by Ray Hicks, President, CO2Meter.com
Welcome to the cold that only Chicago can offer along with the fine hotel and great restaurants. Irene and I arrived in Chicago the night before, then spent the next day walking the show floor. I made some notes as we walked and met with vendors. These are my impressions.
The 2015 AHR Trade show was not physically larger, but seemed better attended. It appears that compared to previous shows, the larger vendors put more money into their displays.
Most vendors I spoke to say the economy is back. They are realizing new orders and new interest stemming from pent-up customer demand. However, many companies still have a certain trepidation about making major financial commitments - particularly to new physical products. See my note about WIFI below.
This year, energy efficiency took a back seat to lowering maintenance costs and TCO as the reason to upgrade outdated systems. Yes, the upgrade will be more energy efficient, but that’s not the goal. Vendors were touting lower installation and maintenance costs as the big features. These are capital projects that are not just adding electronics, sensors and software logic, but include big hardware; boilers, pumps and motors.
WIFI: the promise and the reality
All the thermostat manufactures are chasing a Wi-Fi rabbit. The new residential thermostat (read NEST) is a home run, interacting with your cell phone or computer. However, WIFI applications continue to compete with existing technologies pushed by hardware manufacturers, home security companies, and even cable companies that are under extreme revenue pressure as more households cut the cable-TV profit link.
I continue to be baffled by the lack of hardware and data communication standards in the industry.
Consider credit cards. Visa and Mastercard are huge competitors, but they were still smart enough to agree on a single card size and data standard to build the industry. Can you imagine if every retail store had a different swiper for each kind of card? Imagine a self-serve gas pump with a row of slots, each for a different company’s credit or debit card. It would hurt everyone. Yet somehow the HVAC industry hasn’t gotten the message yet.
All of these competing interests are choking any progress by adding confusion to the industry. In the meantime, manufacturers sap the last nickel out of their existing product lines and postpone capitalizing new products based on a standard.
This year’s AHR show convinced me the problem will get worse before it gets better. There were even more startups and evolving technologies than last year’s show, as evidenced by the new infrastructure and networking vendors in the software alley. I saw software-defined radios that allow multiple topologies to be processed by the same hardware. Add in the new antenna technology, and any capital investment into hardware radio seems to be a losing proposition.
The plan seems to be that the large vendors will allow the small ones to define the market parameters and methods, and once a clear path is seen, purchase or duplicate the asset. Intellectual property will not be a significant issue as most of the early fellows will be road kill.
The realization for the newcomer offering a thermostat with a radio attached is that to offer distributed control in a commercial or industrial setting, support for multiple networks is required. A cable router is not the solution. The first network crash will prove that out.
All that having been said, there were still a few products that caught my attention. For example, the SenseAir tSense we offer has a capacitive touch screen that is IKEA-easy to set up, measures CO2 and RH/T, communicates via RS485, 4-20mA, 0-10V, has relay outputs and has built-in data logging. All this in a very attractive enclosure. In my opinion, it is one of the best wired, wall-mounted transmitters on the market.
Of course, I might be a bit biased after the nice complements I received from the factory engineers. SenseAir in Sweden directs their customers to our CO2meter.com website for application notes and examples. They said that they have every confidence in our ability to support their customers quickly and accurately.
This is evidenced by the internal documentation made available to CO2meter for the tSense. It includes register maps, direct access to all the hardware features and the built-in ARM processor. It even has extra memory for programming and data storage. This is very controlled information - not because it secret, but to control the cost of support.
I also looked at SenseAir’s new S8 0-5% methane and propane specific sensors. It will allow us to further explore the combustible, bio-reduction and algae process markets, and matches well with the high concentration Winsense CH4/CO2 sensors we currently offer.
Gas Sensing Solutions
The new GSS MinIR CO2 sensor was on display. This NDIR sensor is only 20mm wide and consumes only 5mW, making it ideal for use in probe applications. It is available in 5, 20, 60 and100% concentration models. We will be offering this product on our website shortly.
In addition to the MinIR, GSS is working on CH4 measurement for 2015. We will be announcing these products as they become available on the market.
Björn Osterlund from PSIDAC has a new differential pressure sensor that is being used in the Netherlands and other locations for hospital isolation (Ebola) wards. We will have this pressure sensor on hand shortly for testing, and plan to offer this it in the future.
Tongdy displayed a new, rugged wall-mount transmitter that measures CO2, RH/T, VOC and dust in the ppm range, with the ability to select different particle sizes. In addition, it will have built-in WIFI, ZigBee, 900 MHZ and more communication options via a software definable radio. We will have product in March, so stay tuned!