Information science has the power to revolutionise the way an HVAC business operates. Wayne D’Aranjo, marketing manager at Brymec, examines two specific digital developments and assesses their impact on the sector.
The digital landscape is changing as initiatives like Industry 4.0 become more firmly entrenched. Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing, where cyber-physical systems link real with virtual objects via the internet – has been around since 2010 but has only recently captured the imagination of business. It was preceded by:
° Industry 2.0: Start of 20th century – Mass production assembly line and electrification.
° Industry 3.0: Start of 1970s – First programmable logic controller, computer, automation and IT.
Industry 4.0 is an enabler for the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ which connects and integrates industrial control systems with enterprise systems, business processes and analytics.
Digitisation involves creating a digital ‘bits-and-bytes’ version of analogue/physical things such as switches and controls. We are already witnessing smart devices being installed into homes and businesses, including intelligent personal assistants, smart security systems, smart thermostats and related controls.
And the development of the digital world is set to accelerate. A decade from now, almost all devices will probably be capable of internet connection and connected predictive and preventive maintenance will be the norm for all key building services including HVAC.
Buildings are likely to be able to interface to the power grid in a more dynamic and flexible way with onsite generation and storage of power and the ability to shift demand patterns.
But, although change over the next 10 years will be dramatic, technological shifts are already starting to happen now. Online purchasing and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are two practical examples of greater digitisation in the HVAC sector and both are set to revolutionise the way the sector conducts its business in future.
Website design can have an enormous impact on efficiency and effectiveness, especially when it comes to ordering components and products. Of course, Amazon showed the way in online retail, but business-to-business sites are now catching on to the benefits of internet supply.
My own company, for example, has recently upgraded its website to make it more intuitive and responsive with a host of features. The site saves customers’ time, money and hassle by making it easier for them to find and purchase the right products and reference technical information.
Customers can also streamline their processes by creating quotes, favourite lists setting up approval chains that mirror their procurement practices and tracking orders from inception to sign-off.
The site, which is designed to work seamlessly across all devices, including PCs, tablets and smartphones, allows customers to view tailored pricing and receive bespoke offers. It also incorporates a search engine that filters product categories, brands and dimensions.
Powerful account management features allow customers to search orders, invoices and proof of delivery; pay invoices online, and set up a purchasing structure and teams in specific account areas. This means they can delegate authority to team members to raise requisitions and/or place orders.
Websites, however, are not the only digital innovation. BIM is the ‘virtual’ modelling and management of a building project throughout its lifecycle in a single building information model.
BIM is a way of working rather a tangible object. It is the process of delivering and operating built assets – which include buildings, bridges and roads – using structured digital information to which all members of the project team have access. It does this by generating and managing digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places.
It offers big advantages to those involved in a HVAC project. For example, it encourages collaboration among project team members and allows project information to be clearly structured and easy to find in one place. This enables project teams to deliver higher quality buildings more efficiently.
But the benefits don’t end there. It also ensures end users are better able to understand how their buildings are performing so that they can improve that performance. And it brings predictability to a project, both in terms of delivery and operation.
Refined and upgraded
Furthermore, it helps to save money and the environment by eliminating wasteful processes and activities and results in fewer errors and reduces rework. Finally, it minimises conflicts and changes during the construction process.
Although it is based on a digital system able to produce drawings, BIM is far more than just computer-aided design. It can, for example, also store architectural, engineering and construction information about a project which can be shared among every member of the project team.
And the dynamic digital models that BIM produces can be used to refine the design, produce ‘what-if’ scenarios, detect potential clashes, or validate performance.
BIM is constantly being refined and upgraded. For example, my own company is increasing ease of access to BIM by linking to BIM Objects produced by its suppliers. By attaching these links to its website, Brymec is able to bring BIM straight to the customer. It is also going a stage further, building a cloud platform where all these BIM Objects will be hosted in a central and easily manageable format.