Internet of Things: An industry introduction

Picture this. It’s an 85°F summer day. With traces of sweat on your brow, you wave your fitness tracker in front of the door to your house to unlock it and step inside. Your tracker informs you that each room is at the 70°F you programmed during your lunch break at work. After dinner, your body temperature has cooled down, and your thermostat has reacted, now at a steady 74°F.

Not wowed?

Then, picture this. There are three employees in a conference room. Employee No. 1 has a body temperature at 98.5°F, No. 2 at 96°F, and No. 3 at 95.5°F. After 10 minutes, the thermostat adjusts itself from 70°F to 72°F. It does this because data from each employee’s fitness tracker has been collected and the thermostat has switched into a “cold” mode according to a majority-rules setting.

If you are always the hot person in the room, this is not a wow factor either.

The takeaway, however, is that both scenarios mimic the thought processes of technology professionals who are considering the future of plumbing, heating and cooling. While the scenarios are just postulated sequences of events, the tools referenced — thermostats, fitness trackers, etc. — are examples of where the industry is headed. Into the Internet of Things (IoT).

There is no simple way to explain IoT. But for the sake of a starting point, it can be described as the connection of tangibles, such as appliances, and intangibles, such as software, which allows for collection and exchange of data. 

Daikin Applied has five tenets of IoT: cloud integration, mobility, data analytics, security, and relevance. Daikin Applied is a member of the global air conditioning company, Daikin Industries. Daikin Applied manufactures technologically advanced commercial HVAC systems that improve performance, reliability and energy efficiency.

“It’s interesting to see individuals focus on IoT from a definition of ‘connecting everything so systems and equipment can now talk back and forth.’ That is only the enablement piece of what IoT is,” said Paul Rauker, vice president of Systems and Controls at Daikin Applied.

Rauker explained that Daikin’s focus on IoT as it relates to the cloud centers on a global approach. The company wants to ensure that they can deliver services across an enterprise. The same message of deliverability carries over into Daikin’s push for mobility. But, Daikin is not focusing on apps, like other companies. Instead, they are focused on a strong user experience, allowing users to connect through a secured browser without worrying about if a device is Android, Apple, Windows, etc.

Big data is another point for which companies have been misguided in technology efforts, according to Rauker. Daikin collects data from devices and then assesses trends, patterns, etc. based on internal and external factors.

“We look at what I call sensory points. You have sensory points for the equipment and what it’s doing. And the other part is the sensory points for human input on the desires of what you want to achieve,” Rauker explained. “Big data is big data. But, you have to create a value-driven, executable action. Otherwise, it’s not worth anything.”

Some businesses are hesitant about analytics because they worry about hacks and breaches. For those concerned customers, security is a part of Daikin’s IoT approach.

“You’ve seen Target and Home Depot’s security issues play out. While some may think HVAC is less prone because we don’t have credit card data, there is a value driven reason,” Rauker said. “So, security and managing that information is a cornerstone in how we deliver our platform.”

The final part to Daikin’s IoT strategy is one that has taken many companies by storm: allowing technology to foster communities. It has taken years for businesses to get on board with concepts such as social media, video calling, and email marketing. Rauker said that in its infancy IoT is being looked at as a system, when it should be looked at as a community. 

“It really is about relevance. The meaning to a community. A community of interactions and information that’s being developed,” Rauker commented.
John Taylor, vice president of Public Affairs at LG Electronics, explained that community is also significant to them, as it mirrors their mission of, “innovation for a better life.” Many people misjudge technology-driven initiatives to be changes for the sake of change. Taylor said that it’s more to IoT.
“We are developing technologies that help consumers manage their busy households, and their lives in general, in more efficient and intuitive ways,” Taylor noted. 

Because of LG’s diverse portfolio of air conditioners, appliances, mobile devices, computers, TVs, and audio offerings, they have found IoT to be almost unavoidable. The company knows that the odds are in their favor to be a major player in IoT.

LG started exploring IoT nearly a decade ago. Initial conversations trickled down from their parent company LG Corporation, which is headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. In the near future, LG hopes to roll IoT into its “LG Academies,” which offer training and certification to U.S. industry professionals.  
Like LG, Bosch, global manufacturer of heating equipment, power tools, household appliances, auto parts, security systems, software solutions, and more, knew that IoT represented the future of their extensive portfolio.

