By Ray Hicks, President, CO2Meter.com
We traveled to Atlanta in January to visit the AHR Expo, the largest heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration trade show in North America. After 3 days at the expo, I’ve collected some of my thoughts on trends as they relate to the gas measurement side of the industry.
About the AHR Expo in general: In my opinion, there was substantially higher floor traffic than last year. The larger companies made a larger impression with bigger displays.
I also noticed that this year every exhibitor was trying to show something new. Watching the crowd on the floor it was clear that if you didn’t have something new you didn’t have a lot of foot traffic. The exhibitors who were showing last year’s products were basically toast.
Building Automation and Control
Because of our focus on gas sensors, monitors and controllers, I headed straight for the “Building Automation and Control Showcase” where many of our vendors, manufacturers and clients hang out too.
All of CO2Meter.com’s vendors had a display and looked forward to showing us what they had that was new. But more on that later.
For years I’ve been predicting that the age of proprietary communication protocols between devices would come to an end. In 2019, I believe my prediction has finally come true. The proliferation in proprietary protocols seems to have subsided in favor of significant improvements in power efficiency of sensors and low power electronics combined with off-the-shelf industry standards.
Who are the winners and losers?
The winners are WiFi, TCP/IP, GSM-cellular and Bluetooth. The cost of implementation is down to a SIM card and a sub $10 radio chip to incorporate these standards into your products. Everyone was showing (or promising) adherence to these standards. Because of the lower cost to implement, the smart manufacturers knew “proprietary” wasn’t going to make them money. Instead, they’d have to focus on offering better hardware. Over time this will become a fait accompli.
Losers are large building automation systems built around old technologies. The change brought to mind first company’s accounting and production system. It wsa an IBM AS/400 that cost $10,000 to buy and $50,000 to upgrade. Instead of upgrading we replaced it with a Dell server and a dozen off-the-shelf PCs.
The security promised in the old systems are being solved in the software instead of the hardware. As a result, proprietary hardware is no longer needed. The era of requiring a hard-wired network is over. If one router goes down, another one can pick the signals up. Physical mesh networks or anything that requires a wire will soon be gone.
Which is not to say that we’ve entered into an era of the Internet of things (IoT). Instead, one-way sensors are being found by Wi-Fi beacons. From gas sensors to temperature sensors to proximity switches, wireless residential and industrial applications are now easy to use and inexpensive. You plug a sensor in, it finds the network, and it sends out a data stream. One wonders why this wasn’t done on a grander scale earlier? Some of it was hubris and some of it was price, as the cost of Wi-Fi, GSM and Bluetooth are tumbling each year.
Of course, we saw this coming. CO2Meter is adding a number of Wi-Fi enabled devices to our lineup for specific applications like RAD 501W for agriculture unit and CM 101W WIFI transmitter for general IAQ. We’re also developing commercial applications that combine low power sensors and managed Wi-Fi for a low-cost solution to many industries.
CO2 Refrigeration Systems
Over the last few years the EU, Canada and Asia have seen a significant number of installed CO2 refrigeration systems. Unlike specialty hydrofluorocarbons, CO2 (R-744) is considered to be the “natural” refrigerant.
However, it was clear talking to companies on the show floor that while CO2 has become a tested refrigeration standard for large-scale cooling projects, it does not work as well for small systems or refrigeration. High operating pressures and low critical temperature point for R-744 requires more complex hardware. In fact my research leads me to believe that for small systems like cars or portable air conditioners variations of non-flammable propane with low boiling points (by fluorinating them) will also become a standard.
Growth of PM2.5
PM2.5 is a term used to describe the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air including dust, ash, and soot with a particulate size in the 2.5 micrometer range. It is a general measure of outdoor air quality in high air pollution metropolitan areas of Asia as an essential element of IAQ protocol, as well as the monitoring of air cleaning equipment.
In the old days, in order to measure PM2.5 you needed to blow air over a filter, then count the particles to determine how many were in the sample. Now this is done with small, low cost sensors. As a result, a dozen companies from Amphenol through Zyura featured PM2.5 sensors.
As an aside, I was in China for a trade show recently, and from the 3rd floor of my hotel room on some days I couldn’t see the street. Make no mistake, the Chinese manufacturers are driving this technology.
While the demand for low cost PM2.5 sensors originated in Asia, it is now finding a home in the North American market. The US is discovering PM2.5 can benefit measuring air quality as the tech becomes cheap. China needed these sensors for their own air quality. As a result, the growth in the business will soon benefit to the rest of the world.
CO2Meter through its GasLab software is already testing a range of low-cost PM2.5 sensors as well as laboratory-rated devices to measure this important global air pollutant. Stay tuned.
SenseAir is now a Subsidiary of Asahi Kasei Microdevices, a multi-billion dollar global company that provides electronic sub-systems for many of the world’s automobile manufacturers. As a result, SenseAir is now expanding its product line to include R32 automotive coolant and hydrocarbon sensors for a new range of air conditioning systems.
SenseAir continues to move forward with expanding production capacity for the SE-11 Sunrise sensor. In parallel, CO2Meter is supplying a SE-11 Sunrise GasLab development kit for rapid test and hardware-software development.
SenseAir builds a quality product, has a huge amount of automated production, so they will continue to be a force in the CO2 sensor industry. We continue to use their sensors for our SAN-10 Personal CO2 Safety Monitor and Data Logger and for our leak detection meters.
GSS - Gas-Sensing Solutions
Our supplier GSS is known for its high-speed, low-power LED CO2 sensors. However, they mostly use serial UART protocol for communication. At the AHR Expo, I Saw a clever I2C interface on their COZIR-LP sensor using the same parts with small hardware changes to maintain backward compatibility. The I2C protocol gives you the advantage of putting any number of sensors (CO2, temperature, light, etc.) on the same 2 wires. This will expand the number of applications where their sensors can be used.
To make it easy to test the device, the GSS COZIR-LP I2C sensor will be supported via our GasLab software and GasBox hardware interface. GasBox provides a USB to RS485, 4-20mA, I2C, or several other interfaces. Look for this in the next few months.
I'm always glad to visit the AHR Expo, meet with our suppliers and discover all the new technologies in this industry. The range of sensors we have available today and will have in the future will continue to evolve. However, the AHR Show reminded me that CO2Meter is on the edge of the curve, and will continue to stay abreast of the latest technologies in 2019 and beyond.