What's next for the HVACR industry? CCN hosts a roundtable discussion with industry executives to discuss the biggest trends and challenges of tomorrow.
Roundtable participants included: CAREL CEO (APAC Sth Region), Kevin Marr; ABB HVAC segment manager (Drives), Paul Burrows; and Polaris Technologies director, Tony Power.
CCN: What do you think are the biggest trends impacting HVAC right now?
Marr: Natural refrigerants, energy saving and connectivity (IoT)
Power: Clearly in the Polaris part of the world it is energy efficiency and climate impact.
A lot of energy and deeply concerned individuals are looking at how we can best change the do nothing approach. The large refrigeration sector is well ahead with transmittal CO2 and low charge ammonia systems, some of this is world leading Australian technology. HVAC unfortunately seems to be doing some catch up particularly on the predictive maintenance and energy management side. If we don’t take some serious action now the HVAC&R industry will become part of the problem.
CCN: Where are we heading?
Burrows: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), AI and machine learning, will enable greater engagement between tenant and building. In future, our smarter buildings will actively extend into some of the promised concepts of smart cities where our buildings communicate with each other and other infrastructure. In particular I see greater connection with our utilities, to offer new mechanisms to schedule, reduce and smooth demand on primary generation, which in turn will lower cost and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. One thing is for sure, we are all in a race to commercialise technology and lead the market in an increasingly digitalised world.
CCN: How is your company addressing these trends and challenges?
Marr: CAREL is investing in all three of the trends I mentioned and applying it to solution development. This requires not only product development competence, but also application knowledge to fully understand the market, and to offer complete solutions in a plug and play approach for OEM’s.
Often these solutions combine all three of the major trends. For example our HECU CO2 condensing unit control solution development, which enables our OEM partners to introduce high efficiency BLDC compressor technology, natural refrigerants as well as offering the market connectivity for services and monitoring.
Power: Our approach has been to go head-on with the phaseout of HFCs, we utilize natural refrigerant in our systems. No GWP problem here and we hope that others will follow. However, in the small capacity HVAC market there seems to be some resistance in Australia.
Burrows: We recently released our new dedicated HVAC family of drives ACH580 into the market. These new drives feature an intuitive graphical control panel with optional Bluetooth connectivity; there is additional motor technology support for asynchronous motors including the very high efficiency Synchronous Reluctance motors. There is more data than ever available from the drive – they are getting so smart that they virtually commission themselves. Later this year we will launch our ABB Ability Digital Powertrain – a suite of wireless sensors that mount on the fan or pump, motor, and drive bearings that together with the variable speed drive and a suite of software and services, drive efficiency and reliability of rotating equipment. My favourite app is ABB Drivetune which is capable of connecting to drives wirelessly up to 75m away; a feature which often makes commissioning and balancing HVAC air and water systems faster and more cost efficient.
CCN: What is your focus in Australia?
Marr: CAREL invests approx 7% of consolidated turnover into R&D, this R&D is very focussed on these main drivers in the market today and allow us to drive innovation. This combined with our geographical expansion – to be closer to our customers - will help the sharing of these technologies. In Australia we are already well regarded for our support of these new technologies but we are accelerating our application and solution knowledge through structured internal global training courses.
Power: We have developed some unique small HVAC systems - low GWP and no outdoor unit, it's still early days but the response has been immediate and positive. Our Australian team live and breath innovation and we look at holes in HVAC and the old methods and we fill them. There is a lot of interesting new science out there.
With our partners we are working on some extraordinary HVAC technologies. We are entering the Global Cooling Prize and expect a good result! Going forward we see opportunities in Australia with our innovative ideas that should make us recession proof, we never want to be another 'me too' split system supplier.
We are the new kid on the block in Australia even though the run up has been six years. We believe this gives us an advantage in getting our story out there although some might say its a disadvantage. To remain competitive it is important to differentiate and keep margins high. We are doing that with products that architects, specifiers and customers can understand and need. We are fully Australian owned and technologies are all home grown including the Engas refrigerant that we use.
Burrows: In Australia as in many parts of the world, we support the HVAC industry via a dedicated network of ABB Authorised Value Partners. Our partners have in-depth knowledge of local markets, are conversant with ABB products and deliver services in seamless cooperation with ABB. To become an ABB AVP, our partners complete both core and advanced training programs available through a combination of resources online and through face to face programs. At the core of ABB’s strategy is the customer. We continuously look for feedback which influences what we do in the development of products and services.
CCN: What do you think are the biggest concerns for customers and how is your company addressing them?
Marr: Energy saving with higher performance, together with refrigerant uncertainty and decreasing field skill availability. These are common discussions we are having with industry stakeholders. Through our investments in our knowledge we are keeping close to the market challenges, to provide solutions for all the main trends. We are not just promoting single solutions, but allowing the customer to choose the right path for themselves.
We are addressing the skills availability issue through the development of these plug and play user focussed solutions enabling faster adoption of the technology both in R&D and the field.
Power: We see a call for value as always, however climate impact is clearly very high on the customer wish list.
Often our first enquiry from a client, or Architect is around GWP and the Green (I hate that word) credentials. Design features and system advantages come second. Customer service, particularly manufacturers support, can be fairly sad in Australia. Customers see that and comment. At Polaris we try to love our customers to death at every contact point. At the end of the day customers want value, performance, and to understand what they have purchased. The HFC phase down needs to be explained too as there is often some anxiety there as well.
Burrows: Facility managers and building occupants want their HVAC systems to run reliably and efficiently, so they can focus on their core activities. ABB products and services allow our customers to take their HVAC comfort for granted. We keep our customers safe.