In early February, the leading manufacturers in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R) industry will descend on Orlando for the AHR Expo. This annual event is the world’s largest HVAC-R exposition and a showplace for some of the most innovative and exciting HVAC technologies in development and on the market. It’s also an incredible opportunity to see the future of the HVAC industry on display.
One of the most interesting and exciting new technologies being exhibited at this year’s conference isn’t an HVAC device – but rather a motor that can be installed inside HVAC devices. Infinitum Electric has pioneered a new printed circuit board (PCB) motor that’s a third of the size and weight of conventional motors while delivering class-leading efficiency and IoT capabilities. It literally has next generation IoT and data collection capabilities baked right in.
The industry is so excited about this cheaper, lighter and more efficient motor that three of the largest equipment manufacturers in their marketplace – Twin City Fans, Comefri and ACME Fan – have purchase agreements in place to collectively buy all of their products when they’re available in June.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down the company’s founder and CEO, Ben Schuler, to talk about the trends that are redefining the HVAC industry – including the emergence of cloud-connected and smarter devices and the rise of HVAC as a Service (HVACaaS) – and how Infinitum Electric’s new motors are uniquely designed and built to advance those initiatives for equipment manufacturers.
Here is what he had to say:
Modern Equipment Manufacturer (MEM): Can you tell our readers a little bit about Infinitum Electric? How are the company’s motors different from the ones currently used in HVAC devices?
Ben Schuler: Infinitum was founded in 2016. It was originally an application to harvest waste off of an HVAC system. As we developed that equipment, we found out that the motor was the highest cost item. We decided to find a solution to help cut costs and came up with this new motor design.
Our motors pull all of the copper and iron out of the stator. Instead, we etch all of our copper windings into printed circuit boards. That’s a very unique form factor that plays well into the HVAC marketspace. It allows us to have a smaller, more compact end product.
Since all of the copper windings are already on a circuit board it allows us to implement all of the IoT circuits directly into the motor. Whereas other motor manufacturers have to use aftermarket, strap-on sensor packets, ours are inherently inside of the motor. All of the analytics are generated direct from inside the motor.
We brought this idea back to our shareholders and everyone agreed that this was the better path forward. From there, we raised additional funds, filed for patents and did all of our initial research and development.
Early last year, we raised our Series A round, which allowed us to productize our technology. Then, at the end of last year, we raised our Series B round, which is allowing us to ramp up production and deliver on our orders.
We’ve partnered with three of the largest fan and blower OEMs in the marketplace today, and they have already agreed to purchase – collectively – 100 percent of our production over the next three years in this HVAC segment. However, there are other HVAC applications outside of that segment where we’re still able to deliver our solutions to customers, as well.
MEM: What benefits does an Infinitum Electric motor deliver? Why is this a better alternative for HVAC equipment?
Ben Schuler: Pulling out all of the iron from the core and etching the copper windings into the circuit board allows us to be more efficient, more durable, have a smaller footprint and make our motors at a lower cost, which we pass on to the customer. The design of the motor also helps eliminate acoustic noise. Pulling out the iron eliminates the audible noise that is a problem in many traditional motors – especially in HVAC solutions.
Also, we integrate the control electronics into the housing of the motor, and the motor and the drive are all incorporated into one package. Together – with the motor and the drive – our 15 HP motor is only 70 pounds. A typical 15 HP motor can weigh as much as 300 pounds, without the drive. Since this motor is only 70 pounds, you don’t need a crane to hoist it into position. Finally, the motor is plug-and-play – simply plug it in and it works.
Ultimately, our motor is the smallest, quietest, highest performing product out there.
MEM: There’s a movement to embrace analytics and AI in the HVAC industry. How can Infinitum Electric’s motors advance data analytics and AI initiatives for HVAC manufacturers?
Ben Schuler: Since all of the IoT circuitry is embedded directly into the motor, we can monitor power, voltage, amperage, temperature, pressure and all of the other key elements that play into the AI initiatives and analytics initiatives that we’re seeing across HVAC manufacturers. This allows the manufacturers to better predict when the motor needs maintenance or if there are failures on the horizon.
