While it may never be possible for an HVAC contractor to chill out on the job, installing and servicing chillers continues to be easier and easier, as, according to several manufacturers, today’s chillers are being designed with the contractor in mind.
“Contractors are always looking for ease of installation, serviceability, and redundancy,” said Ross Miglio, president of ClimaCool Corp.
And manufacturers are working to produce chillers that meet contractors’ needs, as well as perform at the highest efficiency possible.
According to Eric Taylor, marketing manager, Aaon, ease of installation and service are two important drivers behind Aaon’s complete packaged chilled-water systems, which the company designs and engineers.
“These packaged outdoor mechanical rooms include compressors, condensers, chiller evaporators, a control system, and an optional water pumping package,” he said. “These systems save field design, and installation time, and costs because the complete system can be engineered and manufactured by Aaon.” Plus, he added, “It saves valuable interior building space because an indoor mechanical room is not required.”
William Dietrich, product general manager, chillers, Daikin McQuay, noted that the retrofit and replacement market are factors in chiller design.
“A large consideration is that much of the market today is for replacement equipment, where compact footprint, ease of installation, and low sound levels are important,” he said. “We design equipment with this in mind, as the flexibility is generally more limited in replacement installations.”
He continued, “Compact units ease installation; units arriving fully charged with refrigerant minimize handling and the chance of refrigerant emissions. Fully testing units prior to shipment and making units more plug and play make the contractor’s job easier and reduces mistakes.”
According to Miglio, “All ClimaCool modular chillers are designed to minimize installation time and costs. Our chiller modules fit through standard doorways and our low center of gravity designs are easily transportable via pallet jacks and forklifts.”
Chiller installation also requires contractors to pay close attention to the building’s automation system.
“The most common challenge we see facing contractors is keeping their technical staff educated on the newest chiller technology including controls,” said Mike Clatworthy, vice president of business development, Multistack LLC.
Dietrich also emphasized the importance of controls, saying, “Contractors want smart equipment that can be easily integrated into a building system. The control and unit designs have to be robust and able to operate efficiently with minimal BAS supervision. Overly complicated controls often are not fully utilized, and the system efficiency suffers. The Daikin McQuay controls are designed to maximize the equipment performance and react well to system changes.”
Randy Niederer, vice president of marketing at Unico Inc., pointed out that Unico focuses solely on residential chillers, and noted that his company stresses proper installation and commissioning of its units.
“During the installation process, it is very important that the contractor complete a commissioning process to ensure that the chiller is installed properly according to the design, and that the chiller is operating properly,” said Niederer, who holds LEED AP Homes credentials. “To help with this process, we have built in specific items into the chiller which make the commissioning process easier and more accurate.”
But designing chillers with the contractor in mind doesn’t begin and end with installation. Manufacturers must also take into account how the units are going to be serviced, especially since chiller maintenance is vital to preventing costly downtime and repairs or failures.
“The most common challenge of chilled water systems is service accessibility and ease of service and maintenance,” Taylor said. “Aaon chilled water outdoor mechanical rooms include lockable hinged service doors that provide walk-in access to the refrigeration system components, controls components, and water system components.”
When discussing serviceability, Miglio again pointed to Climacool’s modular design, which he said aids contractors when the units require maintenance or repair.
“Single point electrical connections and waterside isolation valves allow servicing of any module while the remaining modular chillers in the bank continue to operate,” he said. Miglio added, “Today’s contractors are also interested in nonproprietary designs, so that they can perform maintenance and service without the need for proprietary parts or the requirement for factory technicians.”
Contractors must also stay informed and up-to-date on the latest chiller technology so they can properly service equipment.
“We offer classes and educational opportunities virtually year-round for contractors who want to know how to take advantage of and service the new chiller technology,” Clatworthy said.
Efficiency and the Environment
While manufacturers are focused on the contractor’s need for easy install and service, they are also working to meet their customers’ need for ever-greater efficiency.
“Energy efficiency and sustainability for the built environment continue to drive the market, and our resources remain focused on providing that,” Clatworthy said. “Also, chilled-water production creates hot water, and we are committed to creatively and efficiently harnessing heat that is already in the building to satisfy hot-water requirements.”
According to Taylor, efficiency is a key driver for chiller design and manufacturing, and it’s going to stay that way. In the future, he said, the goal of year-round efficiency will continue to drive improvements to chillers.
He noted that Aaon’s chillers are designed and engineered as a packaged chilled-water system in order to “maximize the energy efficiency of the complete system at all loading conditions.”
Miglio referred to overall system efficiency as “the most crucial element.”
“We recommend looking at cooling, heat recovery, heat pump, geothermal, and simultaneous heating and cooling systems. In any of these central plant applications, it is essential to utilize free condenser heat whenever possible and lower the approach of the source utilizing geothermal wells to maximize efficiency,” he said.
“Additionally, we always stress variable pumping for cooling, heating, and source loops. Providing only the required system water flow minimizes pump energy. All ClimaCool modular chiller designs are available with motorized water valves, which are ideally suited for variable-pumping systems.”
Dietrich stressed the relationship between chiller efficiency and the environment.
“Chiller energy performance drives ownership costs, and is a key part of environmental concerns. It is important to look at actual chiller performance over the course of the years, taking into account the chiller and available operating conditions. This drives the decision to apply variable-speed drive technology to most water-cooled and air-cooled chillers,” he said.
Further, Dietrich explained, “Environmental concerns mean minimizing leaks, using zero-ODP [ozone depleting potential] refrigerants, and eliminating the need for oil and oil changes whenever possible.”
Down the Road
Looking ahead at the future of chiller design and manufacturing, Dietrich said, “I think the trends will continue to be the same: efficiency, environment, and cost of ownership.”
Miglio agreed, stating, “Energy costs, total cost of operation, redundancy, ease of installation, serviceability, and refrigerant legislation will continue to drive chiller improvements in the future.”
In the short term, Clatworthy said new, lower-GWP [global warming potential] refrigerants and chillers operating on reduced refrigerant charges will drive improvements to chillers.
However, further down the road, Clatworthy said, “Long-term, we need a disruptive technological change to drive improvement. Current refrigeration technology, with the exception of a just a few technologies like magnetic compressors, is the same as it was 100 years ago. Significant improvements in efficiency will require new technology that doesn’t yet exist.”
Publication date: 5/13/2013