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Industry 4.0 Transforming HVAC Before Our Eyes

Oct. 26, 2022
A network technology expert reviews the growing benefits of Big Data for owners and operators in modern manufacturing.

By PATRICK CHOWN, The Network Installers

Connected cars, connected refrigerators, and connected watches... Seemingly everything is getting connected to the internet now, and the industrial landscape is no different.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is transforming industrial and commercial facilities into the new paradigm of industrial operations, "Industry 4.0." These connected devices can send and receive data from cloud-computing servers, and this information can be used to synthesize useful insights to improve operations in the facility.

Industry 4.0

The first industrial revolution started with the introduction of steam engines. Subsequent advances in technology then leapfrogged how industrial operations were performed. Assembly lines, electrification, automation, and computerization are all technological advances that have happened since and these developments are divided into various epochs called Industry 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.

The current epoch of the industrial revolution is now Industry 4.0, and it is best characterized by the use of data and analytics for day-to-day operations. Below, let's discuss the key technologies involved.

Internet of Things (IoT)

When a device has the capability to connect to a communication network and share information, it is an IoT device. Such devices can be sensors or actuators used in industrial operations. IoT sensors can convert the measurements and send them to a remote server over the network. Internet-enabled actuators can receive information from a server and perform the necessary changes according to the instructions.

Cloud computing

The information from sensors is stored in cloud computing platforms. They are essentially computers that are hosted and managed by cloud service providers. You will be able to use computing and storage services without managing the physical infrastructure for the same. The use of cloud computing is what enables the effective use of all the data collected in the Industry 4.0 paradigm. 

Low-latency communication network

Communication networks are like the nervous system for Industry 4.0. The data which is critical to operations is transferred to and from cloud computing systems over these networks. This requires reliable network infrastructure to facilitate this transfer. Components include ethernet cables, WiFi installations, structured cabling, and other devices powering the network. The key is having a low-latency network to ensure reliable and timely communication. 

Artificial intelligence

The vast amount of data collected by IoT devices and stored in the cloud infrastructure cannot be manually analyzed. This is where modern computing tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are required. These technologies can synthesize large amounts of data and generate actionable insights that can be used to effectively control industrial processes.

Smart HVAC

Industry 4.0 is completely changing the industrial landscape and HVAC systems are part of the change. HVAC systems that are connected to the internet are dubbed ‘smart’. But such systems do not become ‘smart’ just by connecting to the internet. Sensors relay data from HVAC systems to cloud-computing platforms. This real-time information with historical data, external information, and expected operating conditions can be used to control the system. Two main use cases for such ‘smart’ systems are discussed in the following sections.

Automation

Smart HVAC can automate all processes required to control the environment in a facility. For example, consider an industrial process that requires different temperatures for different steps, step A and step B. HVAC systems initially control the environment to suit the requirements of step A. The IoT sensors involved in the process detect the change from step A to step B, and that information is relayed through the communication network to the cloud-computing infrastructure. This can be used to control the HVAC system to suit the requirements of step B. All of this happens without any human intervention in a completely automated fashion. 

Similar automations can be implemented to reduce the human effort in HVAC operations. One of the significant benefits of using such automation is the reduction of errors that happen during operations. Human operators are bound to cause errors that can lead to breakdowns in processes and unnecessary costs. Automation can eliminate this.

Energy efficiency

Use of energy is one of the main costs of HVAC operations. Efficient use of energy reduces this cost and improves profitability. Smart HVAC systems can analyze the usage pattern of HVAC systems. With the help of artificial intelligence, schedules of operations can be created and automatically implemented to reduce the energy consumption and cost. 

Similar implementations can also be done to reduce the carbon footprint from energy usage. The smart system can analyze the various sources of energy, analyze the carbon footprint of each energy source, and switch between them to create minimal environmental impact. Beyond these you can configure smart HVAC systems to fit the outcomes you want for energy consumption in your HVAC systems and it will then be automatically implemented without any fuss.

Smart by design…

Industry 4.0 brings high productivity, efficiency and lower cost for industrial and commercial operations. These are desired for HVAC operations and are possible with smart HVACs. The most common use cases are energy efficiency and automation in HVAC operations. Beyond these, though, smart systems have many other avenues to suit the operations according to your requirements. So businesses are well-advised to embrace the technologies of Industry 4.0 in your HVAC operations to stay relevant and sustainable to accommodate future requirements of facility operations. 

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The author is the owner and president of The Network Installers, which specializes in network cabling installation, structured cabling, voice and data, audio/visual, commercial WiFi and fiber optic installation for industrial and commercial facilities.