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Building it right, making things better

With no shortage of options in the valves market, what is being done to cultivate greater transparency and ensure the correct product is chosen, and maintained properly, to avoid underperforming buildings? Is emerging technology enough to override human shortcomings? Hannah Jo Uy reports…

| | Jul 29, 2018 | 1:53 pm
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Valves are integral components that determine the quality and performance of a building; and their growth is inevitably interlinked with that of the construction industry. Colin Bridges, Business Development Manager, Belimo Automation, speaks on this integral correlation.
“Because we are so closely allied to the buildings construction market,” he says, “where there is increased investment in projects – commercial, residential and governmental buildings – you see a growth in components that make those buildings’ cooling systems work.

Control valves track construction. If construction is high, that generally calls for more demand for things like control valves.” Bridges adds that since the Middle East is a cooling market, with air conditioning being a prerequisite, it is even more important to balance and control the circuits providing the cooling.

Heiri Walker, Business Unit Head, CPS Middle East, Siemens Building Technologies, provides an estimation for the control valves and actuators market to be at approximately USD 10–15 million in the UAE, and USD 20–25 million in Saudi Arabia, “with the major growth area being Pressure Independent Control Valves (PICVs)”.

Taha Kook

Taha Kook, Global Operations Manager, Advanced Technical Solutions (ATS), says the overall control valves market is expected to grow from USD 7.19 billion in 2016 to reach USD 11.24 billion by 2023, with a CAGR of 6.5%. “The Middle East and Africa Industrial Valves Market [will be] worth USD 10 billion by 2019,” Kook says. “The gate and ball valves and control valve are expected to hold a larger share of the control valves market by 2023.” This, he says, is owing to the growing demand for building and construction, from growing economies, such as GCC [region] countries, China, India and Brazil, emphasising that valves have an important role in ensuring safety, efficiency and profitability.

Bridges says that with regard to control valves, the size of the market is split into two. “There are the conventional control valves,” he says, “which are lower cost, lower technology and not normally associated with premium buildings – that would be a cost-based solution, whereas the PICV is more of a quality-based solution. The decisions are based more on a cost basis or a quality basis.”

Bridges adds that with available options in the market, ensuring the proper choice is further complicated as PICVs have become “commoditised”. “About 15-20 years ago, there were only a handful of manufacturers,” he says. “Now there are probably 30 or 40 suppliers. Some make, and some have others make for them.” Providing a perspective on why this is so, Bridges says that controls for air-handling units and fan-coil units are installed by the hundreds of thousands in a typical large-scale project. “You can see why commoditisation has crept in,” he says, “because you have huge numbers and volumes of these devices. Any manufacturer wants to capture that market, so cost does become an issue. He’s competing with everyone else making a PICV, the temptation, therefore, is to produce at lower cost and things that cost less normally don’t perform so well. Cheap cars are not as nice as expensive cars and there’s a reason for that – you make a choice.”

Bridges stresses that the qualities, thus, vary enormously. “What that means is,” he says, “greater care needs to be taken in the way in which the valves are selected. Because of the breadth of quality from poor to high, and everything in between, it’s made the users, consultants and the contractors’ jobs much more difficult.”

Kook says, though cost and energy savings is a main driver, he has seen an encouraging response from stakeholders in their efforts to move away from cost-centric thinking, prompting the company to not only focus on price but also on innovation. “All ATS products are pressure-tested at the factory to assure that there are no leakages or malfunctions owing to manufacturing defects,” he says.

Walker reports a similar trend, adding that since HVAC systems can be responsible for 60-70% of a building’s energy use, though optimising the systems is a key challenge it also provides owners with a big opportunity. “We are seeing MEP consultants beginning to move away from conventional control valves, towards energy-efficient PICVs,” he adds. “Capex, of course, remains an important consideration. However, as the market matures, we are increasingly seeing operating costs, such as energy consumption and maintenance, considered at the design stage.”

A booming retrofit market 

The allure of cost-savings is not only confined to new projects, it also extends to the existing building stock. For the most part, valve manufacturers view the retrofit market across the region as promising. Kook says: “One of the biggest advantages to retrofit HVAC replacement is the fact that a new HVAC system will always run more efficiently. The system will use less energy to operate. This will save us a very significant amount of money. Depending on where our building is located, the cost savings will be greater in regions where the electricity rates are higher. However, energy costs are currently rising substantially almost everywhere, so we have to save a ton of money with a commercial HVAC replacement, regardless of where your building is located.”

Kook says that this is especially true if you add up the energy cost savings over the lifetime of the new commercial HVAC system. “However, updating some equipment is less costly than changing the whole commercial HVAC system,” he adds.

Walker says that Siemens also sees huge potential in the region’s retrofit market as buildings are ageing, utility prices are increasing and awareness of the advantages of energy efficiency continues to gain traction. “A perfect example of a retrofit programme,” he says, “would be our recent contract with Dubai Airports, which will focus on implementing efficiency measures to guarantee annual energy savings of around 20%.”

