A Look at the Internet of Things' Effects on Commercial HVAC
Enter the self-healing building
For a business, buildings are a means to an end. That’s per Matt Gates, director of intelligent services offers at Trane.
“Most customers have to have a physical location to deliver their core value for their customers,” he said. “That said, the ability to have the building flex to meet the needs of that customer’s business and to turn it more into a measured, performing asset for the customer, rather than just sunk cost, can be delivered with IoT technology.”
The ability for the combination of IoT devices and software to not only identify current challenges but better predict future challenges is making its way to the market.
“In today’s world, it’s all about creating a personalized user experience,” said Sudhi Sinha, vice president and general manager, Digital Solutions, Johnson Controls. “With IoT, building occupants and owners can now feel more in control of their environments. IoT-enabled controls and HVAC solutions are giving users insight into data beyond just temperature, including humidity and levels of indoor air pollutants.”
WHO’S GETTING SMART?
Mike Hoppe, product leader – Intelligent Solutions at Daikin Applied, said the manufacturer sees the most interest for IoT controls in commercial HVAC installs from property management companies, where it allows for greater visibility of the buildings and enables building managers to make remote adjustments, as well as from specific industries such as education and health care, where clean air is essential.
Another space is the workplace, driven in large part by what’s available on the consumer market.
“People nearly expect they should be able to adjust the thermostat in their home remotely from their phone,” Hoppe said. “Now, building managers are expecting the same level of control with commercial systems.”
“Because of rapid consumerization of personal engagement technologies or smart interactive technologies, we are seeing that people are overwhelmingly responding very well to such technologies in workplaces,” said Sinha. “We have seen productivity increase by up to 20 percent in certain cases, employee retention by 10 percent, and innovation increases manifold … across multiple industries and geographies.”
What might that type of personalized, interactive experience look like at a workplace? It could mean having HVAC systems respond intelligently to the presence of people, or with the swipe of a badge, Sinha said. (The same would apply for systems like lights, window shades, door locks, and elevators.) And, those IoT technologies would be expected to not only gather data, but also help make sense of it and provide actionable insights.
“It’s no longer enough to simply provide raw data,” Sinha said. “It must be analyzed to provide meaning and direction that can guide HVAC maintenance decisions. Cookie-cutter solutions do not cut it anymore.”
Industrial customers are further along the path, Gates said. Motivated by pressure from competitors and investors, they typically have internal engineering teams that allow them to try new IoT technologies and determine positive results in their processes and production.
“Interestingly, and from the home automation trend, more light commercial buildings can take advantage of the IoT trend as well,” he added. “This helps them manage their lowest life cycle costs for these buildings, which are the highest percentage of buildings out there.”
HELPING COMMON HASSLES
“IoT sensors and software are now commonplace in our customer’s tool kit,” said Gates.
And there are any number of reasons why.
For building owners, managers, and technicians, wireless control of the temperature and humidity in an environment eliminates the hassle of having to physically visit a site to manually adjust the indoor environment. It also saves money on an install, as it reduces wiring and labor costs.
“Optimizing commercial HVAC units is far easier when using IoT controls because it allows for building managers to make changes remotely,” said Hoppe. “This is particularly useful for property management companies who may need to optimize several buildings each day.”
Since IoT devices provide insight into each piece of HVAC equipment, maintenance professionals can now prioritize the most important issues to solve problems faster.
“With Johnson Controls Enterprise Management 2.0, building owners and managers can optimize building performance by monitoring equipment, managing energy consumption, and efficiently utilizing available space,” said Sinha. “The platform offers applications that provide you with actions and insights that identify issues and faults, pinpoint inefficiencies, and give tenants control of comfort and convenience features.”
Using wireless IoT sensors, users are able to control IAQ and make adjustments to the HVAC system to filter out pollution, providing a clean indoor environment for occupants.
“Government standards and regulations are driving much of the changes we anticipate are coming when it comes to IAQ requirements,” said Hoppe. “The changes in IAQ expectations are being driven by communities themselves, starting with local governments and moving up to a state level. As more focus is put on the environment and pollution levels, we expect expectations for monitoring and optimizing IAQ in environments like schools and health care facilities will also increase.”
Similarly, IoT plays a role in helping building owners hit energy goals, as a customer can see how their buildings consume energy — through utility bill information, benchmarking standards, and IoT smart meter data — and find ways to reduce the use and peak of that utility consumption.
“Additionally, the customer can analyze and optimize the performance of many of their larger building infrastructure systems (i.e. HVAC systems, people movers, lighting),” Gates said. “Making optimization improvements to their buildings in either area can help the customer maintain persistent, sustainable performance of their buildings for comfort, reliability, and energy intensity reduction.”
IoT also speeds up the maintenance process, as technicians can analyze the unit ahead of time and diagnose any issues before going on-site to troubleshoot and fix it.
“Using IoT sensors, building managers and technicians can see how the unit is running and whether it needs a tuneup or any replacements,” Hoppe said.
Additionally, IoT can make preventative maintenance easier and, potentially, more prevalent. Both Daikin and Johnson Controls said they’ve witnessed an uptick in preventative maintenance due to IoT.
“Tailoring a maintenance program can extend asset life and reduce overall operations costs to help building managers achieve the facility and business goals: keeping the facilities up and running, getting the most out of assets, get things back in order when something is disrupted, and generally do more with less,” said Sinha.
“Before, regular check-ups were necessary to make sure the unit was running properly,” added Hoppe. “Now, IoT takes the guesswork out of this process and puts power directly in the hands of building managers, who have insight into what needs to be serviced and when.”
Gates took a different perspective.
“With some customers, yes, the IoT has helped them root out system problems, freeing maintenance from nuisance hot/cold complaints,” he said.
But for the moment, barriers like time and budget still stand in the way of better preventative maintenance on a widespread scale.
“As the IoT space evolves, the ability to do more condition-based maintenance will help customers maintain the lowest life cycle cost on larger building systems but assure them that their preventative maintenance is at the correct/needed levels,” he said.
COMING UP NEXT
In the next five years, Sinha predicts that more technologies will be targeted at individual comfort.
“This will be very useful for building management staff, because they can now get real-time feedback about preferences, issues, and more importantly, building utilities like HVAC and lighting … [so they can be] better optimized through occupancy-based usage,” he said. “Through such technologies, facility managers can make workplaces more inviting and productive while learning how to reduce energy costs and increase sustainability.”
According to Hoppe, the next step is more interoperability between building management systems and HVAC controls, leading to easier optimization of HVAC units and energy savings that are quicker to realize.
“I also expect to see predictive analytics come into greater play with HVAC units that can self-diagnose and make optimization adjustments automatically,” he said.
That might include HVAC units that “know” weather conditions and can make proactive changes to ensure the indoor building environment remains consistent.
Gates expects to see more machine learning and AI models that will allow IoT components and software to deliver higher proactive performance, as well as a continuation of cloud-to-cloud APIs.
“As any of us IoT device manufacturers do the ‘heavy lifting’ of getting clean device data out of the building and normalize it, the logic is that instead of the old ‘gateway’ integration to devices, we should share/sell data via APIs,” he said.
Data security (protecting customers’ data, allowing secure connections to IoT systems) continues to be a priority, he added.
“This is not a building services problem, by the way; this is everyone’s problem,” Gates said. “I liken it to our constant vigilance around service tech safety as a never-ending journey.”