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From Virtual to Reality… One Click?


From Virtual to Reality… One Click?

Author: Robert W. Gray, HVAC/R Marketing Manager, Schneider Electric

We are seeing major changes in the innovative tools available for the HVAC/R Technician these days.  This innovation within the HVAC/R industry is being brought about out of necessity to meet the changing complexion of the technician base.

One innovation being driven by the reality of the market and is impacting HVAC/R Service very positively is the use of IIOT.   The reality is, there are fewer new technicians coming into the trade as compared to those retiring or leaving the trade.   Plus, the new HVAC/R equipment being manufactured by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) today requires greater knowledge of the electronics, refrigerants and mechanical circuitry.   We can look at the “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program” and quickly see where there is a major demand for the HVAC/R technician above any other trade or occupation.

The decrease in the numbers of the certified technician base has created a problem when immediate or unexpected service issues arise in the field.   As an example, if there is a problem with the cooling equipment in a food refrigeration application, downtime could mean a loss of thousands of dollars in product.    The service provider in this case must get “qualified” eyes on the situation in a very short amount of time to determine the fastest course of action.

This realization in the HVAC/R Market, has created the need to develop innovative yet simple to operate tools for the Service entity.   IIOT is playing in major role in in the HVAC/R Equipment Market by helping to alleviate the need to dispatch that highly skilled Journeyman for a non-scheduled on-site inspection or a trouble service call to diagnose performance/operational issues of malfunctioning HVAC/R equipment. 

The technician is hours away and I need answers now!

This scenario is all too often the case.   What if:  you could have anyone on-site, even a person who has very little HVAC/R knowledge, to take a snapshot of the equipment and in real time view key operating parameters of that equipment?     This could include information such as temperatures, refrigerant pressures, KWH, status, and more.     If the person taking the snapshot is not a Certified service technician, that individual would then be able to send the information via the “cloud” to the Service Provider for diagnostics help and support.    At that point, if necessary, the Service Provider could dispatch the Technician with the proper skill set to make the repairs or adjustments needed bring the equipment into proper operation.   So, without hooking up refrigerant hoses, gauges, meters, or opening the electrical cabinet, the Service Provider would have real-time information prior dispatching the Journeyman to the site.

Using Augmented Reality software brings together real-life objects with virtual objects.

This software superimposes real-time data and virtual objects onto machines, which allows operators to have immediate access to operational parameters and data.  A few of the major benefits using this software include:

  • Reduced downtime by allowing operators to see into electrical cabinet doors virtually.
  • Speeds up operation and maintenance by accessing critical information faster. Immediate access to tools such as field support materials, user manuals, instructions, Troubleshooting Guides and electrical wiring diagrams.
  • Reduce the potential for human errors and guides operators step-by-step to complete maintenance procedures and trouble shooting.
  • Provides operators with machine information, including data from PLCs, electrical diagrams, visualizations of machine components and more.

Using Augmented Reality software enables you to see inside the panel without opening the panel door:

A real-world example

There is no need to shut equipment down to view the components inside the panel in order to obtain useful data for service and diagnostics.

Let’s look at a real-life scenario.  Here you have a chiller unit with three compressors located in the customer’s mechanical room (figure-2).   The customer is experiencing comfort issues and needs answers quickly.

Using Augmented Reality Software from an iPad, the snapshot superimposes the real-time data over the unit which reveals at a glance compressor circuit #2 is having a problem (figure-3).   Both the high-pressure and low-pressure readings are out of normal range, plus, the compressor circuit is drawing higher current than it should as well.   The snapshot reveals also that it is a hot day with higher relative humidity than a typical day.   All valuable information for the technician diagnosing the problem.    What used to take hours to gather this information, the Technician has it in seconds.

Both the on-site technician or Service Representative and the remote expert backup would be able to view the history of the operation of the unit and access historical and trending data that would help determine at what point the unit began to have operational issues and how critical this problem is.  They would also have access to manuals, wiring diagrams and troubleshooting guides.

The real-time data could be sent as well to the OEM to help them in tracking how their manufactured units are performing in the field.   This gives the OEM insights never before available that could influence their design and performance standards.

Virtual is now a reality at Schneider Electric

At Schneider Electric virtual has become reality.   “Augmented Operator Adviser” (AOA) is a cloud-based platform for the OEM and/or Service providers enabling them to remotely access HVAC/R equipment.   It not only can streamline maintenance, but also delivers new levels of efficiencies and growth by turning data into key insights for the OEM/machine builders as well.

With AOA in place, the OEM or Service provider can in real time:

  • Track installed HVAC/R equipment:
    • Create model profiles, develop log-books, trend machine history and provide OEM documentation
  • Monitor Operation:
    • Collect and visualize operational machine data
  • Fix:
    • Provide onsite availability of necessary software tools via cloud and summon field technical help if necessary.

Final thoughts

In reality (no pun intended), I don’t believe there is a quick and universal answer to the question asking why our youth today are not pursuing the technical skilled trade ranks.   I believe this trend will continue upward over the coming years and there will be a need for even more tools like the Augmented Operator Advisor.   It is believed that tools like the AOA will help to alleviate some of the problems the reduced numbers of Technicians in the field has developed, plus, increase their efficiency and time management on the job.

In today’s competitive HVAC/R Service arena, use of the Augmented Operator Advisor will reduce the labor costs of the Services Provider. For the OEM, providing a AOA with their manufactured equipment will provide a market differentiator that will help to increase sales and market share.  That being said, we at Schneider Electric is doing our best to provide innovative tools, products and solutions that will make a difference.

About the Author

Robert Gray is HVAC/R OEM segment manager, Industry Business for Schneider Electric. With over 25 years of experience in the HVAC/R industry, his expertise range from commercial and industrial automated controls to large mechanical HVAC/R systems. He holds a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and Marketing.

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