Bridges says the uptake in retrofit projects is further underpinned by the prevalence of underperforming building HVAC systems that were “built and commissioned in haste and perhaps not with the care and attention that they might have received”. The maintenance and operation of the HVAC system is not always getting the attention it deserves. As a result, he says, there is a growing retrofit market putting some of these buildings right. “Some of these buildings,” he says, “if they were built correctly in the first place wouldn’t require it. But as technology advances and smarter products come to market, it is our obligation to continuously engage and educate potential customers.”

A lack of understanding
The importance of education and engaging with customers, Bridges says, cannot be emphasised enough for the benefit of all stakeholders involved. “There is a lack of understanding in the technical nature of control,” he says, “and as manufacturers, we have the responsibility to explain the way in which our products work in an honest and proper way.” Bridges adds that like many manufacturers, Belimo seeks to engage consultants through technical presentations. “I do mean technical,” he stresses. “I don’t mean just a sales pitch. We talk about fundamentals, the ways in which systems work or should work, the characteristics of certain devices and systems, and we try to engage with the customers about what’s really truly important in selecting and sizing and choosing these types of equipment, so people can understand what they’re buying, and how what they are buying will perform. If price is the only criteria, the system generally will suffer, and value engineering is a phrase bandied about, which in reality often becomes merely cost cutting.”

Bridges laments the gaps in the necessary skillset to ensure quality of building performance. “When we go to buildings and ask the important questions to establish how the system operates or how it’s intended to operate, one constant is that usually the persons we are talking to – the system operator, FM operator or maintenance crew – don’t really truly understand the way in which the system should operate, and it’s not their fault.” In the handover process, Bridges says, there should have been a more concerted effort to educate the company responsible for managing the system on how to understand it better and continue to operate the equipment in the way it was intended. Narrating a real-life encounter, Bridges shares: “I was called recently to four buildings and I asked a series of questions in helping sort and mitigate a Low Delta T issue. Simple questions like pump sequencing, chiller sequencing and what the design flow rate should be for the air-handling unit, were not able to be answered. And if you don’t know the answer to these questions how can you know when they are underperforming? You have to have some real data that serves as a ‘start point’.”

Walker echoes this, touching on Siemens’ efforts to collaborate with organisations such as the Emirates Green Building Council and ASHRAE to run technical presentations to increase awareness. “We’ve worked with customers in the region to demonstrate that intelligently applied technology can make significant resource savings for a building or group of buildings,” he says, “and the results speak for themselves. We believe in using technology to drive sustainability; this is demonstrated by our commitment to ensuring our operations are carbon-neutral by 2030. By then, all Siemens production facilities and buildings are set to achieve a net-zero-carbon footprint. Increasingly, we are seeing greater understanding that sustainability doesn’t just benefit humanity and the environment, but that there are also sound economic and business advantages.”

Kook weighs in, agreeing that incorrect installation, lack of proper maintenance and improper product selection, can cause breakdowns. This, he says, is why the company has been driving the industry to change “from the conventional valve by using separate valves assembled together at the site and change it to the valve package ATS FCU-Link”, which he says has become increasingly popular.

New answers to old problems
Bridges believes the introduction of new data-driven technologies could help address these issues. “We are dealing with a retrofit market and a new build market,” Bridges says. “What we are finding to be difficult is there is often a lack of a holistic approach and important data devices are either not installed or, in situations where they are installed, the devices are not working together to allow the system operator to have the clarity neeeded to control better.

What you can’t measure, you can’t save. Our device is a good case-in point. It offers complete transparency, when there was little before, you could collect the data from a building management system, if it was working properly, if all the sensors were fully operational and accurate, if they were all connected in a way that presents the data on the screen allowing a more pro-active approach to system operation. What the energy valve does is – it has all that multiple data from a single source, so it’s already there; you don’t have to gather it, it’s gathered for you. It can be programmed to act without you even knowing it, as it’s smart algorithms act autonomously in favour of efficiency. Further, these actions are recorded in a date-stamped timeline for review and actions based on hard data.” Bridges stresses that hard data in real time paves the way for predictive maintenance and greater efficiencies throughout the
life of the system.

Walker echoes this, emphasising that the potential of the Internet of Things to revolutionise building technologies is huge. “Already we are seeing more and more HVAC devices connected to the IoT,” he says, “the challenge is to analyse the data they produce, and use it to generate real-world optimisation of building performance. Software is playing an increasingly essential role, which is why we have built a portfolio that includes technologies such as MindSphere; a cloud-based operating system for the Internet of Things, to connect physical infrastructure to the digital world.” MindSphere, he explains, analyses huge volumes of data and uses intelligent algorithms and applications to optimise sustainable building management for greater energy and equipment efficiency, better space utilisation as well as increased user efficiency, comfort and safety.

Bridges says he believes there will be a continuous growth of these kinds of devices and an increase in the types of platforms where that kind of information can be seen and used. “That’s where the cloud comes in, because it allows you to store data and retrieve it as you wish; the real chance for the cloud is, in my opinion, multiple connectivity.”

While technology is evolving in a more intuitive manner to help alleviate old problems, as with any tool, it is only as good as the person wielding it.Therefore, the call to cultivate a more educated market, which will optimise emerging features and benefit from existing solutions, is more relevant than ever, to ensure the best performance of buildings for years to come.


Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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