You have probably heard of smart technologies before. The word on the street is that "smart" is coming to a world near you. Here's one example of how your life may change: Smart cards are positioned to change the way financial transactions are conducted. Chips implanted with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that can send even wireless signals are expected to displace magnetic stripes in traditional credit cards within seven years. That's pretty cool. However, for once, the sleepy HVAC industry is ahead of the curve.

Smarter equipment in the form of rooftop units, chillers, boilers, air conditioners and heat pumps, diagnostic tools, and temperature controls have been in the market for a number of years. However, the early adoption phase has passed - now, mainstream contractors are jumping on the bandwagon and finding themselves in need of more information about how to install, service, maintain, and sell the technologies present in the marketplace.

Smart HVAC is a phrase The NEWS has adopted as we introduce a period of time during which a major trend in the industry will be the adoption by contractors of ever-more sophisticated tools, equipment, and processes.

Self-diagnostics contained in equipment have been the first exposure for many contractors. You are already familiar with LED displays and blinking lights that indicate various equipment faults. Of course, diagnostic technology is becoming more sophisticated than just a few blinking lights. Electronic messages can be transmitted directly from equipment to computer laptops indicating a trouble spot in a comfort system; service technicians can know exactly which compressor or pump is down before they walk in the front door; and inventory control has reached previously unfathomable heights of sophistication.

Fred Thal, president of Feature Group USA, and a regular contributor to The NEWS' Distributor Corner section, discussed this scenario in the Aug. 7 issue.

"A contractor pulls out a PDA (Treo or Smart phone), waves it past the unit, and automatically captures a model and serial number that tells the phone and the distributor everything necessary to be knowledgeable about the unit."

That's right - ‘tells ... the distributor everything ...' Of course, the contractor receives valuable information on site, but the technology will allow communication of inventory requirements directly to a distributor that can be quickly processing an order for a part to be delivered to the jobsite.

Wait, there's more according to Thal.

"In fact, the contractor has complete technical specs at his fingertips. If the manufacturer hasn't built in a chip that analyzes the problem automatically, then the contractor will resolve the problem. The unit chip helps the contractor select the necessary parts, click the order button, and order parts from the distributor.

If a part happens to be out of stock, the contractor is given immediate notification of when it can be expected. If the order can be filled, the contractor receives a projected delivery time. Time savings are in the neighborhood of 30 percent for the contractor."

As HVAC contractors constantly look for ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, it is imperative to thoroughly understand the Smart HVAC technologies available today, and those that are just around the corner.

You'll be seeing much more of Smart HVAC in coming issues. If you want a taste of things to come, check out "Equipment Evolution Ignites Diagnostic Trend," by Angela Harris in this issue.

Publication date: 11/13/2006