Building Access Control With Free Topology

Creating a campus-wide access system can mean managing hundreds of devices networked together.


For facilities managers of large buildings and campuses, security and access control are huge challenges. Authorized persons come and go so privileges must be granted and revoked; different employees, students and visitors may all have different levels of privilege/access; the access cards themselves must be authenticated; and the list goes on. This is in the face of ever-escalating security threats – both cyber and physical. But even before the facilities managers get to the point of having to handle these logistical challenges, they must choose an access control system.

I recently spoke with Rick Ashmus, CEO of a company called Abba Logic. Based in Wisconsin, USA, Abba Logic has been creating access control and programmable logic control (PLC) systems since 1999. Today the company has hundreds of systems all over the world operating 24 hours a day. Their products are primarily used in buildings that require high levels of secure access, such as correctional facilities, police stations, courthouses, hospitals, schools and government buildings, but the technology is broadly applicable into every environment needing access control.

“When selecting an access control system, it’s important to understand that it’s not just about the cost of the product itself,” says Ashmus. “There are also the significant costs of installation, integration and wiring. When you have a campus with multiple buildings and hundreds of intercoms and doors – each with their own card readers – and when you consider that you must network everything together and be controlled by one overarching security system, you’re looking at resource intensive integration and programming efforts.”

One of the biggest challenges is the need for scalable IP connectivity – between multiple buildings with potentially thousands of devices. The FT technology simplifies the design as one IP address can have hundreds of smaller controllers using that address with a sub-address of its own. Each one of these sub controllers can monitor 20 or 30 I/O points and communicate with each other.

Embedded IoT solutions solve this challenge for Abba Logic, simplifying installation and improving performance with:

  • A highly distributed event-driven network architecture
  • Peer-to-peer functionality and communications via preferred IP standards
  • Polarity insensitive FT wiring that enables creation of complex networks that are less error prone, more fault tolerant and have high noise immunity
  • No need for extensive home run wiring which is needed for some other systems
  • No need for polling for status, which adds overhead and can result in latency
  • No single point of failure for FT communications

The Abba Logic solutions are based on Adesto’s embedded IoT technology and provide IP connectivity between buildings and areas of control, with the ability to access a central computer from virtually anywhere and distribute user roles and access.

The central processor used in all of Abba Logic’s access controllers is the FT 6050 Smart Transceiver SoC. The FT 6050 has been great to work with, Ashmus says, since the LON IP code needed to handle device-to-device communication is already written – and written well. “It just works,” he says. “This is really important. With that code already in the bank, so to speak, all I need to do is develop application code. Adesto provides a development kit where half the work is already done. The overall cost of development is lower.”

Support for LON, LON/IP, BACnet/IP and BACnet MS/TP protocol stacks is important to let the LON and BACnet industrial protocols – which are widely used in buildings – communicate simultaneously over Free Topology (FT). FT is an industry-wide, broadly adopted connectivity standard that can operate over any unshielded twisted-pair wiring or Cat 5 cabling.

“FT is a benefit when integrators come to install a system, since the wiring is so much simpler, Ashmus says. “With FT, you have a distributed concept with point to point wiring. The polarity insensitivity of the wiring is also great since you can never get a wire reversed.”

Having native BACnet and LON communication on the same network changes the way building automation systems can be architected. Solutions providers can mix devices and applications from different vendors. This leads to fast creation of decentralized peer-to-peer communications for a wide range of IoT use cases – including security and access control systems. It is possible to connect into existing BACnet or LON systems and migrate controllers step by step, rather than changing out an entire system.

When Abba Logic began using the FT 6050, the company was able to reduce the number of processors per control panel from four in its previous product to two. This increased the speed of operations while achieving a 50 percent reduction in the overall cost. Because the FT 6050 has advanced distributed processing capabilities, it also enables more access points to be controlled on a single cable run.

Abba Logic’s control panels work with the company’s Managed Automation Security Controls (MASC) HMI software to provide integrated security and building control solutions. And while the company’s products are sophisticated, its GUI is highly intuitive to make it easier to integrate and manage the systems. The system can integrate access control, PLC, camera control, and intercom control into one user friendly software package.

“The differentiation of the Abba Logic solution is our amazing, intuitive GUI with touch screen capability, and a graphical building control map. This just makes it work for customers behind the scenes.”

An example screen leveraging Abba Logic’s GUI

Adesto’s embedded IoT solutions enable Abba Logic to focus on what it does best without having to worry about installation and integration. The next time you swipe your entry card on your building’s card reader, take a moment to think about all of the thought, intensive design, installation and integration work that has gone into making it possible.

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