Component Makers Work Toward 13 SEER

February 11, 2005
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The manufacturers of OEM components are working closely with unitary manufacturers to reach their 13 SEER design requirements. Some efficiency solutions involve using existing products in new or innovative ways. Others are supplying new technologies designed to fill this mandated market.

From valves to coils and everything in between, the pace is continually accelerating to meet higher efficiencies, in most cases with newer refrigerants.

Parker serves air conditioning OEMs with service valves manufactured in its New Haven, Ind., plant. (Photos courtesy of Parker Hannifin Corp.)

Valves And Redesigns

John Carmack, Global Air Conditioning OEM sales manager for Parker Hannifin Corp.'s Climate business, said the transition is bringing challenges. "Many of the OEMs have put together full-blown redesign projects to address the 13 SEER challenge, and that has created opportunities and challenges for us," he said.

"A lot of products are being revisited," he said, adding that each OEM's needs may be unique. Parker-made elements in a unitary system may include thermostatic expansion valves (TXVs), suction and liquid line driers, service valves, couplings, and accumulators. "Parker Plus" subassemblies are manufactured to customer needs.

"We've always had an excellent ball valve product especially designed for the air conditioning business," Carmack noted. "It's certainly an opportunistic product for the OEM design groups to work with. It greatly reduces pressure drop in the system. That gives them more control and allows them to achieve higher efficiency ratings."

He and other component suppliers are aware of intense price competition but hope that system makers will measure value. "If measurements are taken the way they should be, that should equate to the lowest cost and resulting price to the customer."

Carmack said production is being ramped up to meet new demands, but he's unsure how 2005 will play out. "We know that the fourth quarter is going to be a very busy time as manufacturers start gearing up to produce 13-plus-SEER equipment." His division has the additional challenge of supplying for both sub-13 and 13-or-higher-SEER systems.

Transitioning to the 13-SEER minimum means using expansion valves rather than the fixed-orifice valves or capillary tubes employed in lower-SEER systems, explained Al Maier, vice president in charge of application engineering, Emerson Climate Technologies Flow Control Division.

"It's much easier to get to the 13-SEER level using an expansion valve instead of trying to get all the energy efficiency through increased evaporator and condenser coil surface," Maier explained. "It's much more cost effective to use a mechanical expansion valve."

Expansion valves also enable better superheat control without the dramatic changes typical with a fixed orifice device, Maier said.

Additional system protection is also important, he noted. "Our OEMs are beginning to see value in adding moisture indicators and filter driers to the line before the expansion valve."

Component manufacturers see logistics as the key to helping OEM customers meet production schedules.

Coil Configurations

Many major OEMs make their own heat exchangers, said Craig Grohman, Modine's program manager for microchannel launch in the HVAC market. "Others, including some smaller companies, are looking at an all-aluminum brazed product we make - microchannel heat exchangers."

The approaching 13 SEER deadline comes as Modine launches a product line called the PF2.

It is based on parallel-flow or microchannel coils long made by Modine for the automotive and truck markets.

Modine makes round tube plate fin (RTPF) coils with copper tube with aluminum fins, used in the majority of HVACR applications including residential air conditioners, but Grohman said the microchannel coils will become more common in the HVACR market because of efficiency and refrigerant changes pending between 2006 and 2010.

Modine showcased that line at a special meeting during the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) in Orlando Feb. 7-9.

Modine says its PF2 aluminum microchannel technology was de-signed to increase heat transfer coefficients, decrease heat exchanger sizes, improve durability, and increase corrosion resistance.

Amos Snow III, president and chief executive officer of Bois D'Arc International, said the thick-wall copper his company uses has helped bring more demand for his coil.

New refrigerants being adopted by some OEMs operate at higher pressure ranges, he noted. "We engineer coils to fit the applications, so if they need higher condensing capacity we can re-engineer the coils to achieve that." The company makes both OEM and replacement coils for HVAC use.

He said the company experienced a 70-percent increase in business last year and expects "phenomenal" growth this year, increasing employment from 18 to 40 and more than doubling that number in 2006. Bois D'Arc International recently relocated from Kilgore to Longview, Texas, and plans to build a 45,000-square-foot building in addition to the 35,000-square-foot building it occupies now. (The News, Jan. 10, 2005.)

Using nothing smaller than 3/8-inch tube diameters helps Bois D'Arc achieve "about any performance criteria that needs to be met," he said. His company makes completed coil assemblies and is moving away from a louvered fin design to a high-pitch corrugation. Snow said that avoids the plugging up that often robs the efficiency of louvered-fin assemblies. The high-pitch corrugation can be cleaned in the field and is more cost effective, he asserted.

