Over 50% of Earth’s total electricity consumption is used for operating motors and motor systems. HVAC contractors and technicians encounter motors in a variety of different applications, and aspects like a motor’s efficiency and ease of service have a direct effect on the end user’s energy and upkeep costs, respectively. And technology for motors is only getting more advanced. Here is the trending technology that three motor manufacturers are saying will improve the future of motors in HVAC.
Motors and Variable Speed Technology
“Most motors are moving into some sort of variable speed technology,” said Dave Mayer, product manager at Greenheck, PRV & Roof Curbs. He explained that this could be taking traditional a/c induction motors and then applying a variable frequency drive to them. He then said that Greenheck is seeing the advent of electronically commutated (EC) motors, which allows for a variable speed solution to be packaged within the motor itself.
Mayer works primarily with EC motor technology for fans, and he said that he sees several benefits coming to motor technology. He explained that direct drives with EC motors allow for a fan speed to be changed with something as simple as turning a dial on the motor to speed it up or slow it down, which is an extremely easy process. Secondly, EC motors are energy efficient, using permanent magnet technology to drive the motor.
“There can be energy savings as well that the customers benefit from long term,” he said. “Contractors are benefiting from the ease of installation and the flexibility and the ease of adjustment that the EC motors provide.”
Increasing Efficiency with Motors
Mark Gmitro, variable speed product manager at ABB Motion, said that the primary motor technology trends are focused on getting to the highest operating efficiencies possible. Increasing efficiency across the board can lead to savings in the multitude of HVAC applications where motors appear: Air handling units, exhaust fans, cooling towers, energy recovery systems, heating and cooling substations, compressors or chillers, heat pumps, and more. Since efficiency causes less excess heat and less mechanical stress, component life can be lengthened.
“There’s also trends around smaller, more compact designs and motors,” he said. “So either a smaller frame size or shorter in length, lighter in weight to save space and material.” He also said that integrating variable speed drive technology into the motor allows cabinet spaced to be freed, since additional wiring can be eliminated.
He added that a third trend deals with built-in digital capabilities, such as technicians being able to open a mobile phone app and look at the motor’s status, seeing any diagnostics or faults, which can help troubleshoot. Modern motors are plug-and-play, so the programming is ready to run as soon as it comes out of the box.
“You don’t need to be an expert on the components,” he said, explaining that technicians just need to integrate the motor in, set a speed reference, and it’s good to go. “When you have it all integrated together, that’s fewer purchase orders and logistic issues. It leads to fewer installation and labor costs.”
For those who want to improve their knowledge of how to service and install the newest motors, Gmitro said that most companies offer virtual and online training and webinars for their products. Manufacturers can point contractors to the right industry experts that offer classes, and contractors can take advantage of detailed installation/maintenance manuals or quick start guides designed to instruct people on the basics of the technology.
Integration and Internet of Things
Ben Schuler, founder and CEO of Infinitum Electric, said the trends in motor technology now revolve around performance, integration, and the Internet of Things.
Regarding performance, Schuler said that efficiency in motors is key, helping to reduce a user’s carbon footprint and saving money, since some motors are turned on for 24 hours a day. Plus, Schuler said that motors like Infinitum’s function extremely quietly, which is important when motors are used in HVAC applications.
“Having the variable frequency drive or any other control mechanism integrated into the motor allows for a smaller, more seamless package that is easier to install and easier to maintain,” Schuler said. He also said that Internet of Things technology, when included with a motor, allows for remote monitoring and upgrading, instead of needing to send a technician to the site. If, for example, the motor is seen to be vibrating more than it typically does, it could indicate a bearing that is about to fail.
“It allows you to replace and plan for maintenance, as opposed to reacting to a catastrophic failure,” Shuler said. “Having a smaller, lighter, quieter, more robust product lends itself to easier mechanical installation.” Plus, with motors that have the drive integrated into them, all a technician needs to do for installation is plug in the power, plug in the communications, and turn the power on.