Johnson Controls and Hitachi Air Conditioning set up joint venture

Johnson Controls, Hitachi Air Conditioning, free cooling, VRF

The big news in the air-conditioning world last month was the commencement of global operations for a joint venture between Johnson Controls and Hitachi Appliances. The joint venture is known as Johnson Controls — Hitachi Air Conditioning and is 60% owned by Johnson Controls and 40% by Hitachi Appliances.

It is a huge operation with some 14 000 employees and 24 global locations dedicated to design, engineering and manufacturing throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Combined customers now have access to the most diverse range of air-conditioning products in the industry — including Hitachi’s VRF air-conditioning systems, residential air conditioning, chillers, and rotary and scroll compressors. Johnson Controls offers HVAC and building-automation solutions.

It is a major global business story, but how does it bear on the air-conditioning market in Europe and the UK?

The starting point is Hitachi’s factory in Spain, which has been producing air-conditioning equipment since 1992. It now sports huge signs declaring it to be part of Johnson Controls — Hitachi Air Conditioning.

The factory is on a 4 ha site near Barcelona in Spain. There are nearly 20 000 m2 of buildings, including 10 000 m2 of factory space, warehousing for finished good, quality-control facilities and workshops. 350 people work on the site, which has an annual turnover of €90 million

Among equipment produced in this factory are VRF equipment, packaged air conditioners and 4-way cassettes. Also produced in this factory are air-cooled chillers and water-cooled chillers capable of up to 1200 kW of cooling. Controls and accessories are also made. The factory also produces air-to-water heat pumps.

Monthly energy consumption (kWh) for a hairdressing salon with (light blue) and without (dark blue) Econofresh free cooling.

It is very much a European factory, with its output meeting around 80% of what Hitachi supplies to the European market place.

There is considerable capability to increase output, for the 10 production lines currently run a single shift at about 70% of their capacity.

Quality control and checking is carried out at various stages of production. It includes the individual testing of every single unit for potential refrigerant leaks. Testing is carried out using helium. Units are then vacuumed down and charged with refrigerant.

In keeping with its European focus, the site designs and develops air-conditioning and heat-pump systems for commercial and residential applications in Europe. Supporting these capabilities is a range of test facilities that includes four calorimeter facilities for air-conditioning equipment and air-to-water heat pumps. Currently under construction is an EMC (electro-magnetic compatibility) test chamber.

It is apparent that the facility at Barcelona is well geared up to bring to the European market products developed for European needs.

In the UK, Hitachi Air Conditioning has premises at Maidenhead, which includes its Aircademy training centre.

Martin Richards, UK and Ireland manager, is keen to use the new joint venture to raise the company’s profile in the UK and Ireland — starting by promoting products that are not generally known about in the UK but which have been available for some time.

One is the Econofresh system to add free-cooling capability to split air-conditioning systems. Another is the Utopia RASC centrifugal small-scale VRF system that can be installed completely within a building, with the ‘outdoor’ unit either close to an outside wall with grilles in it or ducted to the outside.

The VRF ‘outdoor’ unit that is installed indoors — Hitachi’s Utopia RASC system.

The concept of Econofresh is to support compressor-based air conditioning by delivering partial or, even, full free cooling when ambient conditions permit. It is not a heat-recovery unit.

Martin Richards says, ‘The UK’s climate is naturally suited to free-cooling technology, which can significantly reduce energy bills and attain a return on investment very quickly.’

The amount of free cooling is controlled by a damper, which can be set to ensure that the minimum requirement for fresh air is met.

Control possibilities obviously include temperature, but a CO2 sensor can also be used to ensure high standards of indoor air quality. An enthalpy probe can maximise energy savings.

A case study of a hairdressing salon in Madrid demonstrates the capabilities of Econofresh. This salon has a floor area of 50 m2, and a lot of heat is produced by electrical devices. A before-and-after comparison (see bar chart) showed an annual energy consumption of 12 430 kWh before an Econofresh unit was installed, which fell to 8090 kWh a year. The cost saving was over €900 a year, with a payback of less than 16 months.

Another innovation to the UK is the Utopia RASC system that brings the capabilities of VRF air conditioning to buildings where is it not possible to install ‘outdoor’ units outdoors. The RASC unit is compatible with all Set Free indoor units and can serve up to six units. A centrifugal fan in the central unit is the key to delivering enough pressure to reject heat through a length of ductwork to the outside world.

Martin Richards says, ‘Owners of listed buildings or buildings with outdoor space restrictions are often limited in their choice of air-conditioning unit. By installing a Utopia centrifugal unit, end users will receive the full benefits of a highly efficient split system whilst circumventing the challenges in complying with building regulations.’

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