Advanced Software/Apps Make HVAC Contracting Simpler
ORLANDO, Fla. — Technology has come a long way in the HVAC industry, and not just in terms of the heating and cooling equipment. A number of software and data solutions designed to simplify HVAC contracting procedures were on display at the AHR Expo.
CONNECTIVITY AND MOBILIZATION
Rob Hemmerdinger, business development director for SmartStruxure, Schneider Electric, said the HVAC apps and software sector is being driven by digitalization, mobilization, and cloud technologies.
“Software solutions are helping facility executives move away from printed schematics, work orders, and energy consumption charts and into the digital age, where technology and analytics are having an astounding impact on the way people do their jobs,” he said. “Buildings are more dynamic than ever before and require connected technologies that deliver information and control any place, any time, in any format.”
Additionally, the explosion of mobile applications has drastically altered how people work, Hemmerdinger noted.
“People want and need the ability to effectively work from anywhere at any time. We’re seeing this manifest in HVAC software with the addition of mobile capabilities to traditional building management systems (BMS) that were previously tied to one location in a facility. Now, facility managers can log into their systems remotely and securely and make meaningful changes to their building environments very quickly. We’re also seeing more companies embracing the cloud and what a cloud infrastructure can deliver.”
Rheem Mfg. Co. unveiled a mobile app designed to help distributors and contractors better service and sell Rheem and Ruud products. The app includes product information and videos, the DesignStar™ load calculation tool, warranty and financing information, order forms, installation and troubleshooting checklists, company news, and marketing materials.
“We’ve built a tool that will work just as well on the road as it does from an office computer,” said Bill Alderson, corporate director of marketing for Rheem.
The app also features a compatible consumer-appropriate view, which grants homeowners a mobile-friendly tool for learning about home comfort systems in general as well as Rheem products.
“There is a trend in consumer alerts,” Alderson said. “We put time and effort into making all the alerts in a consumer-friendly language so they know what’s going on. The alert explains the problem and encourages them to call their contractor. Contractors can program their contact information into the app so it’s available in the case of an alert. There’s also a connectivity trend in monitoring homes, whether it’s the homes of elderly parents or vacation homes.”
MSI Data released its Service Pro® cloud-based mobile app in 2015 and featured it at the AHR Expo. The service management, scheduling, and cross-platform mobile native app drives productivity gains for HVAC contractors’ field service, preventive maintenance, contract management, and inspection processes.
“The requirement for true mobile applications is a big one,” said Adam Bartos, demand generation manager for MSI Data. “In the last five years, a lot of companies came out with mobile apps that were accessible on Android or iOS, but you had to log into a browser of some kind. And, that worked okay, but if you didn’t have an Internet connection, or if it wasn’t optimized for the device itself, it could be sloppy.
“Our app is native to mobile,” he continued. “A lot of techs are going to commercial industrial buildings and hospitals, repairing HVAC systems that were located in areas like basements, where they don’t get reception. They have no use for a mobile app that shuts down on them without reception. In the last year or two, I think everybody’s woken up to the fact that it has to be mobile.”
The app features mobile inspection forms, capabilities to gather signatures, the ability to take and store photos, and inherits many other functions of the device, such as talk-to-text and GPS.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a big trend,” Bartos said. “The open API allows us to integrate with IoT sensors in the field. If there’s an air conditioning unit that reports it’s not performing at optimal levels, then a service call is automatically initiated and sent to our schedule board. A tech then receives an alert, which helps get him to the location before a breakdown occurs.”
MONITORING AND FORECASTING
According to Ryan Cummings, senior product manager for CMD & iSqFt, the market is seeing more sophisticated monitoring systems, so data on expenditures are immediately on hand.
The company recently launched two new enhancements to its Insight platform. Insight helps building product manufacturers track and forecast construction activity; measure and analyze specification rates against competitors; and access detailed project, company, and contact information on hundreds of thousands of construction projects across the U.S. and Canada.
“These new solutions are available in Insight and not only provide greater visibility into the construction market, but also enable building product manufacturers to connect with the buyers who are highly engaged with the projects they’re selling into,” said Cummings. “A stronger relationship between buyers and sellers benefits both parties.”
Technology has also changed the way people capture and use data in the field, according to David Burczyk, segment manager, field solutions MEP division, Trimble Navigation Ltd.
Trimble displayed its new TX8 Laser Scanner along with its new EdgeWise software, which provides efficient end-to-end workflows in producing accurate BIM-ready models. From scanned-point cloud data, the software automatically detects elements, such as pipes, ductwork, conduit, walls, beams, columns, and other structural objects, and then precisely models them using the dimensions and geometries included in a vast library of common elements.
“It will go through and automatically start modeling up elements inside your scanned data,” said Burczyk. “You can push those elements out into a 3-D modeling platform.”
Burczyk anticipates 3-D image-capturing software will soon become a highly demanded portion of the market.
“Right now, scanners collect point clouds, but there’s interest in using just digital images from a phone,” he said. “And, there’s the possibility we’ll start seeing the use of drones in construction to fly over sites and collect data. That’s a whole new frontier — the sky is the limit.”
SIMPLIFYING SOFTWARE, APPS
Manufacturers are also putting time and effort into developing simplistic software tools to help contractors during the design process, said Ed Ferrier, senior manager of engineering, LG Electronics USA Inc.
“LATS CAD 2 was developed by LG to save engineers time when designing a VRF system on a set of CAD drawings,” Ferrier said. “LATS CAD 2 also provides more accurate details for the designed VRF system to help the installation process — something LG saw lacking in the U.S. market.”
LG’s LATS CAD 2 software seamlessly integrates with the AutoCAD building design program. By eliminating transitional errors between previously incompatible programs and incorporating system design improvements, AutoCAD and LATS CAD 2 maintain building design integrity between programs, creating a more fluid design process and a significant reduction in design time. Additionally, the software automatically measures pipe segments and calculates refrigerant charge, whereas preceding design software required engineers to manually measure and type pipe lengths by hand. This improvement alone cuts down on design time and provides major cost savings to firms using the program.
Cambridge Engineering Inc. developed a Web-based application to assist end users and specifying engineers in comparing the energy savings available with the company’s HTHV (high temperature heating and ventilation) space-heating products with the energy usage of conventional draw-through and recirculating technologies. The app allows users to see the difference in Btu when comparing direct gas-fired technologies.
“HTHV units offer a 160-degree discharge,” said Randy Niederer, director of marketing for Cambridge Engineering. “You can pick a location, give the elevation, input the outside design temperature, and determine what you want the indoor temperature to be. And, to achieve 1.7 billion Btu of heat, a unit would often require 14,000 cfm of air, whereas this HTHV unit would require 8,800 cfm. That much more cfm means you’re going to have a bigger motor, which means you’re going to consume more electricity, and more air has to be heated, which takes more gas.”
All calculations in the app are based on ASHRAE formulas, and results can be downloaded in a PDF format to share with customers, Niederer noted. The app is set to officially launch March 1.
Hemmerdinger predicts cyber security will be a serious concern going forward.
“As more building environments incorporate connected technologies as part of the Internet of Things, security will be a big concern,” he said. “Companies are beginning to understand the pressures of cyber security, and it’s critical that both IT and OT infrastructures are secure.”
Publication date: 2/22/2016