From smart sensors and virtual reality headsets to remote command centers and tools that speak to each other, the pursuit of high-efficiency connectivity was a pervasive and inescapable theme at the 70th annual International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition, aka the 2018 AHR Expo.
Held Jan. 22-24 in Chicago’s sprawling McCormick Place Convention Center, this year’s mammoth show set records for exhibitors (2,155) — including an unprecedented 660 international exhibitors — exhibition space (534,080 sq ft), and attendees. According to show managers, the total of 72,075 easily topped last year’s record-setting tally in Las Vegas of 68,615. Of note, the number of international attendees this year also was expected to climb past last year’s rough total of 11,000.
“We can say without a doubt that this was our biggest show yet—a record in every way,” noted a pleased Clay Stevens, owner and operator of the AHR Expo since 2009. In one capacity or another, Stevens has now been involved with the show for 50 years. “We’ve outgrown New York and Dallas now, so the only cities that can accommodate us are Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Atlanta, the site of next year’s show,” he added.
This year’s event pulsed with palpable optimism on a crowded show floor that seemed to stretch for miles. In fact, on Day Three, one attendee told me that, according to his Fitbit, he had walked 11 miles since the show opened!
“This year’s Expo just had a great buzz,” said Brian Morrison, a senior product marketing manager for LENOX Tools, a division of Stanley Black & Decker. “I think the turnout is an ongoing reflection of the high demand for innovation in the HVAC/R marketplace.”
“People were very interested in innovation last year, I thought,” observed Udi Meirav, CEO of enVerid Systems Inc., a maker of energy-efficient, HVAC load reduction (HLR) rooftop units. His firm both exhibited and presented at this year’s show. “The sense I had this year is that people really wanted to see the results, the proof behind the claims made last year,” added Meirav, noting that he felt confident enVerid had met that challenge.
Of course, in terms of Big Data, we are now in a golden age of “proof.” Indeed, there has never been so much evidence, gathered 24/7, demonstrating continuously the performance and value of individual products, entire building systems, and even interconnected smart cities. Touting “the power of the connected”, industrial technology giant Honeywell demonstrated how its cloud-based, building management program Outcome-Based Service (OBS) now extends to mechanical systems. Building on the service’s core HVAC controls monitoring, the new module uses data analytics and sensor-based Internet of Things connectivity to monitor the health and performance of mechanical equipment. As a result, operations engineers can detect remotely and oversee health and safety situations that might involve fire, flooding, even ‘active shooter’ scenarios.
Since such critical life/safety data, and other essential operational information demands 24/7 attention, Honeywell also emphasized that its expanded Command Control Suite (CCS) is offered with “100% open service availability.”
Indeed, where technology competitors once sought ways to lock in their customers to closed systems with exclusive parts and services, the prevailing goal now is to remove all potential hurdles to functionality.
“Our vision is a world where critical technologies always work,” proclaimed exhibitor Vertiv, a $4-billion spinoff of Emerson Electric focused on designing, building and servicing infrastructure for data centers, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities.
“It’s a whole new world out there now,” said Kevin McNamara, SVP for Air Conditioning Technologies with LG Electronics USA. “Seamless connections are what’s important, so the biggest difference we see now in all products is this emphasis on connectivity,” he added.
Toward that end, among other new products released at AHR Expo, LG promoted its new Wi-Fi capable and controllable SmartThinQ app, which was introduced at Greenbuild in Boston last fall. The app offers users the freedom to control not only the indoor temperature and air quality of their connected homes, but it also links with other devices as refrigerators, ranges, washing machines, and robotic vacuums. “And we put this on a neutral platform, so it can all be done through your phone,” added McNamara.
Still, as user-friendly as the technologies have become, LG also noted that it is putting new emphasis on certifying contractors that install, operate and maintain its products. “That education piece for the contractor is key,” said McNamara, adding that the home renovation market is expected to boom over the next 20 years.
With a similar mindset, Armstrong Fluid Technology unveiled its own slate of new products, led by new pump manager software connected via IBM Watson solution. Because the firm is so motivated to bring its customers up to speed with the newer, more energy-efficient technology, it announced at AHR Expo that it was offering its new software free for a year with every new pump order. “We want people to see the value of real, live connectivity first, and then we’ll talk,” explained Neil Cooper, Armstrong’s director of global sales enablement. “We have seen some countries go in and out of the Paris Climate Accords, but we feel that this is evidence of our continuing global commitment to sustainability.”
- "I'm not really a business man, I just run a business," said Johnny Hazen White Jr., executive chairman of Taco Comfort Solutions. "I just LOVE this company, so it's always been fun."
While the AHR Expo teemed with activity in the exhibit halls, educational sessions also drew healthy crowds in nearby meeting rooms. One particularly popular seminar on "Intelligent Buildings" focused on a $130,000 research study recently conducted for the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). Conducted by the research firm of Frost & Sullivan, the survey gleaned 655 responses from building owners in the U.S. and Canada.
First, Frost & Sullivan presenter Nabeel Parkar offered a working definition. “An intelligent building has two or more integrated and interoperable systems that aid in intelligent decision-making regarding its operational state at present and in the future,” he explained. Of note, he said lighting and HVAC systems are expected to lead an overall growth rate of 46 percent over the next two to three years.
According to the survey, two key hurdles to greater building automation and implementation today include first, the exclusion of building owners and occupants, and second, contractors with little knowledge of intelligent building products being given too much control of such systems.
Conversely, the key to successful implementation is getting building owners and project partners included from the very first stages of the project, defining goals and establishing metrics. Oddly, only 30 percent of those surveyed are using these best practices now.
CABA President Ron Zimmer estimated that there are already more than 300 different systems that can be connected in an intelligent building. Also, he noted, intelligent buildings have the added value of greater employee retention. How so? Employees either want to stay in their company’s smarter building or transfer to it if they are located elsewhere.
Chicago freelance writer Nichole Reber contributed to this story, as well as other Informa show coverage.
For more from our February issue, view the digital edition here.