future of construction management in Africa is indeed interesting, and broad. There are large parts of the continent that still need extensive and often remote roadwork to be performed; entire regions only accessible by muddy roads and hilly tracks. With increased access to mobile devices and networks, construction firms can leverage mobile technology to address the frequent need for heavy civil work and infrastructure improvements. Mobile project management tools will help workers stay connected easier and share data faster, saving time so that they can focus more energy into the task at hand.


Construction apps can also help save money. Printing fees in most African countries are often costly when compared to worker wages. For example, printing an A3 drawing can cost $0.30, which is roughly 10% of the average laborer’s daily wage in Sub-Saharan African countries. Accessing drawings on a smartphone app not only eliminates those costs, it makes plan viewing or redlining a simple and immediate prospect. When all of the relevant project data and materials are always in hand on a worker’s smartphone, it severely reduces the amount of wasted time in that worker’s day.

The median age in Africa is approximately 20 years old (as opposed to 38 years old in the United States). This means that most on-site workers have likely grown up with mobile phones and are familiar with the internet and new technologies. My crew in Cameroon used smartphones to reach their loved ones. Three in every four Kenyans use smartphones to make online payments. Photography, social media, interaction with friends, it’s all done via smartphones the same as it is here. Since the West is already finding so much success incorporating mobile construction solutions into daily on-site activity, African countries can do the same to achieve heightened efficiency and communication on a growing list of construction projects.

Fieldwire on the Road

DominicroundDominic Delfino
Construction Specialist

If you are an avid conference attendee, you may have seen Fieldwire at a number of events this past year. Fieldwire team members have been traveling throughout the United States to speak and exhibit at construction conferences. We are continuing our travels in the coming months, so be on the lookout for our big yellow sign.


Past Events

Recently, Fieldwire has traveled to Toronto for the CanBIM Conference, Seattle for the NECA Conference, and Anaheim for the LCI Congress. These events offer a great opportunity for our team to connect with construction professionals looking to utilize construction technology to become more efficient and optimized builders. While at our booth, you can find our Fieldwire team members ready to demo the product on laptops, tablets, and phones. This gives new customers the opportunity to see the lightning fast plan viewing and communication system of our app in action.

Our team members also take the time to share use cases from companies that use Fieldwire to help save time and money on their projects. You can also catch them discussing lean construction management and how technology will contribute to the overall company bottom line. We often meet with existing users to discuss how Fieldwire helped them and find ways they can become even more effective. I hope we can catch you at our future events to talk about how Fieldwire can optimize your projects and company.


Future Events

Although the year may be coming to a close, the Fieldwire team is still on the move and will be coming to a city near you. Fieldwire will be in Dallas for BIMForum from November 6-9. The Dallas Fall BIMForum will explore best practices in professional coordination from Architects, Engineers, Builders and Owners. We look forward to discussing with attendees the importance of mobile technology to share information between all project team members and making sure information is not lost. You can also catch the Fieldwire team one more time on December 5 at the Oakland ConTech Roadshow. This single-day event will feature general sessions discussing how you can leverage technology to increase project efficiency, employee safety, and data security. Even if you aren’t attending these specific events, let us know if you are in the area and maybe we can meet up.

We will be visiting even more cities around the globe in 2018. Look for future blog posts detailing the events we will be attending in New York City, New Orleans, Texas, and France.

Happy Halloween from Fieldwire!

2-Way Collaboration with Fieldwire and Box

DavidroundDavid Vasquez
Head of Customer Support

Technology continues to change the face of the construction industry with each passing day. You've probably heard us say this many times before, and indeed Fieldwire is living proof of this positive movement. Mobile collaboration and cloud-based document management are making daily workloads more achievable and streamlined, but rather than take our word for it, have a look at the testimony of one of our closest partners - Box!


Fieldwire has built seamless integration with Box for all your file storage and uploading needs. Earlier this year, we took that smooth integration one big step further by developing 2-way syncing capability in order to make document control even easier to handle. By pairing Fieldwire's plan and file management systems with Box's ample storage functionality, construction firms can distribute information and keep updated data in circulation easier than ever before. Revisions, as-builts, photos, and other key files will always be in your hands thanks to our partnership.

You can read more about how this is achieved, and how you can benefit from the same integration, in this article.

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