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The Path From IIoT to Predictive Maintenance for Commercial Refrigeration

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Emerson is writing a series of articles about the implications of new and transformative technologies for the commercial refrigeration industry. In our first article, I described the challenges and methodologies related to transforming a newfound wealth of data into true predictive maintenance capabilities. You can read the full article here.

 

One trend driving the commercial refrigeration industry’s rapid adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies is the promise of predictive maintenance. Collecting massive amounts of real-time data comes with the potential to develop data-driven algorithms that can accurately predict looming problems and failures in refrigeration systems and equipment.

In the commercial refrigeration space, operators’ goals related to predictive maintenance are to reduce energy savings, lower maintenance and service costs, improve food quality and safety (and indirectly, customer experiences), increase comfort, and reduce downtime. So as IIoT technologies become more affordable, widely deployed and interconnected, a question naturally arises: “When will we see the results of these predictive maintenance capabilities?”

It’s a fair question. After all, some industries, such as industrial automation, are seeing rapid advances in their predictive maintenance capabilities. But many of these industries also have an inherent advantage: they’re often monitoring identical devices with well-defined historical performance models, making early problem detection relatively easy.

However, commercial refrigeration is a different ballgame. Commercial refrigeration applications are diverse and complex, making the development of their predictive maintenance capabilities far more challenging. Commercial refrigeration systems consist of many diverse and interdependent components, which often originate from multiple vendors. They encompass a wide range from traditional centralized direct expansion systems to an ever-expanding array of emerging architectures designed to achieve very specific operational (and more often, sustainability) objectives. Industry trends further complicate the issue, such as the adoption of new refrigerants and the migration from centralized to distributed, self-contained and integrated systems.

These complex systems differ in the amount, type and quality of the data they can provide — making data modeling and writing algorithms for different equipment even more difficult. Add more variables into the mix, such as weather, humidity and climate — not to mention widely varying operator goals, processes and workflows — and you can start to comprehend the depth of the challenge.

Developing predictive maintenance capabilities for commercial refrigeration is not a matter of simply pouring more data into the cloud via the IIoT. That data is as diverse as the equipment and systems which produce it. Determining the predictive potential of all that data requires fundamentally changing how we understand and approach the needs of the commercial refrigeration industry.

At Emerson, we’re tackling this challenge head on, taking a methodical, deliberate approach to predictive maintenance. Our goal is not to simply throw more IIoT technologies at the challenge. We’re working to help deliver on the promise of predictive maintenance by applying our deep knowledge of the commercial refrigeration space to help operators uncover the predictive value of data gathered from many different applications. By doing so, we’re simplifying the complexities and uncovering insights into the industry’s most common refrigeration scenarios.

We’re deriving predictive maintenance solutions from IIoT data via a three-pronged methodology: 1) understand the complexity of the domain and its individual systems; 2) define what data is relevant to which situations; and 3) determine how application sensors should be used to generate the necessary data. Then we can take the crucial step of developing tools to extrapolate true predictive maintenance answers from real-time and historical data.

In upcoming articles, Emerson will expand on these learnings and provide examples of how new technology is already being used for successful predictive maintenance programs in commercial refrigeration.

Building Blocks of Artificial Intelligence for HVACR

 

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Emerson is applying our expertise in commercial refrigeration and AC toward building predictive models for a variety of applications and architectures, a foundation for the emerging artificial intelligence technologies in the HVACR industry. I recently discussed our work in ACHR News magazine, “The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on HVACR.” You can read the full article here.

The building blocks of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled equipment and systems in HVACR are already well in development: next-generation sensors and controllers, increasingly sophisticated predictive analytics, and machine-to-machine learning (M2M) software, cloud data storage and the growing implementation of the internet of things (IoT). These tools are already providing opportunities to improve comfort, save energy, reduce maintenance costs and extend equipment life, all while helping end users better manage their operations.