“Bosch has been exploring IoT technology for some time now and already has considerable experience in this realm,” explained Goncalo Costa, director of Product Management for Hydronic Heating, Domestic Hot Water and Geothermal  for Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. serving U.S. and Canada. “We have sold 50,000 networked heating systems in Europe. Bosch Security Systems already generates more than half of its sales in the video surveillance market with internet-enabled cameras. And, there is so much more to come.”

In March, Bosch announced the formation of an international joint venture with ABB and Cisco Systems called mozaiq operations GmbH. ABB is a global corporation that works in robotics, power and automation technology. Cisco is a worldwide leader in information technology. With the joint venture, the three companies are working on the development and operation of an open-software platform for all home appliances, devices and services, to simplify the experience for home owners.

Bosch’s training department currently offers courses on controls and programmable thermostats. The trainings are available exclusively to Bosch and Buderus Professional Installers. 

“Much of this technology is relatively new to the average consumer. We are providing simplified materials, such as instructional videos and quick reference guides, to help the homeowner and the installer setup and program,” Costa noted.

Daikin has also been exploring IoT since before it was a “catch phrase.” About four years ago, the company became interested in the concept to see what it would enable them to do regarding user experience and value. Most recently, Daikin rolled out IoT training webinars for industry professionals. The company has also partnered with Intel, the computer processors company that has expanded into smart and connected computing innovation, on IoT awareness campaigns.

Another growing partner for Daikin Industries, since working on IoT, is Nest. Nest is the technology-focused home products company that has most notably received attention for their Learning Thermostat. Daikin’s residential HVAC group member Goodman has been key to the company’s partnership with Nest. Goodman manufactures residential and light commercial air conditioning, heating, and indoor air quality products and systems.

Nest is all for partnership. The company firmly believes that IoT will only reach its greatest potential when businesses understand that it is about an ecosystem in which creative collaboration is championed and not ridiculed.

“There are plenty of manufacturers that are trying to be in the space and be a leader. But, there are gaps in their market approach or their technology that hinder them,” said Gene LaNois, head of the Professional Channel at Nest. “The way that we’re doing it is through open APIs [Application Program Interfaces]. We are opening our protocols for other manufacturers to write software to, and establishing a great local, non-Wi-Fi, in-house communication.”

The company recently launched “Works with Nest,” a program where developers can access Nest’s APIs to connect with Nest products. Since the program started in 2014, more than 11,000 developers have participated.

Nest is eager to get more industry professionals involved with their work. When the company started, they focused on other channels including Big Box, Retail, and E-commerce. But in the past two years, Nest’s Enterprise and Professional channels have shown the fastest growth.

“Now, we have a huge amount of dedication to the Professional Channel,” LaNois commented. “I was an installer and company owner of a heating and air conditioning equipment business. I was hired specifically to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for the pros.”

Today, Nest Professionals receive customer referrals and enjoy separate SKUs and packing for Nest products. In October, the company launched an exclusive five-year warranty for Nest Professionals; different from their standard two-year warranty. Also, Nest offerings are now available in more than 1,200 wholesale and distributor shops.

In 2015, Nest launched its “Pro Tours.” Each tour takes place in a different city where Nest rents out spaces ranging from billiards halls to conference rooms to teach professionals about their offerings. The events are not limited to Nest Professionals, which has allowed the company to attract more than 2,000 attendees to-date. 

The offerings being taught in Bosch trainings and showcased at Nest tours are at the industry’s fingertips. Increasingly, from trade shows to wholesale counters, professionals will begin to see IoT come to life. 

On the market already is Bosch’s next generation of smart controls for boilers. The Bosch Smart Control is managed from the Smart Control app, which is free to download on Apple and Android devices.

“We wanted to develop a product that takes ‘smart’ a step further by offering capabilities that provide tangible value to our customers. Many smart Wi-Fi-enabled controls collect and distribute user data, but the Bosch control stores users’ information within the unit in their home, not on an external server or cloud. This ensures personal information is secure and won’t be shared. And when there’s a temporary loss of an Internet connection, the thermostat will still function in manual mode by using the touchscreen,” Costa explained. “The Bosch Smart Control exemplifies our ‘Invented for life’ foundation, and we are very proud of that.”

