While many people anticipate the holidays because of the gifts, joy and togetherness it brings them with friends and family, the thought leaders and equipment manufacturers in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) industries get excited about the holidays for another reason. They mean that the world’s largest HVAC-focused conference, AHR, is right around the corner.
This year’s AHR Expo will be taking place in Orlando, Florida, from February 3-5, and the timing couldn’t be better. The HVAC industry is poised for massive change thanks to a number of converging trends, initiatives, innovations and technological advancements.
A demand for smarter, more connected devices is not only making it easier and more convenient for equipment owners to monitor and manage their devices, it’s opening the door for HVAC equipment manufacturers to embrace revolutionary HVAC as a Service (HVACaaS) initiatives. Simultaneously, green initiatives and call for sustainability and environmental stewardship are requiring industry leaders to embrace change for the sake of the planet.
To learn more about these trends and what they mean for the industry, we recently sat down with Mark Stevens, the Show Manager for the AHR Expo. But Mark didn’t come alone. He was joined in our discussion by members of the AHR Expo’s Expert Council – Luke Leung the Director of Sustainable Engineering at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, and Nicolas Waern, the CEO of Winniio and a digital transformation expert.
Here is what they had to say:
Modern Equipment Manufacturer (MEM): AHR 2020 is fast approaching. What are some of the trends and new technologies that you anticipate will be major topics of discussion and focus at this year’s event?
Mark Stevens: In general, there is a shift in thinking more about the relationship between humans and the indoor environment. Professionals from all sectors of HVACR are thinking about what it means in terms of healthy buildings, healthy people and healthy environment. We expect to see new techs and products with this in mind – via IoT, sensors, data collection, control, etc.
Also, January marks the North American phase out of Refrigerant R22 so we’ll be hearing discussion about alternatives for that. There are also many tool manufacturers and service providers joining us that are thinking smarter about the actual professional in the field – making their job easier with tools that support all environments and conditions they’re out working in.
Our recent Economic Survey + Trend Report is a great source to learn more about what is happening in the industry currently. I’d encourage your readers to download it.
MEM: We’re starting to see the term HVAC as a Service bandied around the industry, and there are even dedicated HVACaaS-focused side sessions this year. What is HVACaaS? Why is it such a big deal for HVAC manufacturers?
Mark Stevens: We see the subscription type services working all around us in just about every market now, so it was just a matter of time before we were thinking about it in relation to HVACR.
I think, as I discussed, everyone is thinking more about open communication and wanting to know more. Customers want to know the efficiency and performance of their systems – in the same idea as the smart home – and connecting through the HVACaaS model allows for this.
On the building owner’s side, it allows them to keep a closer eye on where their costs are, either using it as a tool to reduce energy usage – which is being regulated in some cases – or to manage maintenance reporting and costs.
Nicolas Waern: HVACaaS allows professionals to extend their offering and deliver it to more companies in need of a specific skill set. Today, most manufacturers leave a lot of money on the table in the sense that they have no connection to customers after point of sale.
[With HVACaas] there is the potential to introduce Over the Air (OTA) updates that will generate money through the entire life-cycle, which will benefit OEMs as well as customers over time. This could also possibly extend the life of products, which will benefit a better world.
There are also benefits for the R&D department in understanding of how to build better products.
MEM: What are the technologies that have opened the door for HVAC manufacturers to start transitioning to becoming services companies? What was needed to make that transition possible? What types of services do you anticipate or envision them offering?
Mark Stevens: This is multi-tiered. The introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) allowed for communication sharing like we are seeing now. We also have the open source connections through various protocols – Lonmark, BACnet, Z-Wave, etc. But speaking further down the line, you have to have a workforce that is trained to use the technology, interpret the data and translate it into actionable items. From this aspect, we see the introduction of service providers from other industries.
Luke Leung: IoT and the cloud have enabled access to data, and sensors are now available at a lower cost. This transition needed inexpensive data, IoT, change in organization and even AI. Depending on the manufacturer, it can ultimately be the investor, designer, manufacturer and facility manager of the equipment value chain.
Nicolas Waern: As to what Luke said, protocols simplifying data collection and interoperability between vendors, such as BACnet and others [was essential]. The transition required a change in mindset. Better quality data and tagging standards to make it possible to do analytics at a much more rapid pace than in the past. Lowering the threshold of adoption through plug and play offerings was also essential.
Opening up the data for others to innovate with through-ecosystem thinking was important. We can see that there will be massive innovation when data is shared. It’s like answering what apps could be made on top of a smartphone, when the first app-store was built – the possibilities are almost endless.
MEM: How will HVACaaS benefit the manufacturers? How will it benefit equipment owners and operators?
Mark Stevens: The more information and data you collect, the smarter you can be in improving the design and use of your products and technologies. That works for everyone, manufacturer, owner, operator, technician, and even the customer.
Creating a link between owners and operators is a way to strengthen the relationship so you’re “communicating” more frequently, rather than just when something goes wrong. I think it is also an opportunity to strengthen trust in business relationships because the data is all there and accessible.
Luke Leung: [Manufacturers] can expand the value chain to be much closer with their clients, gaining a feedback loop. They can be part of equity investing, have a stake in the operation of the building, etc. For owners and operators, they can have more informed people regarding the equipment running the facility.
Nicolas Waern: I 100 percent agree that it can change a lot of how business is being done today. Companies have the opportunity to transform one or more aspects of how they do business. For manufacturers, it allows them to help customers in a different way and give granular insights into why things are happening. This will benefit equipment owners and operators in guaranteed uptime from the manufacturers, as well as help with troubleshooting, preferably in a predictable manner.
An example from the Connected Truck segment by Volvo Trucks, where customers subscribe to either bronze, silver, or gold packages. The OEM guarantees a level of uptime for the trucks. Sensors talk back to Volvo, helping them build better trucks, as well as offering uptime as a service for their customers. This will result in happier employees, more predictable ways of working and 100 percent satisfaction with Service Level Agreements to customers.
MEM: Is there anything new or different that is planned for this year’s AHR event?
Mark Stevens: This year we have more entries for the Innovation Awards than ever before, which speaks volumes about the industry and just how much forward-moving change is happening. We’ve formed a Council of Experts and you’ll see them in our Education Program speaking about trends and how they relate to the future of HVACR.
We also have the addition of a Podcast Pavilion this year where we’ll host some of the industry podcasters as they broadcast from the show. Some of our industry publications will be doing the same from their booths on the floor.
Our Economic Survey + Trend Report included responses from some of our industry associations, and many of them have exciting things in the pipeline. All around I think this year is going to be an exciting one.
To learn more about HVACaaS, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the eBook, “The HVACaaS Revolution.” For additional information about the upcoming AHR Expo, or to register online, click HERE.