CHICAGO — Contractors are always on the lookout for simple-to-use, all-in-one software solutions that make the job of delivering indoor comfort easier and more effective. A number of platforms at the 2015 AHR Expo showcased solutions across fleet management, tracking, energy management, and much more.
Facility managers and homeowners are embracing the ease of technological connectivity presented through the growing Internet of Things (IoT) philosophy.
“The emergence of device-to-device communication is becoming ever more important. A lot of those things end up in buildings and are connected in legacy fashion. Our job is to find a way to connect those devices,” said Sanjay Manney, director of product management, Echelon Corp.
“Through IP [Internet Protocol] networking, we introduced a platform — a collection of components, software, modules, etc. — that allows IP addressing down to the devices but still allows backward compatibility with our Lonworks protocol. We modernized it, so you don’t actually need gateways for bridging between legacy networks and the new networks. You can now use routers, which are a lot simpler and are based on more modern communications’ technologies.”
Traditionally, most devices have been connected using wires, but, like most aspects of business, HVAC is finding ways to shed the cords. Echelon expanded its multiprotocol IzoT™ platform for the IoT to include new Wi-Fi control modules and integrated support for BACnet/MS-TP. The converged building and lighting control network supports both wired and wireless devices that use LonTalk/FT, LonTalk/IP, BACnet/IP, and BACnet/MS-TP protocols.
“Our Wi-Fi module and development kit allows customers to build wireless building automation devices,” said Manney. “From a building automation management software point of view, we offer a seamless way to communicate, manage, commission, and operate devices with the
Schneider Electric showcased its Building Insights cloud-based solution that provides enterprise small buildings real-time visibility and control of all HVAC, lighting, and metering devices, anywhere, anytime.
Building Insights allows enterprises with multi-site portfolios of small buildings — such as restaurants, retail stores, health care offices and banks — the ability to manage thousands of sites simultaneously via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Armed with actionable information, building owners and managers can make smarter energy management decisions while optimizing operations, increasing energy efficiency, reducing risks, and improving occupant comfort.
The solution will offer facility managers two levels of control: site-level and cloud-level. At the site level, the device supports both wired and wireless devices for HVAC, lighting, and metering applications, providing fully integrated control of energy on-site and remotely. With the solution’s foundation in the cloud, facility managers can monitor and manage facilities through a custom cloud-based dashboard. This interface incorporates ad-
vanced data and analytics to provide actionable insight and can be used to configure devices, add lighting schemes, create automated schedules, and respond to trends, alerts, and issues. In addition, the dashboard also can provide tailored reports — for example, monitoring specific HVAC sensors and/or delivering trend analysis of overall monthly consumption to allow for continuous improvement.
“By combining an open-platform-based solution with Schneider Electric’s product portfolio, the Building Insights solution answers the needs of small multi-site enterprise buildings,” said Frederick Morency, vice president of small building systems, Schneider Electric. “By providing the tools, transparency, and anywhere access to actionable information, facility owners and managers of multiple small buildings can simplify and optimize their operations from anywhere to achieve greater energy savings.”
Joanna Rotter, content marketing specialist, MSI Data, said software platforms offering back-office service management functions like calls, contracts, warranties and inspections, and accounting or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software are extremely valuable for HVAC contractors.
“The earliest adopters of mobile are realizing company-wide benefits with the ability to collect and analyze information from the field; monitor and track inventory; schedule based on skills, location, and availability; and send automated alerts across the organization,” she said. “The benefits of an all-in-one service management solution are multiplied when the system is integrated with a business’s ERP or accounting solution, which streamlines the entire HVAC business process, from sale to installation to service to billing.”
MSI’s all-in-one service management solution, Service Pro®, which is available as either a hosted/cloud or on-premises solution, offers more than just the basic mobile service app many companies are touting.
“Our robust program takes what HVAC technicians are doing in the field and connects it to the rest of the back-office service and business processes,” said Rotter. “Service Pro offers HVAC contractors a complete, all-in-one system by providing mobile and back-office service functionality along with reporting, scheduling, and a number of ERP integrations including Sage 100 and Vista by Viewpoint,” she said.
Mypointnow.com’s comprehensive management and front-facing Web-based applications help companies become more effective, said Chris Wade, owner.
“In operations, the company has instant communication, paperless scheduling, invoicing, payments processing, and history,” said Wade. “Techs know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do, and management can have the confidence that the work is performed properly and that their customers will continue to be customers over time.
“Each time a service call or installation is completed, a new page and record is generated on the front-facing website for the contractor,” said Wade. “This creates a Web environment that is updated, robust, and relevant to the contractors’ service area. And, at the end of the day, appropriate content can be effectively shared through social networks without alienating your target audience by flooding them with unwanted tech tips and updates.”
Trimble Navigation Ltd.’s AllTrak Cloud is a cloud-based tool and material asset management application that enables MEP and HVAC contractors to gain access to asset information that allows for proper job site allocation, service scheduling, and project utilization.
