IoT Brings Customized Solutions to Commercial HVAC
End users want technology to create unique experiences for occupants
For the last several years, experts have claimed that the IoT would lead to a revolutionary change in the way we live, as the billions of devices we use would be able to communicate with one another to make our lives better.
That prediction is coming true, particularly where commercial HVAC equipment is concerned, as manufacturers are investing in IoT-enabled systems that can be custom designed to meet the needs of both end users and contractors.
ONLY THE BEGINNING
“Keep in mind we’re still at the cusp of truly realizing the benefits it [the IoT] has for commercial HVAC, in terms of both performance and comfort," said Sudhi Sinha, vice president and general manager of data-enabled business, Johnson Controls Inc. "The possibilities are truly endless, so it’s all about how we embrace new technologies and continue to invest in innovation.”
The ability for commercial OEMs to invest in IoT innovation has become much easier, thanks to more affordable edge computing devices and smaller processing units, which allow improved access to smart, local control options for HVAC devices and systems, explained Sinha.
“Combine that with the increased use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and we’re now looking at much better automation and comprehensive management of HVAC systems,” he said.
Controllers utilized by commercial OEMs are also becoming more powerful, enabling more sophisticated control algorithms, edge computing with performance analytics, and the ability to easily connect to existing IT networks, which facilitates secure data exchange with the cloud, according to Carl Barnard, director of controls sales, LG Air Conditioning Technologies.
“These trends not only have the potential to positively impact energy use, comfort, and operational costs of our built environment, but impact design, procurement, and many other aspects of our industry,” Barnard said.
As a result, building owners and managers are warming to the IoT trend, expressing a greater interest in mobile connectivity and diagnostics.
What customers want, explained Rosa Leal, senior product manager of commercial products, Rheem Air Division, is more visibility to detect problems earlier on to avoid downtime, as well as better monitor energy utilization and savings.
“The IoT provides value and protection for both the contractor and the end user by allowing technology to communicate real-time data and help extend the life of their investment, such as scheduling, service and maintenance alerts, energy usage reports, etc.,” said Leal.
It is no wonder that there is an increased appetite for analytics that illustrate how equipment is performing, as 40 percent of a building’s energy expenses are tied to HVAC operations, noted Paul Rauker, vice president and general manager — intelligent solutions, Daikin Applied.
“Technicians and building managers are analyzing data for better efficiency, and they are seeing the value in connecting stand-alone equipment to or within an ecosystem, to cloud-based control solutions for these insights,” said Rauker.
Building owners and managers are starting to understand this, too. As they become more educated about the benefits of the IoT, including the increased capabilities and return on investment, they become more likely to adopt IoT-enabled equipment, he said.
“This benefits the industry overall, because it helps drive down price points and make advanced technology more affordable for small and mid-market businesses,” Rauker added.
DATA DEEP DIVE
The IoT is the most exciting technology in the commercial HVAC arena today, especially considering how it will be used is still being defined, said Dan Moffroid, director of product management, Bosch Thermotechnology.
“The most pertinent advantages today relate to remote system monitoring and control to help prevent failures and avoid downtime," he said. "But other changes in this field are still in the early stages, such as integration with other equipment inside and outside of the building envelope, the business model of delivering commissioning and maintenance services, etc.”
Indeed, that ability to integrate data from many different building systems and equipment is one of the biggest promises of the IoT. In the past, data was typically siloed, noted Barnard, but now, end users are likely to experience lower operational costs, improved competitiveness, and better key performance integrators (KPIs) relative to their business.
“Contractors and service providers will likewise benefit from having continuous ‘eyes’ on IoT-enabled equipment, better preventative maintenance programs, and integrated ticketing systems,” he said.
In addition to gathering data, end users are looking for IoT technology to help interpret it and provide actionable insights. As Sinha noted, it’s no longer enough to simply provide raw data; it must be analyzed to provide meaning and direction that can guide HVAC maintenance decisions. Building owners also want to use this data to create customized solutions.
“End users want to use IoT technology to create personalized, interactive experiences for occupants, including having HVAC systems that respond intelligently to the presence of people or the swipe of a badge, as well as other building objects like lights, window shades, door locks, and elevators,” Sinha said.
And they want all this data to be presented in the same easy-to-use, simple format that they get from other connected devices, said Michael Hoppe, senior product manager of Intelligent Equipment, Daikin Applied.
Based on this demand for simplicity, Daikin Applied designed its IoT solutions, which include the Intelligent Equipment line of chillers, rooftop units, water-source heat pumps, and fan coil units, to be plug-and-play. The units are preprogrammed and arrive at the site ready to install, which not only reduces installation time, said Rauker, it reduces the potential for an on-site setup error.
Cloud-based controls provide a seamless experience, added Hoppe, because they strip away the complex connection requirements of a traditional BAS.
“Cloud-based equipment can be managed remotely, unlike a traditional BAS, so technicians can track performance and troubleshoot equipment from anywhere with an internet connection, saving time and money,” he said.
Rheem’s IoT solutions in its air and water equipment lines allow customers to get real-time data about changes to their units’ conditions, maintenance alerts, scheduling, and energy-savings options as well as offering control-on-the-go using a mobile application. Its EcoNet™ smart monitoring system can be used for residential and some commercial products, including Rheem’s Commercial 7.5- to 12.5-ton Renaissance HVAC line with Clear Control™ and various commercial tank and tankless water heaters, that communicate with the industry standard BACnet and BAS systems.
At Johnson Controls, Smart Equipment seamlessly integrates with a controls system to self-diagnose without the use of programming tools. It can be bundled with other data streams to provide comprehensive insight into a building’s operations. Additionally, Smart Equipment supports cloud-based data analytics to elicit proactive maintenance and minimize downtime while providing greater energy efficiency and reducing operating costs, said Sinha.
LG Electronics is embracing artificial intelligence across all of its business units (from HVAC and home appliances to consumer electronics and mobile communications) and offers a number of Wi-Fi enabled indoor units that are controllable with the LG SmartThinQ™ app, which is integrated with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
And OEMs aren’t stopping there, as the IoT will lead to even more new capabilities and innovations going forward. As Leal noted, the IoT will continue to bring more customizable solutions to the commercial air and water heater space, making it easier to save money, reduce downtime, and optimize performance.
Sinha agreed, adding that future systems will be designed with customization and connectivity in mind. In addition, the IoT will open up new ways to use data and HVAC systems.
“For example, now we can apply model predictive controls and reinforcement learning to optimize how to best run central plants based on factors such as the design of the plant equipment and its optimal performance zones, occupancy, emerging weather patterns, changing utility rates, access to energy storage, and applicable facility constraints," he said. "The theoretical underpinning for this has existed for a long time, but new IoT technologies are enabling this type of advanced usage.”
Being able to analyze the performance of HVAC equipment in actual usage conditions through the use of IoT technology will also help manufacturers improve equipment design and provide additional services, said Rauker.
“The way HVAC equipment functions varies by application within various vertical markets (e.g., office buildings, hospitals), and this level of detailed insight makes us smarter about our offerings," he said. "Using data from the field, we can design features and functions for every type of market to give users a customized experience.”
Publication date: 6/11/2018