But integrating these tools into true AI solutions — data- and algorithm-driven applications that will enable systems and equipment to learn and automatically perform critical tasks without human intervention — is a challenge that will require a deeper understanding of the complexities of equipment, HVACR architectures and building systems.

At Emerson’s innovation centers and in customer field trials, we’re tackling this challenge head on — but methodically. Rather than simply throwing more technologies into the mix, we’re leveraging our deep refrigeration domain expertise to simplify complexities and uncover insights into the industry’s most common refrigeration scenarios. We are in the process of understanding how deeply AI could be implemented into equipment and buildings, and how effectively it could help solve the industry’s biggest challenges.

As I stated in the article, Emerson is researching how some newer AI-related technologies can be utilized for more advanced services, such as detecting problems faster and pinpointing which actions need to be taken. For example, we are already incorporating some AI-related technologies into equipment when we learn they add value, such as sensors that warn of refrigerant leaks in supermarket refrigerants.

However, delivering on the promised value of AI — autonomous predictive analysis and control of HVACR equipment and even entire building environments — will require more than simply installing connected sensors and devices, transmitting clouds of data, and creating libraries of algorithms. As the automobile industry has learned, building a self-driving vehicle is a far more complex undertaking than it appears. This example is important to keep in mind when considering the inherent complexities and diversity of commercial refrigeration applications.

A typical commercial refrigeration system consists of many interdependent components — often from multiple suppliers — with potentially diverse data sources. The proliferation of system architectures and refrigerants has resulted in an ever-expanding diversity of applications. This makes data modeling and defining predictive algorithms difficult. At Emerson, we believe that the development of AI in HVACR will grow as an iterative process, via data processing performed at the equipment level — with tighter integration of sensors and controllers providing richer data to cloud- and IoT-based services. These services provide both real-time alerts and historical trends of equipment performance under a given set of conditions — including indications of potential failures.

These data sets are the foundation of the next level of AI, enabling predictive maintenance models that will anticipate problems and maintain optimum conditions across a defined range of variables. Reaching that point will require generating sufficient historical data detailing the operation, failures and problems of equipment and components. And while much of this data is available today, new sensors may also be required to provide more advanced predictive capabilities.

Relatively speaking, the use of AI in HVACR equipment and controls is still in its infancy. But we’re working to accelerate its advancement to help our industry reap its potential benefits, including: improved reliability, energy savings, prolonged asset life and, of course, predictive analytics. As more AI-related technologies arrive in the HVACR space, we’ll start to fully understand the significant benefits and valuable data they are capable of providing.

10 Takeaways From 10 Years of GreenChill Data

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership recently completed a 10-year study examining supermarket data trends. In our latest E360 Webinar, Tom Land, manager of the program, presented these findings from GreenChill’s unique perceptive. View the webinar in its entirety or read the summary below.

Latest E360 Webinar on Demand

For more than a decade, the GreenChill program has worked with supermarket retailers across the country to promote the use of “greener” refrigeration systems in their stores. While our industry is in the early phases of transitioning to more sustainable refrigeration, GreenChill partner companies are at the forefront of this movement. The number of retailers participating has increased significantly since the program’s inception, and the data Tom discussed at the webinar provides a road map for other companies as they formalize their own sustainability initiatives.

Let’s look at 10 takeaways from the recent webinar.

  1. GreenChill partnership on the rise — in 2007, just more than 4,000 stores were GreenChill partners; today, that number exceeds 11,000 stores.

 

  1. Partner refrigerant emissions remain low — among the growing number of participating GreenChill partner stores, emissions have been held to a minimum. This is in large part due to the program’s emphasis on reducing refrigerant leaks and system charges.

 

  1. Refrigerant charges are declining — the average amount of refrigerants used in participating stores has declined steadily since 2007, even as the number of stores increases.

 

  1. Pounds per store leaks are dropping — in 2007, partner stores emitted more than 390 pounds per store every year; today, 290 pounds is average.