Compressor Makers Tune Up

Emerson Climate Technologies won a 2005 AHR Expo Innovation Award for technology innovation with its "next generation" of Copeland Scrollâ„¢ compressors, introduced at that event in early February. The first Copeland Scroll made its debut in 1987; this next generation version is optimized for 13 SEER, explained John Schneider, marketing director, Copeland Residential Air Conditioning.

The next generation Copeland Scroll increases compressor efficiency by up to 7 percent and reduces sound as much as 50 percent, the company said. It is a single-stage or fixed-capacity compressor.

"After this cooling season there's going to be increased need for compressors for 13-SEER applications as our customers begin transitioning," Schneider told The News. "We're making sure we're geared up to produce those products, getting our supply base and factories ready to accommodate customers' needs."

Acknowledging that the transition involves a balancing act to supply compressors for both sub-13-SEER and 13-plus-SEER systems, Schneider said his division will be able to support OEM needs in both categories.

Emerson Climate Technologies also offers the Copeland Scroll Ultra Tech compressor. The unit's two-stage modulation helps homeowners achieve more even humidity control, lower relative humidity, and better temperature control, Schneider said. It enables contractors "to sell up a differentiated product to the homeowner, and we see that segment growing rapidly in 2006."

Variable-speed products in both compressors and motors will play a larger role in the quest for efficiency as the industry moves into the 13-SEER product range, said Bill Merritt, vice president North America sales/marketing, Tecumseh Compressor Co. His company supplies compressors and motors to unitary HVAC manufacturers.

Dual- or variable-speed technology used to be a premium product attribute, but it's becoming more essential now, he reported. Scroll, reciprocal, and rotary compressors are all applicable in 13-SEER-and-up applications, he said, noting that rotary is an up-and-coming option because of its efficiency and cost effectiveness.

He speculated that air conditioning system manufacturers will finish out the 2005 season with a product mix not much different than that of 2004, "and then really crank up for 13 SEER for the 2006 season. I don't think anybody is going to change over early, due to the cost constraints."

Tecumseh has a number of new designs that have been under development for awhile, Merritt said. His company builds compressors in Latin America, Europe, and Asia. "We're building at maximum capacity right now at our air conditioning plants, but it's that season for everyone at this point." He said he doesn't anticipate any product shortages as the year plays out.

Tecumseh has "a number of expansion projects in place globally to address both air conditioning and refrigeration all over the world," Merritt reported.

Applications Change

At Emerson Climate Technologies, Sid Ambort, vice president of sales and marketing for HVACR motors, predicted a couple of areas of change as OEM customers move from the 10 SEER world to 13 SEER minimums and look to motors to help increase efficiency.

"On the condensing unit, we're seeing customers moving from a six-pole motor to an eight-pole motor," he said.

That drops fan speed from about 1,050 rpm to approximately 800 rpm, but makes it more efficient in moving air, yielding more cfm per watt, Ambort explained. "You also get a quieter unit."

The magnitude of that change is pretty high, he said. However, "13 SEER has not really kicked in yet. One of our concerns is when the marketplace is going to transition."

Another area of change in addressing 13 SEER needs is the efficiency level of the indoor unit, he explained. "We see potential for an increase in the number of indoor units that use variable speed in furnace or air handler motors."

Indoor air handler improvement is achieved in some cases with variable-speed brushless permanent magnet (BPM) motors. The other approach is again to use an eight-pole motor indoors instead of a six-pole motor to achieve more air movement per watt.

He said OEMs are likely to use different approaches to achieve the 13 SEER level in the system. "We will build a lot of six-pole motors for furnaces and air handlers, and some customers won't switch to eight-pole on the condensing unit."

Others may add more coil surface, employ a TXV, or go from a reciprocating to a scroll compressor. "Every design team is doing what they think works best from an engineering as well as a marketing standpoint."

The HVAC industry consumes a lot of electric motors, Ambort pointed out. "Last year, more than 8 million condensing units were built and sold in the U.S. alone, and probably 3.5 to 4 million furnaces and air handlers." That means a tremendous competitive and global environment among motor suppliers and manufacturer purchasing agents.

Lean Manufacturing

Makers of air conditioning systems have all adopted lean manufacturing strategies, Ambort pointed out. As their needs change, his company (using that same lean approach) can respond quickly.

"In our plants in Mexico, we only carry a firm schedule 10 days out," he said.

"We can change and respond without a mountain of inventory at either our customers' locations or our own. That's a lot of value to bring to the HVAC base and a heck of a way to manage costs" - an important consideration as OEMs try to pare cost increases in the transition to 13 SEER.

Publication date: 02/14/2005

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