Automation driving latest HVAC solutions
To hear many experts tell it, businesses that fail to develop products outfitted with extensive automation and controls are missing out.
They’re missing out on making their solutions easier to use. They’re missing out on helping users make their facilities higher performing.
And, most importantly, they’re missing out on what most of their customers these days are demanding.
Automation proved an obvious theme throughout the sea of booths set up at 2018 AHR Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place, with countless exhibitors showcasing heating, ventilation, air condition and refrigeration solutions driven by technology.
Thermostats. Boilers. Water heaters. Mini-split devices. Industrial fans.
“We’re in a place now where the buzzwords are the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘connectivity,’ ” said Geoff Bent of Taco Comfort Solutions. “At Taco, we’re proud of our ability to understand what the marketplace is saying and they’re saying, ‘Hey, we need access to information.’ ”
Research shows that the global building automation market is poised for continued growth over the next five years, driven by increased use of the Internet of Things (IoT), implementation of LED lights, increased reliance on wireless technology and concern for overall energy consumption in buildings.
In 2017, the global commercial building automation market surpassed $77.63 billion. In terms of revenue, the market is expected to reach $108.49 billion by 2024, expanding at an annual growth rate of 4.3 percent.
Consumers and structural designers have significantly shaped the design of automation platforms recently. It used to be that manufacturers built systems that tied in only its equipment.
But those who own homes and commercial buildings strongly advocated for open systems that enable them to link a multitude of products, regardless of the maker. That gives users unprecedented freedom.
Manufacturers have responded.
LG Electronics designed its smartThinQ app to control systems, appliances and devices through a common platform, which also is compatible with cloud-based voice services such Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
“There’s no more of this proprietary stuff,” said David Graff, senior controls engineer of product development for LG Electronics. “They’re not locked into providers; they’re not locked into equipment manufacturers. … Open is the new thing. In fact, customers won’t stand for proprietary anymore. They don’t want systems that they’re stuck with.
“The equipment is the equipment. What they’re looking to do is change the way they use the equipment and the way they use their building through controls.”
Companies are finding that building automation systems are playing pivotal roles not just in the performance of buildings, but also in the performance of those who occupy those structures. Achieving optimal air quality levels in school buildings, for instance, can help students achieve their full potential, a recent report from the World Green Building Council says.
Manufacturers, realizing the need for managers to easy control equipment and monitor performance, are designing their wares specifically with the capability to tie into any building management system.
Hunter Industrial designed its latest line of fans to not only put control of them at the user’s fingertips, but also to sense when an area needs controlled air.
“All of our stuff has to be able to work with the building management system,” said Jeff Chastain, senior vice president and general manager of Hunter’s industrial division. “As well, how can we automate and bring some new technologies to the forefront to that allow us to have better control of when the fan’s needed? For example, only coming on or off with temperature controls. … You can group them together, and you don’t have to run them all on or off at the same time.”
Experts agree that the connectivity products and HVAC and refrigeration systems only will continue to grow, based on demand, convenience and efficiencies.
“We see it evolving to more connectivity, being able to access and actually take action on systems remotely, as opposed to specifically having to go to a particular device to find that,” Bent said. “It also enables the idea of connecting more things.”