 

  1. Leak rates well below industry averages — on average, GreenChill partners have a leak rate of 13.9 percent, well below the industry average of 25 percent. Twelve of the partners have achieved a leak rate below 10 percent.

 

  1. One-fifth still use R-22 — although R-22 use is on the decline overall, 20 percent of commercial refrigeration systems continue to use it.

 

  1. Low-GWP refrigerants on the uptake — R-407A accounts for 20 percent of partner-installed refrigerants; installations with refrigerants less than 1,420 GWP now account for nearly 3 percent of all partner-installed refrigerants, with R-448A accounting for much of this growth.

 

  1. CO2 installations increase — installations of CO2 secondary loop, cascade and transcritical booster systems among partners continue to rise, with more than 12 partners exceeding a combined total of 160,000 pounds of installed R-744.

 

  1. Growth of GreenChill certifications — in 2009, fewer than 25 stores achieved GreenChill Gold and Silver certifications; today more than 360 stores have achieved Platinum, Gold and Silver certifications and re-certifications.

 

  1. California leads certification — among those states with GreenChill-certified stores, California leads the country with 151 stores. The next closest state is Florida with 45 stores.

Over the past decade, Emerson has worked with a variety of GreenChill partners to meet their sustainability objectives, utilizing leading low-GWP refrigerant alternatives and energy-efficiency strategies. If you’re interested in transitioning to a greener refrigeration system, we’re here to help you develop a strategy that meets your long-term goals.

Refrigerant Management: How Changes to Section 608 Impact Our Industry

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently interviewed for an article in ACHR’s The News magazine, “EPA’s Proposed Changes to Section 608 Cause Concern in the Industry,” where I provided my perspective on the current state of leak detection, repair and other provisions.

Refrigerant leak response and repair regulations have placed our industry in uncertain waters. As you may know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new rule that rescinds some provisions of its Section 608 mandate, affecting equipment with 50 lbs. or more of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) or other substitute refrigerants. These best practices were developed in consultation with the HVACR industry to ensure safety, establish proper reclaim and recycling processes, and of course, reduce carbon emissions.

In November 2016, the EPA extended the scope of Section 608 — from refrigerants containing ozone-depleting substances (ODS) to nonexempt substitute refrigerants such as HFCs. Because the Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that the EPA could not ban HFCs, the agency has decided that it also did not have the authority to regulate these refrigerants under Section 608.

Establishing best practices

Awareness of the importance of leak detection has grown exponentially in recent years. Today, most companies understand that implementing a leak response and repair program is simply a best practice. And for those companies that have already taken steps to comply with Section 608, the vacating of this rule will have little impact.

I stated in the article: “These procedures not only benefit the environment but also help ensure HVACR equipment operates at peak efficiency, including at the lowest overall cost. One of the benefits of the existing regulations has been to raise the awareness of best practices related to HVACR maintenance. Increased awareness generally leads to broader adoption by those in the industry, regardless of whether regulations are in place.”

Simply put, leak detection and repair programs make good sense, regardless of the regulations in place or the type of refrigerant being used. However, with the reversal of Section 608, equipment operators will no longer be under federal mandate to follow these widely adopted refrigerant management best practices:

  • Conducting leak rate calculations when refrigerant is added to an appliance
  • Repairing an appliance that leaks above a threshold leak rate
  • Conducting verification tests on repairs
  • Conducting periodic leak inspections on appliances that exceed the threshold leak rate
  • Reporting to the EPA about chronically leaking appliances
  • Retrofitting or retiring appliances that are not repaired
  • Maintaining related records
  • Overseeing technicians’ use of certified equipment and the reclamation process

These procedures are already considered to be the optimal standard practice, and end users who are focused on operational excellence are likely doing many (or most) of them today.

Maintaining other key program elements

The absence of a federal mandate for responsible HFC management creates a quandary for our industry. Currently, the EPA is seeking comments about the remaining provisions of Section 608, raising concerns about the potential for overturning other benefits of programs — specifically, guidelines for refrigerant reclaim procedures and technician certification and training programs.

