Where HVAC Meets IoT
The Las Vegas Convention Center was buzzing with excitement as the 2017 AHR Expo opened its doors Monday morning. With 2,000+ exhibitors and 100's of free seminars, it was almost overwhelming the amount of knowledge being crammed into one building.
Working for GoCanvas, a company whose goal is to automate how work is done, our mission at the expo was to identify the movement of the industry and the ways that we could better incorporate our platform to further increase efficiency for our current and existing HVAC customers.
Key highlights from our two days at the 2017 AHR Expo:
Building Automation is the Present and the Future
This was one of the major themes observed in the various seminars. Businesses are looking for a way to leverage technology as a means to better manage their facilities and the expensive HVAC equipment within them. Many of the new products coming onto the market - whether they be boilers, chillers, blowers, pumps - are all coming equipped with Wi-Fi enabled sensors that can "talk" to technicians and let them know when an issue occurs or is no longer working at peak performance. This type of technology allows for facility managers to be more pro-active about the servicing of their HVAC equipment and ensuring that small issues don't snowball and cause a drop in performance.
Below is an example of what Mitsubishi has brought to the HVAC market. Their smart heat pump allows for facility managers of large or small buildings to instantly view, control, and manage heating/cooling needs for various units - all from their phone. They can even set minimum and maximum temperatures for each room or unit, and the heat pump will auto-adjust to fit those parameters if exceeded. This is just one example of how technology is increasing automation within HVAC, and in particular, facility management.
Sensors, Sensors, Sensors!
One of the biggest surprises for me was seeing the mass adoption of "smart sensors" throughout the HVAC industry. The concept of the "Internet of Things" or IoT, was a major point of emphasis for both HVAC distributors as well as partners. It touches upon the idea that more companies than ever are wanting access to as much data as they can get their hands on, as fast as possible. Whether they be for pressure, humidity, temperature, etc --- companies want access to this data in real-time without having to manually measure it themselves. The ability to make informed decisions such as "We need to fix or replace part XYZ immediately because we're not hitting the minimum performance standards" can save a company thousands of dollars in energy costs on a monthly basis.
With the emergence of smart sensors and IoT, the HVAC industry is beginning to shift into the world of predictive maintenance, remote diagnostics, and much more. Enterprises like Emerson, Samsung, and Johnson Controls are causing the "tech disruption" of the old school ways of approaching HVAC. In the coming years, technicians will know immediately what is wrong, where it's wrong, and how to fix it using the right parts. There will be significantly less productivity wasted on tracking down the source of issues with the introduction of smart sensors in HVAC.
The Importance of Data & Analytics
The theme of "Big Data" was prevalent among everything at the expo, but with the rise of IoT and devices like smart sensors, how do we ensure that we use the data that we capture efficiently? It was consistently preached that the goal of implementing "smart HVAC" equipment was not that it looks cooler or can give you all the data you want instantly, but that it can substantially increase your overall productivity.
This is of huge importance since the U.S. finds itself in the lowest period of labor productivity growth since the 1970's. But with sensors sending you data to your fingertips in a matter of seconds, it can be very easy for companies to become overwhelmed and not know where to focus. One speaker pointed out that "Analytics can tell us what is wrong and what we should work on, but communication actually gets things done". This is an amazing point.
We can have all this data on what needs to be done to fix an issue, but if that data isn't properly communicated to the right parties -- in this case the HVAC or maintenance technicians -- then nothing actually gets completed. For data to be valuable, it must be put in the hands of the people who can actually use it and not just sitting on a computer screen.
Keep this in mind as your company begins to explore "smart tech" for your business, whether it be HVAC or beyond. Data is great to have, but the proper communication of it is essential.
I would highly encourage anyone who works or is connected to the HVAC industry to attend the AHR Expo in the future!
And if you would like to learn how GoCanvas has helped 100's of HVAC companies like Burner Corp increase their efficiency by 62%, click here!