Innovations from AHR Expo: Small-footprint Drives, Ductless Air and BACnet

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff January 30, 2006

No matter who one talked with at the AHR Expo, the same themes kept coming up: economy of space and ease of installation. And two technologies in particular were receiving much attention: ductless air conditioning and BACnet compliance.

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 ducted AC, such as in health-care facilities, schools and commercial expansions. One of the main advantages, he explained at last week’s AHR Expo, 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 by foreign manufacturers: Haier, Daikin and Mitsubishi, among others. 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.

Eaton Corporation, Moon Township, Pa., was showing 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, because this is what customers want: space savings.

Eaton has also expanded its line of drives with models that the IntelliPass bypass and a new BACnet adapter, enabling the manufacturer’s drives to support a variety of communication protocols. The HVX series of variable drives for HVAC, pump and fluid control applications also boasts that it is the world’s smallest drive and bypass package.

But along with size, another major consideration was easy 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.

In other BACnet news, Johnson Controls , Milwaukee, has expanded the open architecture of its Metasys building management system with a family of BACnet-compatible field controllers and embedded wireless technology. 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. The company introduced this expanded system at the 2006 AHR Expo.

And speaking of drives and BACnet, ABB , which was showing its top-of-the-line ACH550 drive, reminded visitors that the product is the only drive that is tested by and listed with the BACnet Testing Laboratories.

Honeywell , Minneapolis, 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. ComfortPoint complements the company’s existing LON-based HVAC offerings.

On the drive front, Honeywell also boasted a series of drives with a small footprint. The company’s newly designed line of integrated and more compact NEMA 1 VFD/Bypass Assemblies was the result of customer need for improved ease of installation and access. The assemblies are said to be significantly narrower than previous models, helping to alleviate mechanical room space constraints while putting the VFD keypad/display within easy reach and sight. Heights of all units range from 40 to 62 in.

Other drive makers who showed at AHR were pitching their drive products in the same way. Schneider Electric has a new HVAC drive products–Altivar 21 and 61–which are offered as tools for energy-efficiency compliance with the EPAct legislation.

It didn’t really matter what the product was. The theme of space conservation came up over and over. For example, ITT was arguing 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, the pump designers came up with a design 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 and wireless sensors.