2012 AHR Expo in Chicago Review

by Ray Hicks, President, CO2Meter.com

I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by the AHR show this year: first, Chicago in the winter leaves a lot to be desired from this transplanted Floridians' point of view, and second, in contrast to the previous Chicago show, it appeared there weren’t as many bodies in the isles. Scanning AHRExpo.com I don’t see any press releases touting record attendance numbers, so I’m betting that I’m right.

Best Product

I'm putting the best product first for those of you who won't read the entire article. The best product at the show was the NEST thermostat (nest.com) from the Apple team. So well done, the entire concept is so simple and so well explained, it is no wonder they are sold out almost continuously. What they have created using WIFI and pre-tested applications puts everyone else’s products to shame. Buy one. Trust me. 

Wrong Moves

I had a Déjà vu moment in each isle as I read the proliferation of signs touting BACNET, LONNET, X10 and other METOO network and radio telemetry schemes all bucking to be the next standard. 

What a waste of energy. Everyone will lose a lot of money, and the winner will be TCP/IP over Ethernet or WIFI that we have already installed in our homes and businesses for our iPads and PCs. Why reinvent the wheel?

I found it interesting that the solar panel category (panels, controls, power systems) was very thin. Either AHR isn’t interested in them, or the manufacturer’s don’t see any benefit being in front of the buyers at AHR. At the 2011 HVAC shows in China and Europe I attended, the solar panel people were as thick as thieves.

Indoor Air Quality

The IAQ movement continues to grow steadily at AHR, but as a trade association they still need to make the consumer aware that they are the standard for non-biased studies and reference material on the subject. Instead of everyone agreeing to the importance of IAQ standards, you’ve still got folks arguing about it like it was global warming. As a result, progress on a large scale is limited to high-end contractors and their clients sophisticated enough to understand the science and economics of IAQ, while financial strong enough to afford the benefit and consequential profits. 

The funny part is, I’ve spoken to perhaps hundreds of people who have worked in both good and bad air buildings, and now know they are in a bad air building the instant they walk in. Yes, I know - anecdotal evidence doesn’t count. 

One bright spot is that schools have figured out that IAQ is much more important for creating a desired learning environment than was once understood. This is being prompted by parents who read about the importance of IAQ, and insist that their taxes dollars give them the biggest educational bang for the buck. 

But I’m getting off topic. Most of the time I spent at the show was hanging around CO2 sensor and transmitter booths. Here’s what I saw: 

CO2 Sensors

All the usual "me too" sensor companies were represented at AHR. None of them were showing anything really new in CO2: instead, it was a CO2 sensor combined with thermal / humidity / pressure / gas leak / particulates on the PCB. The market for these products is so mature that price is now the only issue. I felt a little sorry for the formerly low-cost manufacturers now relying on CO2 sensors for cash cows. There were lots of small Asian booths on the aisles, and their stuff is not only low cost, but very well manufactured. Unless these 2nd-tier manufacturers crank up their R&D budget, they won’t be able to compete. 

And all the sensor manufactures are on the low power band wagon. There will be low power! Unfortunately, most of the sensor manufacturers didn’t know why they are so focused on low power other than some of their customers had asked for it, and it offered an opportunity to charge premium prices for a little while longer. 

Fortunately, GSS, known for low-power CO2 sensors, understands their market. They’ve introduced ultra-high speed (20Hz) CO2 sensors in ambient and wide-range (up to 100% CO2) designs that will solve several niche scientific and control problems. At CO2Meter.com, we’ve independently tested these sensors, and can substantiate their data sheet speed specs. We stock all their models for same day delivery, as well as rapid application development prototyping kits. Applications and test data are available on the website. 

SenseAir continues pushing ahead with the S8 miniature CO2 sensor that is getting traction as they bring their new automated production system over in Delsbo, Sweden on line. The standard K30 sensor line got some new models with a 2Hz unit (K30-FR) and a 3% concentration sensor (K30-3%). The K33 line of CO2 sensors with data-logging on the PCB introduced the K33-ELP (1%) and K33-BLP (30%). These model variations let you program an indefinite interval between measurements, allowing for potentially years of battery-powered operation. Very cool. Of course, we stock all these, complete with our DAS software for rapid prototype and testing.

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