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How connectivity shapes the future of HVAC

How Connectivity Shapes the Future of HVAC

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Connected HVAC

The Frankfurt-based Future Instistute (Zukunftsinstitut) describes connectivity as the “most powerful megatrend of our time”[1].

The term describes the increasing networking of machines, devices and everyday objects in order to make them work together and thereby improve our lives.

The mission of manufacturers of connected products may be to create their own network – for example, consisting of several compatible products within their brand – or to enable a device to interconnect with products from other development teams inside and outside their own company.

Connectivity can be purely local, for example to exchange data via Modbus or radio within a closed system (e.g. a building). More and more frequently, however, connectivity also means connection to the Internet as a further dimension of data exchange across the boundaries of isolated systems.

In the same way that people have made today’s standard of living possible through the progress of local village communities towards a globalised world, the universal connectivity of IoT releases enormous development potential, but also brings massive challenges.

Infobox: Internet of Things

In the continuously developing Internet of Things (IoT), every “thing” gets a network connection and an IP address. From telephone to television, from packet tracking to heating systems.

The penetration of IoT in any given field usually begins with the core product and then drills down all the way to the peripheral and component level. For example, connecting the heat source to the Internet has been a continuing trend for years, and the next step to expect is that downstream subsystems such as heat distribution, individual components such as pumps, valves and sensors, will follow.

The exponential growth of IoT is thus driven by two factors:
more networked systems x more networked parts per system.

 

Vernetzte Geräte im Internet of Things
Source: researchgate.net

Learning from the Pioneers

Whether local connectivity or the Internet of Things: the common denominator of the “most powerful megatrend of our time” is always more electronics, more digital communication, more software intelligence.

Elon Musk referred to his Teslas as “computers on wheels” as early as 2015, signalling the beginning of a new era in the automotive industry. In autumn 2020, Tesla’s market value exceeds that of Toyota, VW, Daimler, Honda, GM and Ford combined.

Why shouldn’t heating technology also continue to develop through the opportunities offered by connectivity? What could a little taste of Tesla do in the heating industry? What contribution can connectivity make to the performance and reliability of HVAC systems, sustainability in the context of climate change and business success in terms of your individual ambitions?

A Guide for Product Managers in the HVAC Industry

With our series “Designing Connected HVAC Products” we would like to look at the opportunities of connectivity for the heating industry: highlighting the special features in the development of connected products and pointing out possible solutions, sharing practical aspects and ultimately offering assistance in developing successful HVAC technology in line with your product strategy. Helping you to have your finger on the pulse, but also to distinguish between sense and overkill, real pressure to act and overrushing craftsmen or other important market players. The age of connectivity may also create new winners and losers in the heating industry, but it will certainly bring about technological leaps in development and change business models.

Historically, the heating industry is more rooted in the mechanical and physical world than in the electronic and digital. The weighting of the strengths and weaknesses of many players in the HVAC industry and trade reflects this accordingly. The strengths in the mechanical and physical spheres will certainly remain an important success factor, but will no longer be sufficient in the long term. The key to survival in the age of connectivity lies in enriching these foundations through meaningful and well-implemented networking as a digital catalyst. If you don’t do it, the others will.

The Opportunities of Connectivity for the Heating Industry

The heating industry can tap into potential benefits through connectivity in three categories:

Local connectivity for local benefit

Parts of a heating system are networked together to optimise the functionality of the system. Examples:

  • Exchange of functionally relevant data (e.g. transmission of cylinder temperatures, relay states or error messages via Modbus)
  • Solution of hydraulic problems with digital intelligence (e.g. automatic hydraulic balancing or prevention of temperature overshoots in underfloor heating systems)
  • Sharing of information from the system components in order to draw conclusions about the overall system (e.g. cumulation of the heat demand of all residential units of an apartment building to calculate a demand-based flow temperature, worst-case consideration through interlinked measurements of system pressure or air humidity at several points in the system)

Connectivity “outwards” for local benefit

An HVAC system is connected to the Internet to provide added value for this system. Examples:

  • Reading out system data for system optimisation (e.g. adjusting the heating curve)
  • Push messages by e-mail or readout of error messages
  • Import software updates or weather data into the system
  • Remote parameterisation for consumers, tradesmen or at manufacturer level (e.g. end customer app for system status and adjustment of room setpoint temperatures versus professional access for system parameterisation)

Connectivity “outwards” for cross-system benefit

Here, system data from numerous heating systems are collected at a central location and systematically evaluated. This can provide valuable information for product development or quality assurance, for example, which can benefit both manufacturers and system operators. Examples:

  • Measurement and comparison of system performance in the field
  • Drawing conclusions on the correct dimensioning of components
  • Better understand user behaviour and needs
  • Empirical findings on technical weaknesses. Which installation mistakes do tradesmen make most frequently? In which tapping situations does a fresh water station not reach its target temperature fast enough? How does calcification of a heat exchanger affect the system performance?
  • Predictive Maintenance

The chapter Value propositions for HVAC in IoT digs deeper into the mechanisms of opportunity in connected systems. The article about UX of connected HVAC products provides suggestions for optimising the user experience. And product developers who want to learn more about using data intelligence for their systems will find tips on developing data-driven HVAC products here.

Jonas Bicher

About the Author

Jonas Bicher has been managing director at SOREL since 2013.
He likes innovative ideas, usability design and software-based technologies

21. October 2020
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