This is a much more accurate system, as well. Traditionally [manufacturers] had to have an after-market package on the exterior of the motor to generate data for their analytics. We can generate data from directly inside the motor – this makes it extremely accurate.
MEM: In advance of the AHR Expo, we sat down with some of the show organizers and one of the hot topics that came up in that discussion was the evolution of HVACaaS. Why is HVACaaS such a big deal for HVAC companies? How does it benefit equipment owners?
Ben Schuler: I think it’s a trend that many different industries are moving toward. You think of IT hardware – everything from copy machines to networking devices – and every other industry and they’re all moving [towards service offerings]. HVAC is moving in same direction.
The reality is that equipment owners have fewer and fewer resources to manage their own HVAC equipment. Having the manufacturers come in and manage the HVAC equipment allows them to focus on their core competencies and keep their people focused on their mission.
For the equipment manufacturers, they’re getting an extra source of revenue. They’re also getting the opportunity to sell equipment to customers and industries that may not have traditionally been customers for them.
Compare this to IT services 10 years ago. Back then, everyone was trying to ramp up their own IT servers and data centers. Now, you log into AWS, Microsoft or Google and they already have that infrastructure available in the cloud. I’m not saying it’s the same or as easy, but the value proposition and the business model is almost exactly the same.
MEM: In your opinion, is 2020 the year that HVACaaS becomes a reality? What do HVAC manufacturers have to do to make HVACaaS a reality?
Ben Schuler: I think it’s a slower moving market because it requires cloud-based infrastructure. In order to make the equipment owners and manufacturers feel comfortable doing this, you need data and transparency – and that requires cloud connectivity and data harvesting.
For example, the motor installed in the system traditionally was an asset that didn’t deliver any feedback or deliver any data. You were blind to whether it would fail soon or if it was having problems. With the addition of the IoT piece, the asset owner is able to harvest and analyze that data. This gives them the transparency they need to employ the HVACaaS model.
I think it could take a number of years – maybe even as many as five years – for them to start getting their equipment cloud-enabled and begin harvesting the data that they need to make this business model a reality.
MEM: What does Infinitum Electric have planned for this year’s AHR Expo? Are there any exciting announcements or new products that the company will be demonstrating? What can AHR attendees expect from Infinitum Electric this year?
Ben Schuler: This is our second year at AHR and we’ve already won an AHR award in the ventilation segment. That was a great honor to have won that – especially considering the companies we were up against.
In advance of the show, we’ll be announcing that we’re launching production of our IEx Series motor, a 15-horsepower (HP) motor designed for the HVAC plenum fan market. We’ll also be announcing our OEM sales agreements with Twin City Fans, Comefri and ACME Fan. The first shipment of those motors is scheduled for June and we’re currently taking orders for other HVAC applications as well
Aside from those exciting announcements, we’re also looking forward to networking with the other HVAC companies in attendance and seeing what other applications our technology could possibly fit into. In fact, we’re hosting a happy hour at our booth (#7485) on Tuesday Feb. 4, from 2 – 4:30 p.m.
MEM: Speaking of which, what other use cases are there for Infinitum Electric’s motors? What other industries – beside HVAC – do you see the company moving into in the future?
Ben Schuler: There are many other applications out there. Chevron is a big investor of ours, and they’re looking to analyze our technology for some use cases. Our technology is inherently spark proof, making it explosion proof and useful for a number of oil and natural gas implementations. I think we’ll have a product for that marketplace in the next 12 months or so.
Also, there are use cases for aerospace and electric vehicles. Pulling the iron out of the motor drastically cuts weight and the motors are quieter, making them perfect for those industries. These motors could be used as propulsion or auxiliarymotors in cars and planes. They could also be used to power drones. We’re actively looking for partners in that area.
To learn more about the rise of HVACaaS and its impact on the HVAC industry, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the eBook, “The HVAC as a Service Revolution.”