Climate targets, COVID-19, and lack of technology drive further investment in advanced monitoring of HVAC and R.
The digitization of the refrigeration industry has advanced at warp speeds in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue unabated as the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) open up new avenues for digital controls .
“We will undoubtedly use more digitized controls in 2021,” said Claus Schøn Poulsen, Center Manager at the Danish Technological Institute.
The energy savings made possible by advanced monitoring systems will be an important element in achieving the 2030 climate targets. “This is where digitized and intelligent controls will make a difference.”
Turner Anderson, Lead Sales Engineer at the US digitization specialist Axiom Cloud, expects 2021 to be a “banner year” for digitization technology in the cooling industry. “With soaring energy costs, persistent lack of technology and aging compressor racks in many supermarkets and grocery stores across the country, there has never been a better time to invest in digitization,” he said.
Axiom Cloud uses digitization technology to autonomously reduce the energy and maintenance costs of commercial cooling systems. This enables store owners to improve their bottom line and spend more time on what is most important to them, said Anderson.
“At Axiom Cloud,” he added, “our entire business model is based on the assumption that the cold chain, and food retailers in particular, are ready to take advantage of digitization, artificial intelligence, automation and the IoT in handling their greatest energies – and maintenance problems. “
The COVID-19 pandemic could help take the digitization trend to a new level as the opportunities for remote monitoring are greater and the health risks for technicians are lower. “We anticipate that many customers will be using digitization in 2021 for the benefits of remote monitoring alone,” said Anderson. “But expect that you will be pleasantly surprised by the multitude of other benefits that the right infrastructure offers.”
Another factor behind the increasing prevalence of digital tools in HVAC & R is the lack of qualified technicians, said Richard Wayne Gilles, senior product leader for distributed solutions at US OEM Hussmann.
“Maintenance activities will continue to shift to more sophisticated tools and new diagnostic algorithms,” said Gillies. “This is the change needed to cope with a dwindling base of service personnel.”
One retailer already experienced in using digital controls is Belgium-based Colruyt Group, which has been using them as standard in all new commercial facilities for the past 10 years and for even longer in their industrial operations.
A new development for Colruyt is the introduction of an AI-based software solution for monitoring the company’s propane cooling systems. “We now automatically detect outliers in terms of functionality so that we can send a technician and replace faulty components,” said Collin Bootsveld, project engineer at Colruyt Group. “Our cooling systems are modular so that we can do this relatively easily.”
Colruyt plans to increase AI-based maintenance in 2021. According to Bootsveld, the company’s goal is to cut chemical refrigerant losses in half over the next two years. This is to be done by speeding up leak detection and reducing the level of the company’s remaining HFC cooling systems. The current refrigerant loss is 4%.
Other companies anticipating higher levels of digital controls in 2021 include Evapco, a US-based manufacturer of evaporators and condensers, which is planning to launch its own remote energy monitoring program. and Belgian retail giant Delhaize, which plans to introduce a new cloud-based building management system that also offers remote control.
According to Olaf Schulze, Director for Energy Management Investments and Technical Solutions at Metro, the German wholesaler Metro AG is also planning to optimize maintenance and energy requirements and reduce food waste through digitalized controls.
Digitization is not only picking up speed in commercial cooling. The US-based company Azane, which manufactures refrigerators and freezers for industrial ammonia (R717), now equips every system with the ETHOS software package from parent company Star Refrigeration as standard.
According to Caleb Nelson, Azane’s vice president of business development, ETHOS software is more than just a data collection and energy management tool. “It has been specially programmed to act as a 24/7/365 commissioning technician overseeing the system,” he explained. “It gives you insights into system performance based on the data collected and also gives you recommendations for intervention based on the findings. Finally, you will learn how much money will be wasted if you don’t intervene. This last point is often the most important as there needs to be a mechanism to drive action and justify approval of maintenance funds. ”
Another industrial player, Canadian contractor Cimco Systems, has developed its own digital line of products called “Smart Controls” and plans to introduce a “Smart Hub that connects all devices,” said Benoit Didier, Director of Business Development.