A first look at innovations from the Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Exposition.

I love to attend the annual AHR Expositions just to see the new technology and to find out which way our industry is headed. This year it was held in Anaheim, Calif., and although this is considered an “off year” - and some of the largest HVAC equipment manufacturers (such as Carrier and Trane) have continued their leave of absence from our industry's only international showing of what's old and what's new - I did find some interesting new products and some interesting new technology.

Of course, realize that new products and technology at the show may not be manufactured for another year or two, and some of it may never be manufactured at all. But any new ideas that you'll find give us some sense of the industry's direction. And sometimes, when you are there, you even have to pry a bit to get manufacturers to admit what they're doing. Also, you will usually find little literature and the specifications may change considerably before a finished product hits the market. So, as I cover what I found at the Exposition in the next couple of issues, don't blame me if things aren't quite the way I describe them a year or two from now.

The sad thing about Carrier and Trane not being at the show is that I can't tell you what the industry's largest innovators are doing. However, that does afford me the chance to discuss what their smaller competitors have accomplished.

It's not really a small company, and not really new technology, but I was happy to see YORK International at a booth displaying a handsome new line of residential HVAC equipment. It is very well designed. And I was also interested to find the compressor manufacturer, Tecumseh, showing a new line of replacement residential air-conditioning systems (a new direction for them). They say that they will be offering the systems through their distribution partners.

Of real interest to me is the new technology that will soon be offered by the Japanese manufacturer (which is looking for distribution), Fujitsu. And I actually found three different great ideas of theirs that are worthy of discussion.

The first innovation is their “future technology” single-compressor multizone heat pump. The condensing unit is rated at a little over 4.5 tons (54,000-Btus) and it can be connected to up to eight 9,000-Btu airhandlers, which are available in ducted or wall-mount configurations, and each can be individually operated using its own digital-electronic thermostat. In my opinion, this is a very important innovation that everyone in the business should look at very closely. In fact, I noted numerous Asian competitors snapping photos (which really isn't supposed to be allowed at the show), so I expect to see many more such products coming to next year's exhibition.

The problem with most Asian HVAC equipment is that traditionally it has been a bit overpriced for the North American market. However, when you only need a single-compressor condensing unit (and multiple airhandlers), the installed price for an entire system starts to drop dramatically. And such systems are usually far more efficient, more comfortable, and quieter than traditional domestic systems.

Can you see the market for such equipment - where every room in a house, office or motel has its own thermostat and airhandler? Yes, something similar was offered several years ago by the first Japanese manufacturer to enter this country (Daikin), but the technology is new and improved here. This line offers a variable-speed compressor drive, which is far more efficient than the old Daikin system. And it offers an added advantage: In the heating mode they use the energy produced by the frequency drive to add to the regular heat (there is no electric strip heater), which they claim provides almost 70% output down to 5 degrees F outdoor temperature, and this allows these systems to be installed farther north than usual.

The two other innovations from that company include a wall-mount airhandler (mini-split) that has its own built-in electronic air cleaner, and a case design that employs the Coanda effect in the cooling mode to provide better air throw.

Next month's column will cover innovations in compressor technology I saw at the AHR Exposition.