The illustrations show the part-load (above) and full-load capacities (below) of the Copeland Scroll UltraTech compressor.
The compressor is the heart of any cooling system. That being said, all hearts are not created equal - some are basic, no-frills models destined for minimum SEER cooling systems. Others are high-end, benefits-laden versions intended for premiere, high-efficiency air conditioners and heat pumps.

These high-end compressors, many of which have come to market within the last few years, feature advanced technologies that allow cooling systems to work more efficiently and reliably.

This couldn't come at a better time for OEMs, who have been busy developing a host of new products that meet and exceed the 13 SEER mandated minimum. In fact, many manufacturers have incorporated the new compressors into their high-end cooling systems, which rocket past the minimum requirements to reach SEER levels ranging from the high teens to the low 20s.

In addition to working more efficiently and reliably, some of these premium compressors act as sensors, detecting possible problems with the system and communicating those problems directly to the thermostat. This enables contractors to easily identify system problems while giving homeowners peace of mind, knowing that problems with their system will get fixed quickly and accurately.


One of the manufacturers that has introduced new compressor technology is Emerson Climate Technologies. The company's Copeland Scroll UltraTechâ„¢ two-stage compressor was designed for use in residential heat pump and air conditioning applications, and many OEMs are using it in their high-end products.

One of those manufacturers is York, a Johnson Controls Company, which decided to use UltraTech compressors in its next generation of York, Luxaire, and Coleman residential air conditioners and heat pumps. "When we were designing our new line of products, we wanted to produce air conditioners and heat pumps that create a quiet, comfortable, and energy-efficient environment," said Tim Lashar, outdoor products manager and Luxaire brand manager.

Lashar said the compressors are beneficial for homeowners, because the units are able to maintain precise temperature levels and lower relative humidity while providing up to 60 percent greater energy efficiency when compared to 10 SEER systems. "These compressors are also remarkably quiet compared to reciprocating compressors," he said.

The UltraTech compressor has been a long time in the making, noted Brandy Powell, air conditioning marketing director, Copeland. "When I came here 13 or 14 years ago, engineers were working on this product. While we spent a lot of time and research perfecting it, we didn't introduce it until there was a need at the OEM and the consumer level. We spent time testing it with the OEMs and further refining the design."

The need for the OEM and the consumer came in 2003, when UltraTech was introduced to the market. The timing was driven by several issues, including the growing need to differentiate, getting ready for the 13 SEER mandate in 2006, the upcoming phaseout of R-22, and exhaustive market testing, which revealed the homeowner's desire for more comfort.

Dealers also requested two-stage outdoor products to provide more selling options to their homeowner customers. Rheem, for example, listened to that request and responded by offering high-efficiency products using the UltraTech compressor. "This allows contractors to offer their customers the benefits of temperature and humidity control, quieter operation, and superior efficiency. The two-stage compressor design also allows for easy installation with only two additional wires that connect to the compressor," said Adam Schuster, manager of product marketing and development, Rheem Air Conditioning Division.

Developing any new compressor technology is definitely a collaborative effort between the compressor manufacturer and the OEMs. Emerson designed UltraTech based on the needs of the OEMs in terms of performance goals - basically the claims manufacturers want to make with their systems regarding efficiency, reliability, and comfort.

"Obviously, the No. 1 request is more comfort, followed closely by reliability," said John Schneider, director of residential marketing, Copeland Air Conditioning Division. "Some OEMs have special requests for their system needs, and they'll work directly with our engineers during product development. For example, the efficiency of UltraTech is needed for 13 SEER package units, so we developed a line of products to meet the needs of these applications."


This high-end compressor also provides benefits to the contractor, such as reliability. "Our research findings showed that a segment of homeowners is most interested in reliability," said Schneider. "They want something that will last. Being able to sell a system that is inherently more reliable helps benefit the contractor, because it then lives up to the reliability standards that they expect."

Another benefit the UltraTech can offer the contractor is its Comfort Alert™ diagnostic module, which is installed in the outdoor unit's electrical box and can diagnose a variety of compressor and system problems. With Comfort Alert, the compressor basically acts as a sensor, monitoring and analyzing system performance data and relaying that information to the appropriate White-Rodgers® thermostat. This helps technicians quickly figure out system problems and improve diagnostic accuracy.

Lashar is a fan of Comfort Alert, noting that studies have shown that as many as 33 percent of compressor failures are misdiagnosed. "With the Comfort Alert system, fault codes specify where problems exist, allowing technicians to rely more on precise data as opposed to their own deductions. This is beneficial for homeowners, because they won't be put in a position to potentially pay for an unnecessary repair or equipment replacement," he said. "With the advent of the Comfort Alert system, our experienced technicians improved their compressor failure diagnosis success rate from 67 percent to 100 percent."

Rheem incorporated Emerson’s Comfort Alert option in its JEZ models for numerous reasons, including the fact that it allows less experienced technicians to troubleshoot more accurately and achieve reduced callbacks allowing contractors to optimize their most experienced technicians’ time. (Courtesy of Rheem)
Rheem is also enthusiastic about the Comfort Alert system, and the company is putting it on an integrated control board on its JEZ models to enhance their reliability and troubleshooting capabilities. "If a malfunction occurs, the Comfort Control System quickly guides technicians to the root cause of the problem, resulting in less time per service call lowering the homeowner's service costs and improving contractor resource productivity," said Schuster. "No special tools or investment is needed to diagnose problems. This allows less-experienced technicians to troubleshoot more accurately and achieve reduced callbacks allowing contractors to optimize their most experienced technicians' time." (See this week's page 1 article "Smart Diagnostics Help Technicians Look Good.")

Emerson Climate Technologies views communicating systems as one of the next big trends in the industry. Schneider noted that system components that are networked to talk to each other can offer contractors many benefits, including easier installation and setup. "These systems autoconfigure themselves, so you don't have to adjust blower settings manually in the field. It's all automated. That will significantly help contractors in terms of installation, and it will also enable them to more easily sell those benefits to the homeowner who is looking for better comfort, efficiency, and reliability."

While the UltraTech compressor with its diagnostics module is currently only available in high-end products, it is gradually working its way into mid-range products as well. That's because compressor manufacturers are always developing more advanced technologies for the higher end of the market. As that occurs, UltraTech will come to play a greater role in the middle of the market.

What might those next advanced technologies be? Compressor manufacturers play it close to the vest, but Schneider conceded that the next breakthrough will be a more integrated systems solution.

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Publication date: 06/26/2006