Can you find it? Navigation for Building Automation

computerUser interface is how the user interacts with the machine. The whole point of having a good interface is to make it simple for the user so they can easily navigate through the system and not get lost.

The building automation system is the “communication hub and nerve centre of a building’s mechanical systems”, as Mike said in Because I’m All About the BAS. It’s much like your programmable thermostat at home, but with a lot more information and many alarms if something isn’t quite right. This automated system needs human interaction … and this is where a good user interface comes in.

The user interface of the building automation system at Toronto Western Hospital was a little tough though. As UHN kept retrofitting the mechanical system over the last few decades, the building automation system was constantly adding information. Because of the complexity of the system, it is not easy for the user to locate a unit.

For example, if we want to access air handling unit AHU-1 which serves the ICU area in Fell Pavilion, we need to go through the following steps to find it. (by the way, we have more than 10 AHU-1 serving different areas).


If we want to access to another AHU-1 serving Cardiac Catheterization area, we need to go through these steps…


As you can see, different system are placed in different places. For users who are not very familiar with the building and not familiar with the graphics, it is easy to get lost. Below are another two examples:

The AHU1 serving medical imaging department has no access via the building block. You have to do this instead…



Similarly, if you want to access to the chiller plant, try these different step…



We decided to change it to make it easier for the user. Below is the change of the main welcome page.

First is we got rid of other buttons in the welcome page and kept links to each building only.


Next, we moved all systems in one page if they are physically located in the same building. We also added links to other buildings so the user do not have to click on the home button every time.


The user could click on the link and see the schematic of each system. Links are also available in the same page for serving floors.


This is a good step, but more work needs to be done to better organize the system. We have heard positive feedback from the shift engineer that it is now much easier to navigate the system. We will keep improving and make the system more user friendly.


2 thoughts on “Can you find it? Navigation for Building Automation

  1. I used to sell BAS, but the ones that got my attention were when we sat an old coal miner in front of a 1970’s computer screen and showed him how to do underground mine ventilation monitoring and control. Thanks to KISS, he was off and running in 10 minutes.


  2. Thanks for the article. It shows the value of building automation but also the need to make the interface and the equipment designations meaningful. I suggest you follow and join the Project Haystack and also see if you can link your BAS to your CMMS to automate the work orders as things need repair. Join to participate in the BAS development world.


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