For the last 15 years the Mestex division of Mestek has been building direct digital controls ("DDC") into our equipment. We started with some pretty simple control programs on some of our more basic units. Even these simple programs allowed the equipment to operate more effectively...controlling temperature more closely, controlling energy consumption better, and giving users more options for scheduling their system operation.
The core functions of our control systems have not changed much over the years but the features that have been added, and are continuing to be added, to improve the information available from our equipment are almost mind-boggling.
Take the relatively simple technology of evaporative cooling. The Mestex Aztec indirect-direct evaporative cooling unit comes standard with a DDC control package that constantly monitors outside air conditions, unit supply air conditions, unit water quality, and cooled space conditions in order to control temperature, pressure, and humidity in the space. But that is only part of the story.
While collecting all of the data we just described and deciding how to control the unit functions the DDC processor is also collecting, and making available, a wealth of other information. The unit can provide real time electrical power consumption and demand, real time water consumption, and constantly updated information about the operating mode of the equipment (operating hours in full economizer mode, operating hours in full recirculation mode, and operating hours in mixed mode). The unit is also accumulating and can display daily, monthly, and annual power and water use data.
This is obviously some pretty sophisticated information from a relatively simple machine. The same algorithms used in this unit can be applied to most of the other Mestex products and provide a wealth of management information to end users. The larger the end user organization and the more units deployed, the more valuable this information becomes.
But...the information is only valuable if management can actually see it. As more and more of our equipment installations are tied to building automation or building information systems we are encountering more and more interface issues. The issues are not matters of communication protocols since our DDC packages are designed to speak virtually every communication language but issues of human communication protocols.
What we have found in many cases is that the information, and the interface to the equipment, is turned over to an IT person who is unfamiliar with HVAC equipment. That person is probably also very concerned about network security and has probably created firewalls that make implementation challenging. The HVAC equipment might be working perfectly but the person on the other end who is looking at data that he does not understand will frequently interpret that the equipment is not performing as required.
So, as is often the case in life, training and communication become essential to success. As an HVAC company we usually expect the IT person to "simply understand". I think, however, that we should work hard to learn about networking and IT issues so that we can at least speak the same language as the person on the other end of our equipment.