AHR Busting at the Seams

By Staff February 1, 2006

It seemed no matter whom one talked with at the AHR Expo in Chicago last month, two themes kept coming up: economy of space and ease of installation. On top of that, two technologies also seemed to garner a lion’s share of attention: ductless air conditioning and BACnet.

While Davis Watkins, VP of sales and marketing, Applied Product Division, Sanyo, concedes that the U.S. is a “ducted society,” he definitely sees inroads for ductless AC, such as in health-care facilities, schools and commercial expansions. One of the main advantages, he explained, is that individual units can create separate temperatures for separate areas via a central control location or individual units. In addition, ductless units make a plug-and-play scenario very simple from a controls standpoint.

Several other ductless mini-split variable refrigerant flow (VRF) products were introduced at the show by a number of international manufacturers including Daikin and Mitsubishi, although ComfortStar, with it’s blue-haired, silver-booted dancers, generated plenty of peeks at their booth. These systems have been popular in Europe and Asia for many years, and now, these companies all seem to be pushing to break into the North American market at one and the same time.

According to Russell Tavolacci, Daikin’s director of product marketing, one big benefit of the technology is eliminating long refrigeration lines. It’s also a quiet system, as compressors are located externally. Furthermore, air-handling units operate independently, allowing for zoning. It’s also good for retrofits, which is exactly what they’re using these units for on campus at MIT, mostly in classrooms and offices, but some labs as well.

As far as BACnet, which, of course, is the building automation protocol developed by ASHRAE, the show featured a new exhibitor—BACnet International—which is the result of the merger of the former BACnet Interest Group, North America and the BACnet Manufacturers’ Assn. The groups first announced their merger in October, but formalized the agreement just before the show.

But even away from the BACnet pavilion, there were a number of other manufacturers exhibiting BACnet-compatibility in their products. Eaton Electrical, for example, displayed its new drives with models that included its “IntelliPass” bypass and a new BACnet adapter that enables its drives to support a variety of communication protocols.

In keeping with the pseudo-futuristic theme that was an undercurrent at the show, Johnson Controls, in a very Jetson’s-like booth, showed off a lot of embedded wireless technology. But they also debuted a family of new BACnet-compatible field controllers for its Metasys building management system. Some of the cool new features of the device include finite state-base technology and continuous-tuning adaptive control that essentially provides a BAS with an automatic transmission. This technology is exclusive to the new BACnet controllers.

Honeywell also introduced a BACnet-compliant, web-enabled control system for HVAC called ComfortPoint. The system features a family of BACnet controllers and a simplified interface that give consulting engineers and building managers a flexible, cost-effective platform for monitoring and managing HVAC equipment from a variety of vendors.

Back on the drive front, the marketing of BACnet compliance was so important to ABB that the manufacturer pointed out its ACH550 drive is the only drive tested by and listed with the BACnet Testing Laboratories.

But BACnet compliance was not the only trend affecting drives, or other HVAC equipment, for that matter. Conservation of space came up over and over. Honeywell boasted a series of small footprint drives whose integrated, but compact assemblies were the result of customer need for improved ease of installation and access. The assemblies are significantly narrower than previous models, helping to alleviate mechanical room space constraints while putting the VFD keypad/display within easy reach and sight.

Other drive makers who showed at AHR pitched their products in the same way. Schneider Electric’s Altivar 21 and 61 were offered as tools for energy-efficiency compliance with the EPAct legislation.

Eaton’s HVX series of variable drives for HVAC, pump and fluid control applications also boasts that they have the world’s smallest drive and bypass package. Elsewhere, Eaton showed several new contactors and starters for HVAC equipment that are all about economy of space. In fact, they’ve been able to adapt a 50-amp unit into a 30-amp frame.

And new models with small footprints wasn’t limited to drives. Reps from ITT argued the same thing about recent pump designs. The company’s new VSX series was researched for seven months. With input from owners, contractors and engineers, pump designers came up with a product that would offer the smallest footprint—to make the most efficient use of mechanical room space—along with other new features such as website data monitoring

But along with size, another major consideration was ease of installation. And this is why Eaton designers are trying to standardize parts. “Commonality of spare parts means that if a guy can program one, he can program them all,” said Eaton’s Mark Borski.

Perhaps the most interesting development with drives had little to do with size, efficiency or BACnet compliance. Electrostatic Technology showed a product that helps prevent the pitting of drive-assisted motor bearings (see this month’s How To for more).

Shifting gears, the booth of boiler and hot water heater manufacturer AERCO was a popular destination. The company announced it is expanding its Benchmark 2 line with a 3-million BTU/hr. capacity. The demo unit’s fairly small footprint was impressive—only 8 in. deeper than the 2.0 unit.

“The 2.0 will be 10 years old this year, so with the 3.0, we’re really taking that proven performance, and offering it in a unit with much greater capacity,” said Georgeann Russo.

On the other side of the coin, the company is also offering new smaller and modular units ranging from 300,000 BTU to a million BTU capacity. Russo said these Modulex units offer the opportunity for greater load diversity with better turndown control via four independent burners. It’s also very quiet and thus suitable for facilities such as schools or banks.

The world of building automation is also in hot water, so to speak. AERCO also announced all its steam-to-water and water-to-water heaters come equipped with a new Modbus-based electronic control system and actuator as a standard configuration, for even tighter temperature control.

Another notable demonstration on the show floor—Fluke’s new Ti-20 thermal imager. Last year the instrumentation company got into the IAQ world with the introduction of its Ti-30 thermal imager which launched with a price tag of about $100,000. According to Fluke’s Larry Wilson, the product is selling like crazy, but the idea of the Ti-20 is to bring the price point down, while still keeping the bulk of the other’s easy-to-use features. The bottom line is that the scaled down version goes for $6,500 for those on a budget.