Boiler industry changes with the times
Smart technology, higher-efficiency units, increased training part of evolving landscape.
What’s new in the boiler industry?
That’s the sentiment of manufacturers that took part in this annual pme look at the latest boiler trends.
Like many other product categories in the PHCP industry, smart technology advances are becoming more widespread in this space.
“Controls continue to become more capable, enabling a boiler control to run multiple boilers, across multiple applications and temperature zones, optimizing boiler rotation to balance the load across each boiler,” says John D. Miller, senior product manager at Weil-McLain. “In addition, more controls are able to integrate easily with the smart-home environment and commercial building management systems, including products with imbedded communication technology to enable connectivity for remote monitoring/alerts, and analytics for predictive maintenance.”
Chuck O’Donnell, director of marketing at Laars Heating Systems, sees two sides to the smart technology equation. “There’s a growing interest in remote connectivity in the commercial boiler sector when value-added services such as maintenance monitoring can be offered,” he says. “But the adoption of new control technology in the heating industry takes longer than in many other industries, and is happening at a slower rate than initial interest may have suggested.”
But O’Donnell notes the ability to utilize data now available from advancements in technology is only going to help stakeholders. “As engineers and building owners continue down the path of minimizing operational costs, we see a future trend toward the collection of operational data that can be interpreted into prescriptive action,” he explains. “Tracking of this data can reveal irregularities in operation that may indicate the need for maintenance or an installation problem to be resolved. Fixing issues that prevent boilers from running at maximum efficiency can save building owners a lot of money, and they’ll also be glad to know it’s best for the environment, while reducing their carbon footprint.”
The efficiency superhighway
Kal Osman, director of boilers at AERCO, notes an accelerated more toward even more efficient boilers is underway.
“In fact, the condensing boiler market has now surpassed noncondensing in the commercial sector,” he says. “The availability of condensing boiler technology helps address lower emissions, higher efficiency, plant sophisticated controls, and real-time access to plant operation. These capabilities are critical in driving the boiler industry toward new environmental regulations.”
John Kopf, boiler product manager at Navien, adds: “High-efficiency condensing boilers are expected to greatly outnumber standard efficiency boilers in the near future. This is driven by the cost of energy, upcoming higher-efficiency regulations, need for smaller size of condensing boilers, better controls and environmental protection issues.”
To that point, Kopf mentions two other important trends he’s seeing, a PVC venting material ban and lowering the minimum acceptable levels of NOx. Kopf notes some locales (New York City boroughs mentioned as one example, plus Massachusetts looking into it) have banned PVC materials for the use in boiler exhaust systems. “We should expect this trend to continue in the future as more jurisdictions will most likely ban PVC to be used in high-temperature applications,” he says.
In terms of the NOx issue, Kopf notes most states currently require some kind of minimum level to be met. In California, he explains, NOx levels are required to be below 20 ppm in most areas, while some areas require as low as 9 ppm. “This trend will continue in the future as acceptable NOx levels will be getting closer to 9 ppm in California and 20 ppm in the rest of the U.S.”
Raypak’s Augusta Gohil notes new federal regulations related to commercial packaged boilers are expected to be published soon and will require all boilers larger than 300,000 Btu/h, meet 84% or higher thermal efficiency by about 2021 or three years from the date of publication. “In order to meet the trend toward higher-efficiency standards, manufacturers continue focusing on improved efficiencies with fan-assisted or condensing boilers.”
Boiler manufacturers agree working with the engineering community remains of utmost importance. “Through ongoing conversations with specifiers, we know they continue working with trusted commercial manufacturing partners that provide customized solutions for their projects,” Gohil says. “We support our customers from product development through project specification, delivery, install and beyond. We know what specifying engineers and facility operators need and we continue to offer customized solutions and ongoing communication and support.”
Dan Moffroid, director of product management at Bosch Thermotechnology, says the manufacturer is laser-committed to working with its engineer customers. “The keys are being able to talk to them face to face, being able to expose them to the benefits of our products, training them, giving presentations to groups of engineers, providing continuing education units at trainings, and providing them submittals to make it easy for them to specify a particular product on a particular job,” he says.
O’Donnell notes Laars has a network of regional sales managers and manufacturers reps across North America who work with engineers to discuss system design, as well as product operational details. “Having tools for engineers to use during the selection and specification process is key to their success,” he says.
Where things are headed
Looking into the future, Bosch’s Moffroid sees manufacturers striving to achieve a triple play of sorts. “I see the next big thing in heating systems: to reach a high comfort level, high efficiency and an affordable cost position,” he says.
AERCO’s Osman says the focus moving forward is on applications. “This helps engineers and building owners view the boiler as a major piece of equipment that can help improve the efficiency of a system, while addressing specific application needs,” he says. “One example is combining heating and domestic hot water. The most common heating and DHW systems are based on old designs used with noncondensing boilers. This actually degrades the system efficiency. Some manufacturers are tackling these issues directly with new and innovative ways to improve overall system efficiency, while providing two independent temperatures.”
Weil-McLain’s Miller says to keep an eye on the topic of the industry’s workforce. “An impending trend is the changing knowledge base of our industry’s technicians and installing contractors,” he says. “The average age of our existing contractor group is 57, with an average retirement age of 62. Weil-McLain is working closely with our channel partners to provide education to improve technical skills needed to install and maintain equipment, as well as application knowledge to ensure the correct type of product selection. On the product side, we continue to develop equipment that is easier to install and troubleshoot, resulting in higher field productivity and reliability.”
Navien’s Kopf pegs further developments in the heat exchanger design, improvements in controls and overall reliability as topics that will define future boiler designs. “In my opinion, all boilers will be high-efficiency condensing type with smart controls that are fully integrated with the residential home’s private networks,” he says. “The commercial boiler controls will also be fully integrated with the MBS systems, and will allow building owners to anticipate failures before they become critical and unexpected events.
“The predictive and preventative maintenance will allow managers and building owners to plan their budgets and resources before failures happen. Since the unexpected failures can be very costly, will happen when all service techs are busy, and will often result in lack of heat when it’s needed most, this will be the next big thing for the industry.”