The 2017 Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Conference and Expo is billed as the “World’s Largest HVACR Marketplace.” It did not disappoint. The show reported 60,000+ attendees and 2,000 exhibitors demonstrating the growing need for commercial and residential HVAC needs.
Held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the AHR Conference & Expo combines educational and training sessions for HVAC/R industry insiders and installers with a trade show. The training sessions focused on market trends, testing and control devices, refrigerant safety and other pertinent sessions for installers, engineers, and architects. The trade show Expo focused on everything else.
Walking past massive rooftop units from Carrier and Trane, you enter a 2 million sq.ft. exhibition hall filled with exhibitors big and small. For example, Mestek built a full sheet metal fabrication line to display the latest in metal fabrication automation. Emerson laid out their line of Rigid hand tools for the industry to play with as well. But those are the engineering and hands-on portions of the industry. The clear excitement in the industry is always located where the “geeks” display building automation and controls. That’s where our booth was located.
This year, CO2Meter was in the middle of the Building Automation and Controls section of the Expo. Software, sensor and device manufacturers from all over the globe surrounded us. For 3 days the CO2Meter team talked to attendees about indoor air quality and the sensors, devices, and solutions that we offer.
In addition to OEM’s and HVAC insiders, we also spoke directly with individuals in the beverage gas, refrigeration installation, and safety markets as well.
“I keep getting asked for devices to monitor CO2 safety…I came to this show just to see you,” said Jamie from Northern California.
While we enjoyed talking to clients at the AHR Expo, our team also met with current and potential suppliers. Partner conversations help us to understand new technology and to share what we’ve learned while talking to our customers. While it’s fun to see the all the new toys on display, the true value of these partner interactions is to make sure we have products that solve real customer problems.
Next Generation CO2 Sensors
During the show, we saw sensor module manufacturers showing the next generation of NDIR sensors built around the 33×20×8 mm footprint. These are low-power sensors, primarily designed to run off battery power. When you consider the bending of light inside these tiny devices, the tech really is incredible. However, instead of being able to get a premium for these new sensors, OEM’s want NDIR quality at the same or lower unit pricing from previous models.
Keep in mind, the pressure to keep prices low isn’t just in the CO2 sensor market. Every gas, pressure, light, and humidity sensor manufacturer is feeling squeezed by OEM’s asking for small, high-quality, low-cost sensors. It's all part of the Internet of Things (IoT). However, with all the sensor manufacturer’s competing for the same OEM dollars, it will be interesting to see who wins. We have our opinions, but only time will tell.
Wireless a Hot Topic
Conversations about wireless communication were everywhere, but they weren’t much different than at last year’s show. The industry is begging for an easy to install, battery operated wireless controller that can transmit CO2 levels to HVAC systems in both offices and homes. In a perfect world, they would also be as cheap as carbon monoxide detectors, and smaller than a deck of cards.
However, the choke point of these conversations has always been that protocols used to communicate between devices. They must be backward compatible with existing systems for ease of integration, and must safeguard the transmitted data. Current building management system designers and operators believe that any wireless controls should follow existing protocols. But as one attendee remarked, “look where that’s gotten us over the last decade.”
The tangent to the wireless conversation since the introduction of Apple’s Nest thermostat in 2011 has been the “home automation” marketplace. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have both shown the IoT is a real market. With the growth of IoT connected devices, Google or Amazon may ultimately decide the winning communication protocol. It wouldn’t be surprising if the wireless protocol standards debated at the AHR Expo were finalized at the Consumer Electronics Show in the same hall two weeks earlier.
The annual AHR Conference and Expo continues to provide value to CO2Meter, and we look forward to meeting with the old friends we saw and the new friends we made in 2018. See you in Chicago!