Who’s Monitoring Your HVAC/R Systems?
Ideally, It’s a “What” Rather than a “Who”
The “what” and the “who” sound as though they belong in a Dr. Seuss book. Actually, the “what” mentioned in the title of this article refers to the internet. And, fortunately for the foodservice industry, this story is non-fiction. There is no question that the internet has revolutionized our world and how things get accomplished, day or night.
An acronym being bandied about more and more is “IoT,” which stands for the “Internet of Things.” Smart technology is used to power these “things” (such as computers, smartphones, sensors and apps) in order to communicate with each other and potentially manage operations that used to require manual action. The IoT is basically a new buzz-phrase for internet-enabled automation.
And it’s actually been occurring for decades. Computers on earth direct what’s happening on a satellite in outer space. Huge sums of money can be transferred via linked machines. In the world of HVAC/R — heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration equipment can be souped up with smart apps that automatically monitor and adjust settings, or deliver a warning in the event of an outage, gas leak or other issue. This capability can save operators bundles of money, time and trouble while ensuring the comfort and health of customers and staff.
Where do you begin to make sense of all of this? Restaurant Inc called Troy Schwenn, founder of Automation Components, Inc. (ACI), for expert advice. Way back in 1991, ACI started producing high performance temperature sensors in Middleton, Wisc. Today, the company’s 150 employees manufacture an array of components to facilitate operational efficiency and more effectively manage the indoor environment. ACI was recently named “Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year.”
“Maintaining a comfortable and safe indoor environment while cutting operational costs are critical factors for foodservice operators,” Schwenn said. “The very nature of a restaurant or other establishment where food is prepared and consumed involves constant variations in temperature, humidity and air quality. Whether working with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on a new building or updating HVAC/R systems in an existing facility, it is very important to select a company that understands the unique issues of the foodservice industry.”
The IoT marketplace has amazing smart technology apps that can augment existing HVAC/R systems to make a major difference in improving the overall quality of the indoor environment. For example, ACI makes a wireless sensor line that is used to control temperature and humidity, and to reduce the effects of bacteria and mold. It can be added to existing equipment without the mess and expense of rewiring. Current sensors and switches are an easy way to monitor the fans, pumps, compressors, lighting, ovens, coolers, etc. present in most operations. Gas sensors monitor pollutants from carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, natural gas, refrigerants and other combustible and toxic gases. Carbon dioxide sensors monitor the occupancy of a space, and increase or decrease the amount of fresh air ventilation that is needed. During periods of lower occupancy, less fresh air is necessary, thus, less energy is required to heat or cool the air.
“In terms of saving energy, I recommend starting with an energy audit,” Schwenn said. “Energy audits can be used to make informed decisions when trying to reduce your overall energy operating costs, as well as to serve as a benchmark in monitoring your improvement after changes have been made to your systems.” And yes, there’s an app for that.
For quality control, Schwenn insists that every component the company sells is manufactured on-site in Wisconsin. “A reputable company will stand by its products with generous warranties, excellent customer service and technical support,” said Schwenn. “When you need answers in a hurry, you do not want to call a customer-service line only to reach a recording.”
As technology becomes table stakes for more of today’s operators, don’t overlook IoT and how it can positively impact your restaurant.