As seen in Plumbing Engineer Magazine - May 2016 issue
and also online at www.plumbingengineer.com
By Bob Miodonski
Contractors must view total system to achieve optimal efficiency, comfort
Armstrong’s Design Envelope pump technology targets better performance and lower installed costs.
Plumbing & Mechanical interviewed Lex van der Weerd, CEO of Armstrong Fluid Technology, Feb. 22 at the company’s headquarters in Toronto. In 2011, van der Weerd became the first non-family member to lead the company. Before joining Armstrong, he spent almost five years as president of Belimo’s American operations. He previously was with Carrier Corp. for 16 years in general management positions in Europe, Asia and the United States.
PM: Given your background with Carrier and Belimo, how do you compare the efficiency of hydronic systems with variable refrigerant flow and forced-air HVAC systems?
LW: We had many discussions within Carrier on which systems were better. People can make the case either way, but most of the time the hydronic systems come out on top. There’s no question in my mind that the best systems are designed with hydronics. By definition, water is a more efficient medium than air for heat transfer. Plenty of studies have been done comparing hydronic and VRF systems. For example, ASHRAE’s building in Atlanta published the results of VRF vs. hydronic heating, and hydronic heating came out on top in terms of energy efficiency. I also happen to think hydronic systems provide much more comfortable and evenly distributed heating or cooling.
PM: How do you describe Armstrong’s Design Envelope technology to contractors and engineers?
LW: The simple explanation is they can have lowest installed cost and lowest operating cost. We use electronic solutions to replace mechanical components in a system to be able to downsize the equipment and reduce installation cost. For example, we can replace flow-meter differential pressure sensors with electronic solutions. If you look at what it costs to install the piping and wiring in other systems, Design Envelope equipment allows us to offer the lowest installed cost. Fewer mechanical components make the system more compact. There’s less piping, less floor space required and the wiring is much simpler.
PM: How can plumbing and heating contractors establish themselves as green building experts?
LW: The important part is as a contractor you have to take a broader view. You have to be willing to understand how a piece of equipment works in the total system as opposed to simply looking at a pump, a drive or an actuator. You have to understand how everything works together.
It takes courage and hard work to make real progress in energy efficiency. What we often see happen is a building owner at the beginning says, “This is what we want to do.” We spec in products and the project is laid out, and then the contractor starts value engineering. That’s where we think many mistakes are made. We take our eye off the ball and don’t look at a building holistically anymore. The contractor looks at how he can reduce his section of the total installed cost. This is counterproductive and not doing the end customer — the building owner — any favors.
PM: What changes in pump technology excite you the most?
LW: In terms of technology, we have taken our Design Envelope solutions patented parallel system configurations, which amplify the installation- and operating- cost savings and provide redundancy that completely changes the way we load at duty/standing equipment. Also, we see much of the innovation on the materials side. I think this activity is going to be really interesting. It will allow us to change some of the dynamics of the industry and really shorten that development cycle.
We also think the whole notion of connectivity — and making sure our pumps and fluid systems become increasingly connected in buildings — is something you will see much more. We are uniquely positioned with our leading role in building electronics and controls in our products.
PM: If you had one piece of strategic business advice to give to contractors, what would it be?
LW: Have the courage to do what’s right in the eyes of the customer.
PM: Closing thoughts?
LW: We feel very good about our business and our heritage. One of my beliefs is we’re only limited by our energy and imagination. Fortunately, we have a lot of imagination at Armstrong. Sometimes it becomes a matter of how do we decide what not to do.
This is a wonderful business that will permit the contractor and distributor to be very successful. People need to understand the technology and how it is applied. But if that’s done right, you can make a lot of money with Armstrong if you’re a distributor or a contractor because our products are so versatile and so cost-effective.
Read more from Armstrong's Lex van der Weerd at PMmag.com.
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