Market forces and the influences of other industries are starting to move process cooling technologies ahead, especially in the area of controls. This acceleration will be a good thing for mechanical equipment manufacturers who are willing to make the jump — and for users of temperature control systems and chillers.

Since 2010, user demands have built from a rumble to a steady drum-beat call for items such as connectivity and in-place software updates. To meet these needs and provide chillers that can do the job that today’s processors require, chilling equipment manufacturers must rely on a control partner.

So, how do you know if your chiller manufacturer offers a high quality, reliable product with equally high quality, reliable controls? Here are the top four areas of consideration that end users need to investigate when choosing chilling equipment.

1. Who Makes the Controls?

Few process cooling equipment manufacturers make their own controls. Instead, they likely buy controls from a vendor, put their logo on them and install them into the sheet metal box. With this in mind, here are some questions to ask:

•           Who physically makes the controls?

•           Where are the controls made? If they are not made in the United States, you will want to make sure they have a well-established supply chain. If your chiller takes a power hit that burns out your controller, you do not want to be told that it will take three weeks to get a replacement controller from overseas.

•           What support resources are offered to the process equipment manufacturer by the control manufacturer?

2. What is the Policy on In-Place Updates?

How many times has your iPhone or PC been updated in the last year? I would bet at least a few times. If your new process chiller has a microprocessor, touchscreen or both, it will need to be updated as new features and technology become available.

Without the ability to load updates to your process chiller in place, the only way to get the updates may be to pay to have a manufacturer’s representative come out or to swap out the hardware, which can result in unacceptable downtime. (This would be equivalent of sending your PC back to Microsoft to update Windows.)

3. Is a Plan in Place for the Communication Intranet?

This is a complex subject, but a few highlights can be provided within the context of this article. Process chillers nearly always are installed in an industrial or commercial facility. In the near future, most of these facilities will adopt building automation systems (BAS) to take over control of most high amperage electrical loads. This will include lighting, HVAC, security, life safety and process chillers.

When building owners begin to retrofit (or build new) these automation systems into their facilities, there are many options to choose from. This is where the challenge of communication can get complicated.

Currently, the three most common ways for interconnected systems made by multiple manufacturers to communicate with each other using the building’s intranet are via the Modbus, BACnet and Lonworks communication protocols. (A few other protocols exist in the marketplace but these are the most widely used.) The problem arises when the master building system is talking in BACnet and you have a process chiller talking Modbus.

For this reason, there are a few questions that need answers when looking for a base system or any process equipment that will need to communicate with another piece of equipment or system:

•           What communication protocol does the system require?

•           Is a protocol bridge available? If you anticipate a mismatch, find out if one of the manufacturers makes a protocol bridge or if they have a partner from which you can purchase one. For example, if your building automation system uses Modbus and your process chiller talks BACnet, you will need a bridge to get the two platforms talking.

4. Is a Plan in Place for the Communication Internet?

This is another subject that building network managers hate. There is an increasing need for outside parties to communicate with process equipment to perform a range of important tasks such as responding to alarms, sending emails, changing setpoints and handling remote shutdowns. Unlike dealing with communications within a building’s internal network (intranet), getting two-way data traffic in and out of a building via the Internet usually involves both firewalls (data gatekeepers) and routers that perform complex data switching over multiple digital networks.

These devices — while keeping the building’s hardware safe from outside attack — will also block legitimate data traffic. In my experience, network managers get worked up when they are asked to program the network firewalls and routers to allow traffic from the outside into their networks. Oftentimes, this will not be permitted, and it occasionally results in a facility manager having to drive in and reset a chiller at 1 a.m. With these concerns in mind, here are a few items that may be helpful:

•           Does the process chiller vendor offer a virtual private network (VPN) solution? Most network managers are more comfortable with this type of secure data traffic solution and are more agreeable to this type of installation for data sharing.

•           If the process chiller vendor does not offer a VPN hardware option, can the network manager create one using the building’s firewall? Most commercial firewalls offer this feature; however, network managers, especially rookies, may not be experienced at setting one up.

 By considering these factors before buying a chiller, you can be sure that any integrated solution you buy will fit comfortably within your control scheme.  

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