With the typical MEP contractor maintaining thousands of tools and material assets, proper management and allocation of these items in warehouses and on service trucks is a constant challenge.
Trimble AllTrak Cloud allows contractors to gain access to asset information that allows for proper job site allocation, service scheduling, and project utilization.
“AllTrak Cloud supports both barcode and RFID [radio frequency identification] technologies through a mobile scanner, allowing for easy check-in and check-out of equipment,” said Chris Taylor, marketing communications manager, MEP division, Trimble. “With the ability to acknowledge asset receipt, users now have a full audit trail of asset responsibility.”
Utilizing cloud technology, users can access tool and material asset information from any Web browser or remotely with the mobile application.
“Our online dashboard provides immediate insight into asset location and status,” said Matt Sawyer, sales manager, MEP division, Trimble. “Contractors are finding it difficult and are losing materials through misplacement, theft, loss, etc. This tool will help them keep better track of those valuable items.”
Russell Desjarlais, marketing communications manager, Iconics Inc., said the company is seeing growth in the adoption of real-time predictive analytics and fault-detection technology, resulting in significant energy cost savings as a complement to traditional energy management systems.
“Iconics’ Facility AnalytiX® is an energy management system that delivers a rich platform and browser-independent, real-time visualization. Utilizing a universal connectivity layer, it acquires data from electric, gas, fuel oil, steam, chilled water, or any other meters through any available networking,” said Desjarlais.
“It’s a complete, continuous commissioning software solution based on Iconics’ advanced fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) technology that reduces costs and improves operational efficiency. It addresses any application, from a single building to an entire campus or multi-site enterprise, and users can create IT [information technology] firewall-friendly, secure, custom energy dashboards and kiosks to view energy reports analyzing energy consumption patterns, resource usage, and progress on sustainability initiatives.”
Rheem Mfg. Co.’s EcoNet™ software connects a home’s heating, cooling, and water heating systems through a central hub, making it easy for homeowners to conveniently manage energy usage and monitor diagnostics and maintenance schedules.
The system uses a home’s existing Wi-Fi connection to locate and link all compatible Rheem air and water products. Homeowners can then securely control these products through a control center mounted in the home or through the free EcoNet mobile app.
The system’s diagnostic alerts not only tell a homeowner that service is needed, but also pinpoint what is wrong with the unit and what parts are needed to fix it, saving contractors time and money on service calls.
“Homeowners are accustomed to programming their air conditioning and heating units, and should be just as vigilant with their water heaters — especially with their vacation homes or rental properties,” said Bill Alderson, corporate director, marketing, Rheem. “A water heater can account for almost 20 percent of a home’s energy consumption, so programming the temperature and keeping it properly maintained can amount to significant savings each year. Not to mention, learning about an important service issue like any kind of leak being detected could save homeowners both dollars and headaches.”
Larry Sunshine, vice president of sales, Plasma Air Intl., said the company’s PlasmaSoft 1.0 IAQ Procedure Software was designed to support engineers’ use of ASHRAE’s IAQ procedures.
“Engineers are always considering ways to reduce the amount of outside air they have to bring into the building. In order to justify that, you have to accurately follow ASHRAE’s calculations. We’ve created software to help accomplish that,” said Sunshine. “You pick a zone, a space as designated by ASHRAE’s definitions, a comfort source, and enter the square footage. The emission rate is then calculated, and the maximum number of people is generated.”
The resulting data is assembled in a presentable and printable PDF, which offers proof that a building meets all necessary ASHRAE requirements. Additionally, the results may be uploaded into the software, saved, and compiled within a more comprehensive whole-building project. The software readings, which are all available in the cloud, can be accessed anytime, anywhere.”
Savvy contractors are streamlining their businesses with new-age HVACR software.
Desjarlais said contractors benefit from being the conduit to the proactive maintenance and energy cost savings realized through use of Iconics software. “Iconics’ working relationship with Microsoft continues to help ensure its solutions remain on the forefront of software technology,” he said.
MIS Data’s Service Pro helps HVAC contractors more effectively manage field service operations, such as contract and warranty management, service parts and logistics, depot repair and order processing, advanced scheduling, inspection, mobile field service, and advanced business intelligence reporting, said Rotter.
Contractors who ignore new technology do so at their own peril, said Wade. “There are fundamental changes needed in lead generation, competition for search engine performance, and technology required in HVAC equipment today,” he said. “Old school companies with paper recordkeeping and little or no systematic quality control will have a daunting future. Managers who understand and utilize these new integrated mobile tools will have a significant and growing advantage.
“A business is only as good as its field personnel, and it’s critical to give them the tools necessary to make them more efficient and successful in their job performance,” added Wade. “Mobile software systems help them be more efficient and effective. They reduce overhead and automate customer relationships, thereby bringing much higher levels of customer satisfaction at the end of the day.”
Publication date: 2/23/2015