Monitoring the equipment means preventing problems

May 9, 2000
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Wouldn’t it be nice to know what’s wrong with a customer’s hvac system before you send the service technician out to the site, so that s/he takes the right tools and parts?

This ability to diagnose the system before climbing onto the roof to get a look at it could save the contractor time and money, adding efficiency to his/her business.

Now, a product called E-MAC (Energy Management and Control), a wireless, Internet-based service, allows the contractor this kind of information.

Using any PC with an Internet connection, the company said contractors can use the service from any location to monitor, gather data, review diagnostic information, and affect the operation of their customers’ small- to mid-sized commercial buildings.

It can also be used as an early warning system, alerting the contractor to problems within the hvac system before they become too serious and affect the comfort of occupants.

Maintenance benefits (and so do customers)

“All contractors do preventive maintenance,” said John Friderichs, director of technical services at Pentech Energy Solutions. “They can optimize this by watching how much the machines actually run to determine the PM schedule.”

E-MAC gives the contractor complete diagnostics information on the equipment 24 hrs a day, seven days a week. If the filters are starting to load up, the system notifies the contractor so that maintenance can be scheduled.

And if an aspect of system operation goes outside of its parameters — say, if refrigerant levels are abnormal — the contractor is notified.

According to Friderichs, with the alarms set into the system, it is possible for the contractor to know before the customer does that a unit is down. This means the contractor can call his or her customer to schedule a service call and fix the problem before occupant comfort is affected — a sure sign to the customer that the contractor is serious about caring for their needs.

“A contractor can possibly guarantee limited downtime to customers,” said Friderichs. Now that’s a competitive advantage. (Of course, contractors would want to inspect equipment before making any such guarantee, and would also want to place the equipment on a regular maintenance schedule.)

Complete hvac system operating history and maintenance logs can be downloaded remotely. By measuring the actual runtime of the equipment, it is possible to expand the life of the equipment, said Friderichs. The contractor can trend problems and repairs, and be able to determine when to stop repairing the equipment and replace it.

The system can also be used to verify that the service work on the system was completed correctly. This tool can help gauge the performance of technicians and determine areas where more training may be needed.

The hard facts

The E-MAC hardware is externally mounted on the units and can easily be moved to another machine. Friderichs says it has a 10-year life expectancy and is software-upgradeable.

The hardware would be owned by the contractor and become a part of his or her “tool kit.”

“We believe the greatest value of this will be to the contractor, allowing them to have a full-service offering,” said Jerome Foster, ceo at Pentech. “It helps them be competitive and pass benefits and savings on to customers.”

Built into the system is the “PERC (Pentech Energy Recovery Ventilator) Communicator,” a small unit that fits into the hvac system. According to the company, it adds two-way communication capabilities.

Utilizing Narrowband PCS technology designed for telemetry applications, the PERC allows remote monitoring and control of hvac systems. It is designed to increase system efficiency through energy recovery.

Further energy savings are possible with remote setback temperature control, allowing the contractor to set and change temperature limits for each facility. E-MAC also provides data to help identify energy usage patterns and validate consumption.

According to Friderichs, with the system’s demand-limiting capability, the contractor can limit the demand of the unit during peak service, adding to the system’s built-in energy savings.

“This is the service that can make the contractor very competitive,” said Friderichs.

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