LG is currently offering its Dry Contact Module with features such as evaporator platinum fins, mode change, lock function, and error monitoring. Though it connects to an outside power source, the module enables the indoor unit to be controlled and monitored by third-party controls using binary inputs and outputs. 

“The Dry Contact Module is an alternative to a standard zone controller that will allow a third-party digital thermostat, a Nest thermostat for instance, to control your LG Multi V indoor units. This is an example of how we’re viewing IoT as not just LG-centric but an ecosystem,” Taylor said.

Nest’s most recent IoT development is “Nest Weave.” Nest Weave is a communication protocol that lets devices talk directly to each other, and to Nest products. The protocol helps solve issues associated with connecting products in the home, including the ability to connect power-constrained devices. The Linus Lock by Yale is the first Works with Nest product to use the protocol. 

“Nest is a product company that is really focused on reinventing the unloved things in the home,” LaNois commented. “There’s a lot of focus for us on things that help people save energy, keep them safe, make them aware, and keep them in contact with the home.”

In January, Daikin Applied launched its new technology platform, Intelligent Equipment. With the platform, HVAC systems can be monitored and controlled remotely from mobile devices, allowing for quick adjustments to correct ineffective and inefficient systems. The platform is powered by an Intel IoT Gateway along with Intel Decision Solutions: Trend Analytics Module, which offers predictive maintenance. The solution also includes a Wind River IoT platform based on its Linux operating system, and security from Intel McAfee.

“IoT is impacting all levels of how we conduct business at the equipment and controls level,” Rauker said. “We’re able to receive actionable, real-time data and see shifts in behavior instantly, without expending additional effort – something that hasn’t been possible before now.”

With all of that said, why should you care? The consensus says because IoT is inevitable. Everyone from manufacturers to installers will feel a shift in construction technology over the next five years.

“The connected space, where products are talking to each other and things in the home, is not going to go away,” LaNois said. “As our CEO said at an event, ‘not getting involved in the connected process is kind of like betting against the electrification of the home years ago.’

LaNois said that he has witnessed an increase in professionals getting involved with IoT due to marketing and outreach on Nest’s behalf and exposure to construction technology among consumers. The plumbing, heating, and cooling industry, specifically, is in an ideal position to take on the ecosystem approach of IoT and expand portfolios, according to LaNois.

“We’re not asking you to do anything that is so far out of bounds from your core, everyday business,” LaNois said. “These are simple, reliable, and quick-to-install products. We feel like we’re the easiest path for professionals to start to get their feet wet in this space.”

Nest believes that professionals are the gateway to increased consumer understanding and investment in IoT offerings. They want to not only help the industry learn about products, but also how to sell products. 

“Different consumers are going to have different hot points. Installers should get exposed to the products so they aren’t guessing on what to say,” LaNois commented. “We’ve got great personal use offerings for those who register as a Nest Professional. Once you have it in your home, you become more articulate on the benefits, and automatically become an ambassador.”

Rauker pointed out that another selling point of IoT is savings. Building Automation Systems (BAS) have made a mark in the commercial market. But they don’t always work for small- to mid-size companies, according to Rauker.

“That market has been underserved and they want the complex functionality of a BAS,” Rauker said. “We’re giving these individuals the opportunity to control and manage significant portions of a building and save money. You’ll be able to predict essentially when something could fail. You could run diagnostic programs that tell you if something is not running in the most efficient way and then auto correct itself. There’s tremendous opportunity.”

Industry manufacturers already involved with IoT anticipate that high-tech offerings will create more options for professionals and consumers, and eventually become standard.

“This is going to evolve very quickly. The individuals who grew up in the last 10 to 15 years are going to become the dominant consumers and you’re going to see their desire for more technology and ways to make life easier,” Rauker said. “The plumbing, heating and cooling industry is a tough one to make any big change, but IoT is definitely going to disrupt models and the way businesses have handled themselves.”

Taylor added that IoT also presents an opportunity to bridge the gap between young professionals and veterans. For veterans, he said, the key will be removing the fear of new technology and improving understanding of concepts such as IoT.

“The challenge we have as an industry is to help educate about value. It’s going to be less talking about the overall concept and more selling the benefits of IoT technologies,” Taylor said. “Because though it sounds like The Jetsons, it’s here today.”

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