Digital transformation in HVAC production is the process of replacing manual systems and operations with digital technologies. Powered by technological advances in areas such as connectivity, data gathering and artificial intelligence (AI), digital transformation is the key facilitator of Industry 4.0 – a phrase coined to represent the fourth industrial revolution. The adoption of digital technologies is affecting sectors all over the world, with industrial manufacturing one of the key areas to leverage these advances. The HVAC industry is already seeing the benefits of digital transformation, with those manufacturers who have embraced the possibilities of a digital future enjoying significant competitive advantages over their rivals. The combination of the internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML), AI and robotic process automation (RPA) in industrial settings leads to the creation of so-called ‘smart factories’. The impact of smart factories should not be underestimated. By reducing or eliminating labour costs and human error, smart factories have the potential to deliver higher quality products that are manufactured with greater efficiency and precision. Smart factories also have the capacity to monitor and improve production processes in real-time, thanks to the combination of extensive data gathering and powerful AI algorithms.
According to Deloitte, more than four out of every five manufacturers in the United States (83%) are convinced that the way products are made will be completely transformed by the mass introduction of smart factories. So companies like Swiss Rotors, which is proud to have already embraced digital transformation and the possibilities it provides, are already able to deliver world-class HVAC products in faster times.
As regulations and expectations across the HVAC industry increase, with environmental concerns and indoor air quality standards both on the rise, those who embrace digital transformation in HVAC look set to accelerate away from competitors who are more reluctant to switch to a new technological approach.
Three core components of digital transformation in HVAC industrial manufacturing
Well-rounded approaches to digital transformation in HVAC industrial manufacturing generally make use of three strategic elements. By combining these elements, the potential impact of each one increases and the chances of overall success grow significantly.
Automation and robotics in manufacturing processes
Automation and robotics offer huge advantages over traditional manufacturing approaches. While there is an initial cost in the setting up of automated processes, once deployed they offer considerable cost and time savings.
Automated production lines minimise human error. In sectors such as HVAC, this can guarantee maximum air-tightness and precision on products such as energy recovery wheels. Automation guarantees the same outcome every time, reducing potential human errors.
It is also possible to create, test and deploy new automation schemes extremely quickly. With a more manual manufacturing process, this could take days, weeks or even months. But with automation, new production processes can be operational within hours of the order to create them, vastly accelerating time-to-value and significantly reducing lead times for HVAC partners.
Automation offers two other eye-catching benefits.
It removes labour costs through a reduction in the number of employees needed to man production lines. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents in Business Insider Intelligence’s Global IoT Executive Survey admitted this was a key driver in their adoption of smart technologies.
Automation can also increase production quantities, because automated manufacturing processes can run outside of normal working hours. If a process does not need human input, automation enables it to run for as long as is necessary to fulfil any potential demand.
At Swiss Rotors, automation plays a key role in our processes. By delivering quality control, stability and speed, it enables us to achieve our key international qualifications and certifications while still meeting global demand in as quick a time as possible, with typical lead times of just two weeks across our full range of HVAC products.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data – advanced analytics
Smart HVAC manufacturing will be turbocharged by the widespread adoption and use of machine vision. Machine vision is the process of automatic inspection and analysis of manufacturing outputs. It enables fast and accurate quality control checks and, like automation and robotics, removes the potential for human error.
A range of issues, from defect detection through to active alignment, measurement and identification, can all be handled by machine vision. First, a camera system captures incredibly detailed images of each product, before AI-based software assesses and analyses the incoming data.
For HVAC manufacturers, machine vision is an ideal advance. HVAC systems are often tasked with providing adequate protection against particulate exposure. This became even more important during the Covid-19 crisis. But particulate matter is too small for human vision, so quality assurance managers need a 100% reliable way of measuring components to an extremely high level of precision. Machine vision and the resulting digital quality assurance process helps to prevent leaks and promote product longevity. This enables owners and building managers to save on energy consumption, energy costs and ongoing maintenance costs during their HVAC system’s lifetime.
Smart sensors and IoT-driven discrete manufacturing
Smart sensors and IoT devices are the final part of the digital transformation jigsaw. When they are used in conjunction with automation and machine vision, the idea of a smart factory moves from ambition to reality.
Spending on smart sensors and IoT devices accounts for a huge portion of digital transformation budgets in manufacturing firms. This growth has accelerated since 2016, when the global market for IoT discrete parts manufacturing was worth $644 million. With an estimated CAGR of 26.7% between 2017 and 2022, the same market is soon set to be worth $2.8 billion.
At Swiss Rotors, we have found that the most valuable IoT solutions centre around remote monitoring and predictive maintenance. Fueled with knowledge that previously remained hidden, our engineers can now proactively resolve any potential anomalies before they create any large-scale downstream effects in production.
IoT sensors also allow us to track our production processes, optimise our resources and make target improvements. As a result, we are constantly able to take more products to market at faster speeds, confident that our supply chains are optimised thanks to the comprehensive digital asset management life-cycle.
Three ways we’ve embedded digital transformation in our HVAC manufacturing process
Digital transformation is at the heart of Swiss Rotors. It is embedded in our brand values, which make specific reference to AI, automation and robotics. As a result, we are able to offer lower prices, which is crucial for the highly-competitive OEM component industry, as well as increased repeatability and a minimal risk of production mistakes.
Airtightness is essential in our HexWall heat exchange unit, and this can only be achieved through digital precision. Thanks to machine vision, we are quickly able to prevent leakages at scales of 0.04% to 0.6%, while our investments in robotics, automation and remote monitoring has completely streamlined our production process.
Digital transformation is also the driver behind our automated and patented winding solution. It interlocks aluminium foil layers together when building the wheel matrix, delivering higher rotor effectiveness by helping to create our monolith structure.
Finally, our Swiss production lines are capable of producing more than 60,000 counterflow heat exchangers per year – thanks in large part to the introduction of robotic processes that enable repeat production at the highest levels of precision. Typical turnaround times, from order to delivery, are now just two weeks.
To find out more about our vision of the future, and how technology is ensuring we continue to deliver the best possible products at the lowest possible prices, visit our company profile.