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Modernizing the VELTINS Arena Using Decentralized WAGO Controllers


With the advent of spectacular live concert events, sports arenas in large cities and metropolitan areas have developed into multifunctional buildings that can do much more than house soccer or track and field competitions. The VELTINS Arena in Gelsenkirchen is typical: official Bundesliga stadium, stage for concerts and operas, and site of biathlon competitions. The versatility places correspondingly high demands on the building automation, both functionally and in terms of availability. Therefore, the stadium in Gelsenkirchen was modernized, replacing the 15-year-old centralized building control system with a composite network using WAGO controllers. The architecture can act as a precedent for lean and powerful Industry 4.0 solutions.

The referee’s whistle sounding the kick off punctually at three on Saturday – that was then. Now, professional soccer is played on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and from 3:30 to 8 pm. Due to the importance of television for the Bundesliga, the sport no longer follows fixed, home game times. Even modern stadiums have become versatile event centers. For this reason, the turf can be hydraulically rolled out of the stadium and the roof can be closed during rain, just like on a convertible car. The stadium opened in 2001 after three years of construction: In 2014, the VELTINS Arena was the most-visited stadium in Germany, with 2,366,568 attendees. “For us, the operational reliability is therefore quite important. If the gates open on Saturday, and we can’t switch on the lights, then the game is over,” explains Bernd Funke, Director of Arena Technology. Even though the cancellation-of-events insurance would help out, “no one wants to see that type of damage to our image in the news.”

Industry 4.0 in Building Automation

The decision in 2016 to modernize the building automation, including the building control system, will sustain the Gelsenkirchener stadium into the future. This means bidding adieu to conventional building automation and taking advantage of Industry 4.0. “We have already proven that even large and functionally-demanding buildings can be controlled without a central building control system,” summarizes Nikolaos Zacharias, the Site Manager in Building Automation from ROM, the company from Düsseldorf tasked with the project. One advantage of spatially and functionally decentralized intelligent building systems is that they are no longer beholden to the availability of one single, powerful, and expensive centralized system. 55 WAGO controllers from the I/O-SYSTEM 750, the majority of them Linux®-based PFC200s, control light, heat, and ventilation. Together, they form a composite network using TCP/IP, which the employees can access with different authorization rights from anywhere in the stadium; they can also log in remotely from off site. “When the gatekeepers log in on their screens, they get a different view than an employee in the control center.” The log in has already determined which areas are accessible and to what extent.

Greater Availability Using Simple Tools

The WAGO controllers function in the network like small servers that supply a higher-level authority with information. “This authority is no longer a classic building control system computer, but instead is formed by matrix automation, a virtual machine distributed on the 55 controllers,” explains Zacharias. This groundbreaking structure provides the building automation in the VELTINS Arena with increased security against malfunctions, since availability is no longer dependent on one solitary, centralized computer. Consequently, no expensive redundant systems are required. If one of the controllers should fail in the VELTINS Arena today, only a narrowly-defined area would be affected, not the complete stadium.

The technical implementation in Gelsenkirchen can only be considered innovative in light of traditional building technology, because Zacharias and his team from Rudolf Otto Meyer Technology (ROM) decided on a different path for communications. By basing the communication standard on TCP/IP, the VELTINS Arena gains a series of advantages. First, the new control architecture can be physically processed by the WAGO controllers using the existing ETHERNET network in the stadium, as a self-contained network. Second, computer-based security is increased due to the availability of IT mechanisms. Third: adjustments to the building control system, including visualization, can be carried out much more easily by personnel on site, because the standards used include HTML5, Java, SMTP, Linux®, and PHP, which many people already know.

Silent Renovation During Operation

The previous communication system, which used LON® connections, caused real challenged during the renovations, primarily due to the abundant cross communications. Because the modernization of the building automation took place during normal operations of the VELTINS Arena, a downtime of several days was not practical. Therefore, the ROM team pre-assembled the WAGO controllers, including the complete I/O level, on DIN rails, equipped them with pluggable connections and adapter circuit boards, and operationally tested them. “We created an intelligent fall-back level using plug-in cards, so that we could restore the previous state at any time.” This opportunity is usually not possible in such a comprehensive renovation, because normally all cable connections have to be individually separated and reconnected.

Composite Network as a Precedent

Technical solutions like these were decisive for the VELTINS Arena facility management when selecting the tender, including both the system integrator and the manufacturer of the control technology. “We have a long collaboration history with WAGO,” states Bernd Funke. His colleague, Holger Tritt, who is responsible for heating, ventilation, and sanitary systems, also never entertained doubts about the new system. Interesting trivia: although the building control system is no longer physically present, it still appears in its previous form on the operating screens. This visualization, programmed in HTML5, helps the operators to find their bearings in the new system, without undergoing a lot of training. “This was introduced quite smoothly and functions really well,” enthuses Tritt. “We knew that we couldn’t renovate this type of stadium in two weeks, let alone during operations,” comments Funke, expressing satisfaction that the entire modernization remained on schedule. After the kick off in May 2016, the project was completed on time six months later. According to Funke, “We wanted to be done by Christmas, and we were.” This success has convinced Zacharias that decentralized intelligence using WAGO controllers will set a precedent in building automation. “We built something that there wasn’t even a market for. That alone is motivation enough to continue down this path.”

Text: Klaus Ebbigmann, WAGO
Photo: Thorsten Sienk, WAGO