Ever since I became an editor working for an HVAC trade magazine, I’ve heard this industry described as being very mature. Back in 1984, I was just four years out of college, and the world of mechanical systems revolved around products and services that are still familiar today: boilers, chillers, air handlers, piping, valves, actuators, dampers, pneumatic controls, etc.
New construction was king and there was a lot of money to be made in the plan/spec world. As a young man just starting out, I wondered what the “cool factor” was for this industry. Frankly, from my well of inexperience, I really didn’t understand the technology and no one really talked about it in terms that made me really want to understand it. At least, not at first.
As the years rolled and my understanding grew, I learned to appreciate the very good work that this industry provides. And of course, like all of you, I witnessed so many changes—to our world, our industry, our society, our environment—and I witnessed the “cool factor” emerge. As control technology changed from pneumatics to direct digital controls and the Internet became part of our everyday life, our entire industry evolved. Buildings got smarter. Equipment got smarter. The marketplace got leaner. The dollars for new-construction projects dried up and the service-replacement business went gangbusters.
A few weeks ago, I attended the ISH 2013 event in Germany. It is a trade show focused on plumbing, building, energy, air conditioning technology, as well as renewable energies, that is held every other year in Frankfurt. For those of you who’ve never attended it, think of ISH as the AHR Expo times 12.
Seriously. There were more than 3,000 exhibitors and more than 100,000 attendees who walked through 12 McCormick Place-sized halls looking at technologies that, in some cases, is the same as what we see in the U.S., but in other cases, are future technologies that may find their way to the U.S. eventually.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the Europeans are so far ahead of us. Not at all. It’s just that electricity is much more expensive there, and they’ve had to be very creative in how to use it economically AND without negatively impacting the environment.
I was particularly impressed with the amount of solar and wind technology on display and their application to mechanical and hydronic comfort systems.
Interestingly, the countryside throughout Germany is dotted with large solar and wind farms. They genrate quite a bit of that country’s electricity. I was also impressed to see some companies focusing on alternative fuel technologies like bio-fuels and fuel cells. And there were ice-storage systems that generated electricity.
I was impressed with not only the technology, but its presentation. At ISH, mechanical systems looked sexy. Weird, right? But true.
From air-handling units to really high-efficiency multi-family housing systems, and from controls (both air and water controls) to energy management software, each exhibit hall was abuzz with cool, sexy ways to solve comfort and energy issues with state-of the-art tools for engineers and contractors alike.
The focus was huge on saving water: from its use in boilers to toilets and everything inbetween.
Though my head was awhirl with all the everything I saw there, it all came down to this: We have a VERY cool industry and as mature as we think it is, there are a lot of new products and tools out there now and coming soon that will make it even cooler.
We should recognize this fact and be proud of it.