Smart Buildings

BKW – A Successful Building Automation Challenger in Switzerland?

At first glance, the BKW group, a former nuclear power plant operator, part-owned by the Canton of Bern local government, seems an unlikely major contender in the Swiss building automation solutions and services market. However, two recent contracts awarded to Sigren Engineering, part of the BKW Building Solutions network, reinforce BKW as one of the leading Swiss players for complex building automation solutions in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors.  In the last three years, the listed Bern-based energy group led by Suzanne Thoma, CEO, has pursued a successful strategy in transforming itself into a building technology and infrastructure service provider.  BKW’s service business has experienced continued growth, accounting for around 47% of the BKW Group’s total CHF 3.1 billion revenue. With its international network of around 130 companies and 10,500 employees, BKW now participates in technology-oriented growth markets having established itself as a market leader in the Building Solutions area. The group has completed two major acquisitions to achieve this […]

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At first glance, the BKW group, a former nuclear power plant operator, part-owned by the Canton of Bern local government, seems an unlikely major contender in the Swiss building automation solutions and services market. 

However, two recent contracts awarded to Sigren Engineering, part of the BKW Building Solutions network, reinforce BKW as one of the leading Swiss players for complex building automation solutions in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors. 

In the last three years, the listed Bern-based energy group led by Suzanne Thoma, CEO, has pursued a successful strategy in transforming itself into a building technology and infrastructure service provider.  BKW’s service business has experienced continued growth, accounting for around 47% of the BKW Group’s total CHF 3.1 billion revenue. With its international network of around 130 companies and 10,500 employees, BKW now participates in technology-oriented growth markets having established itself as a market leader in the Building Solutions area. The group has completed two major acquisitions to achieve this position.

In September 2019, BKW expanded into the market for ICT and building automation solutions, acquiring 100% of the Swisspro Group in Zurich. The strategic rationale was outlined as follows: “The growing market for digitalization and automation in industrial and commercial real estate is currently dominated by large international corporations. With the acquisition of swisspro, BKW is expanding its business area into this sustainable technology-driven sector”. 

Swisspro, founded in 1999, has 18 locations throughout Switzerland, and employs more than 1,100 people. Turnover in 2018 was around CHF 210 million francs. The company is primarily active in electrical installation and maintenance of building automation solutions for SMEs and industrial real estate as well as ICT solutions for business customers. 

In October 2020, BKW acquired Sigren Engineering, a provider of manufacturer-independent automation solutions based in Winterthur, Switzerland. The company offers smart infrastructure, including building automation, room automation and infrastructure systems, process control technology, energy technology and data management. The company currently employs 125 people. With a focus on complex buildings and systems, the firm specializes in technology-independent integration of digital solutions in the areas of smart building and smart infrastructure. Sigren Engineering has established a leading market position in the growing pharmaceuticals, healthcare and infrastructure sectors.

This specialisation was evident in the recent contract awarded by Hoffmann-La Roche for its new Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) Innovation Center in Basel, designed by top architects Herzog & de Meuron and due for completion by the end of 2023. A building automation solution for four new laboratory and office buildings of varying heights (up to 114 metres) is now being planned. In its first Roche bid, Sigren Engineering won the tender: it is the company’s biggest contract to date. Sigren will be responsible for the entire building automation on the state-of-the-art laboratory premises. This will include the complete management and operation of the technical building systems, such as cooling, ventilation and heating, as well as room automation. 

Sigren will be deploying its own SIGEBA tool to ensure a high level of data consistency from planning through to operation. It will result in a complete “digital twin” of all the technical systems in the building, which can then serve as the basis for smart building applications in the operational phase.

One of the factors that impressed Roche was Sigren’s experience with large projects, such as the automation of The Circle at Zurich Airport, formerly the largest construction project in Switzerland. The Circle, a new standalone district right next to the country’s largest airport includes shops, restaurants, hotels, a large conference centre and an outpatient health centre treating around 1,000 patients per day, run by University Hospital Zurich (USZ) within a total area of 180,000 square metres.

Christian Pfab, in charge of digital and networked building technology solutions as the Head of Automation at BKW Building Solutions said: “What is remarkable about The Circle is that the automation systems have to cover an enormous range, extending from simple bedside table lights in the hotel to lighting installations in the state-of-the-art offices to highly complex medical infrastructure – MRI and CT systems for radiology and Linacs for radiation oncology.”

BKW Building Solutions has emerged as a leading competitor positioned as a Swiss alternative to international building technology companies, such as Siemens. The division has been successful in winning complex building automation projects, particularly in the Swiss healthcare, pharma and life sciences sector.  

This article was written by Daphne Tomlinson, Senior Research Associate at Memoori.

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