Hvacr monitoring has come unwired

April 10, 2000
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You don’t need to be wired to be informed. A new hvacr monitoring system allows contractors to get immediate problem notification over their cell phone or pager, or if they prefer, by e-mail, with specific information on the malfunction and equipment.

The Notifact wireless monitoring system was invented by David Sandelman, the founder of Notifact Corp. (Fairfield, NJ) and vice president and chief technology officer of the company. The system allows contractors and equipment owners to be immediately alerted to malfunctions so that the contractors can respond more quickly to effect repairs and prevent business disruptions.

The new system “was 18 months of work from concept through field testing,” said Sandelman. The basic hardware of the system is the transceiver.

Some pieces of hvacr equipment will have their own transceiver. However, if the equipment has communications capability, up to 10 units can be daisy-chained on a single transceiver, saving on hardware costs.

One of the advantages over an older building automation system, noted Sandelman, is that this system doesn’t require wiring to a central panel. There are just the transceivers mounted on the equipment, so “You don’t have a lot of wiring.”

One transceiver model is generic. The other has ladder logic built in, enabling it to connect to a single-compressor rooftop unit, for example, and do such things as check the airflow switch after 15 sec of fan power.

“We will build any custom logic into a box for any application,” Sandelman said.

What's the problem?

Conditions that can generate a problem notification include:
  • Loss of power for more than 15 min;
  • Pressure that’s too high or too low;
  • Compressor short cycling;
  • Compressor power with no fan power;
  • Airflow with no fan power; and
  • Condensate spill.

For quicker connections, the transceiver “also has RS-232 and -485 capability, which allows us to plug and play with the communications port on a piece of equipment,” stated Sandelman. Regarding equipment sensing, “Any kind of sensor that will give you a switch activation can be connected to the Notifact box,” he said. These can include temperature, pressure, and flow switches; CO or CO2 switches; and others.

When the transceiver receives a malfunction signal from one of its sensors, it transmits the condition over the North American advanced mobile phone system to the Notifact messaging center. The center then relays the message to selected recipients by the selected delivery method.

A contractor may choose that only he be notified, or he and his service manager, or he and the customer — as many individuals as necessary can be contacted. Messages can be sent via pager, cellular phone, fax, or e-mail, whichever is best for that individual.

Sandelman said that notification usually takes less than a minute, but it depends on the delivery service.

“We’ll send out an e-mail within a few seconds of the event. But if your e-mail server only polls the Internet once every five minutes for an e-mail, it could take up to five minutes to get that e-mail; where if someone’s e-mail is polling every 10 seconds, they’ll get the e-mail much faster.

“We also see latencies with pagers. Sometimes it can take three or four minutes for the paging service to deliver the message.”

Notification of a problem is “very specific,” said Sandelman. It indicates the nature of the problem, such as no airflow; the unit, such as rooftop #1; the make, model, and serial number of the unit; the address; and who to contact for access, along with a phone number.

With this information, the contractor knows in advance what sort of malfunction he’s dealing with, and the unit’s make and model, so he can go with the correct parts. If it’s a simple problem like replacing a belt, he can send a less-experienced technician to handle it rather than his senior tech.

Faster service

A primary advantage of this system to contractors, Sandelman noted, is that it enables much quicker service response time.

Typically, most hvacr failures are first noticed long after they have occurred, which can lead to operating disruption and possible business loss for the customer. But with the rapid notification of the Notifact system, repairs can be started sooner and business interruptions can be avoided or minimized.

“Some contractors also see this as a further enhancement of their service contract business,” he remarked.

Another benefit to contractors is that the system locks in the customer to them. It ensures the contractor that s/he will be the only one to receive all calls for service from that customer.

In addition, by offering 24-hr monitoring, a contractor can make fewer on-site visits to check equipment, freeing up techs to do other billable work.

To make sure the system’s transceivers are working properly, each night every box reports in to the message center to tell its status (how often the equipment ran, how long it ran, etc.). From this data, a trend analysis can be provided showing how the unit is running. This information can be used to optimize such things as filter changeouts, Sandelman pointed out, basing them on actual equipment usage.

After testing the system out at about a dozen field test sites, it was officially introduced on January 1 and currently has just under 100 installations.

Sandelman, who holds six U.S. patents, has various patent claims pending on the system and expects to receive his own notification, from the patent office, shortly.

Sidebar: The Notifact system at work

An hvacr contractor serving a large shipping company in the Northeast installed five transceivers to monitor the firm’s building systems.

During Hurricane Floyd last year, a power outage occurred at the facility. The contractor was immediately notified and he was waiting at his customer’s door the next morning to examine the units.

Another contractor installed the system in his own facility. The service operations manager was awakened at 5 a.m. one day by his cell phone. He was surprised to find that the message center was calling and the boiler had gone down.

He contacted a technician, who remedied the situation before the firm’s employees came in to work that morning.

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