Proper refrigerant reclamation reduces the likelihood of introducing impurities, which could lead to premature failures and increased maintenance costs for owners of HVACR equipment. What’s more, the certification program provides the vital information on how to deal with the ever-growing number of refrigerants. As I stated in the article: “One benefit of certification is that wholesalers are able to sell refrigerants to technicians who have a sufficient background and understanding of their liability under the Clean Air Act.”

Path forward

Already, several states are adopting standards for leak detection and control. Again, as I noted in the article, “We are already seeing some states such as California enact regulations that adopt many of the requirements in Section 608. Other states will likely step in, which may create more headaches for the industry. This could create problems for the industry and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent regulations that would be challenging for manufacturers and service providers to navigate.”

As always, Emerson will help you stay informed about further changes to Section 608. Regardless of the regulatory decisions, we’ll continue to provide guidance and expertise on how to design and implement refrigerant management programs.

Refrigerant Leak Detection and Regulatory Update

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Proper refrigerant leak detection is essential for retailers, potentially saving them thousands of dollars annually and helping to meet regulatory requirements. For the full article, click here.

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Refrigerant leaks can cause both economic and environmental disruptions for retailers. Today, the average supermarket has two to four refrigeration racks charged with approximately 3,500 pounds of refrigerant. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GreenChill research, about 25 percent (875 pounds) of that refrigerant is lost each year due to leaks. At $7 per pound, this loss equates to an annual expense of about $6,100 — more than $600,000 annually over a chain of 100 stores. And that’s just the financial aspect. In the same 100-store example, nearly 70,000 pounds of refrigerant are leaked into the atmosphere.

Introduced in the 1990s to address emissions of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants used in stationary refrigeration and air conditioning units, Section 608 of the Clean Air Act was revised in 2016 to include hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. This revision also introduced more stringent requirements for repairing leaks in larger appliances as well as new record keeping, reporting and disposal mandates.

Per the 2016 revision to Section 608, the next iteration of these requirements will take effect on January 1, 2019, and include the following changes:

Lower leak thresholds. The new thresholds are 30 percent (from 35 percent) for industrial process refrigeration (IPR), 20 percent (from 35 percent) for commercial refrigeration equipment (CRE), and 10 percent (from 15 percent) for comfort-cooling equipment.

Required inspection and monitoring. Section 608 now requires quarterly/annual leak inspections or the use of automatic, continuous monitoring devices for refrigeration and air conditioning equipment that have exceeded the threshold leak rate.

 New reporting requirements. Owners and operators must maintain hard or electronic copies of reports documenting the full charges of appliances and the types of automatic leak detection systems used. For chronically leaking appliances, owners/operators must also submit reports if their systems contain 50 or more pounds of refrigerant and leak 125 percent or more of their full charge in one calendar year.

 Disposal requirements. Technicians must keep a record of refrigerant recovered during system disposal from systems with charge sizes ranging from 5 to 50 pounds.

With all of these revisions on the horizon, it’s important to note that the EPA takes enforcement very seriously. The consequence of noncompliance can be significant: the agency is authorized to assess fines of $37,500 per day for violations.

We recommend that companies implement effective refrigerant leak detection programs to minimize refrigerant leaks and plan a response strategy in the event of a leak. Direct leak detection technology includes fixed or portable monitors installed on-site, which detect the concentration of refrigerants in the air. These can be set close to the anticipated leak airstream, in enclosed spaces and in areas near the floor where leaked refrigerants collect.

 The renewed regulatory focus on reducing refrigerant leaks has caused retailers to put more emphasis on developing efficient and effective leak detection strategies. Leak detection programs not only allow retailers to stay on top of regulations; they can potentially save costs associated with lost refrigerant, the degradation of refrigerated system performance and food loss.

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