Use a systems approach and updated technology for better operation.
by Jordan Ruff
June 26, 2018

The days of selecting pumps, motors and controllers as individual components in the design of hydronic heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) and plumbing systems are coming to an end. Smart technologies—advanced pump hydraulics, sensorless capabilities, embedded diagnostics and high-tech monitoring options—are enabling engineers to design efficient system solutions that also are capable of automatic integration with other building systems.

The following trends in the application of intelligent controllers in commercial building hydronic systems are helping achieve goals related to costs and sustainability, as well as facilitating the economical use of space in new construction and retrofit projects.

1. Systems Approach

Manufacturers of hydronic systems equipment are using new technologies to facilitate systems integration, such as pumps with electronically commutated motors (ECMs) and built-in drives. One controller incorporates the drive on top of the motor, allowing individual pieces to be sized and selected together as one component. This ensures the equipment can be optimized to work together in the most effective manner.

2. Embedded Intelligence

Integrated system design provides more useful intelligence about an entire system versus obtaining information piecemeal on individual components. With more data available, operators have better insight into how to optimize the system, beginning with system setup. Intelligent pump controllers can automatically configure a system with the optimal settings for the application, taking the guesswork out of the process. Systems can be customized with pump protections and for multipump operation.

Protections such as electric alarms are triggered, for instance, when a component upstream or downstream of the controller is out of tolerance or out of range. The system adjusts and gets back within range without contractors or facility managers having to be alerted. This can help provide longer equipment and system life and operation.

3. Remote Communication

Wired communication among system components is increasing across industries and applications. Remote access allows users to find information about how a system is operating without having to dive deep into a controller. Data on pumps and systems is also not staying local—it is going into the cloud and being benchmarked against other similar units and systems. This is another benefit of systems: It is not the monitoring of just one individual component that might be out of tolerance, but readily accessible information on how complete systems are performing.

4. Predictive Data

The abundance of data that is being gathered, locally or in the cloud, can be used in a proactive manner to fine-tune systems. For example, if set point, speed or temperature is out of tolerance, an operator can look at the cloud or big data for the settings that are programmed into the unit to see what normal range is across a wide range of applications. The controller can then automatically adjust speed or another setting to bring the system back into tolerance.

One controller can predict temperature of the motor without having to use a sensor. It is integrated with that motor and dialed in to its operation. The controller can tell what equipment is above or below spec and adjust and find optimal operation without a user having to intervene.

5. Application-Specific Design

The next level of the total systems approach is to take all of this knowledge of how systems work and bring it into the design of systems for specific applications. It is no longer generic pumps or drives operating in silos that need to be made to work together. Now, the controller, the program and the system are all designed for a specific solution with performance geared toward that.

All of the knowledge from past use and experience is built into the hardware of the components that make up the system. The knowledge of how that unit works and performs is used to make an application-specific design that results in successful system operation.

6. Advanced Selection Tools

With more complex building systems and more performance data available to building owners, engineers, contractors and facility managers, a more collaborative approach to HVAC and plumbing system design is emerging along with a need and interest for more technical knowledge.

Some online selection tools use technology to assist engineers in the design of high-performing HVAC and plumbing systems. Engineers have access to information on pumps, accessories, technical and performance data and more to design commercial building systems that focus on holistic system performance and integrate energy-efficient technologies.