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The Value of Hiring an Outside Controls Consultant

By Larry Herman – EMS Consultant

Most EMS customers, architects, general contractors, electrical contractors, and even OEMs could benefit from using an experienced Controls Consultant to help them with their projects. In today’s market, though, it seems like everyone who has worked for a few years in a specialized area hangs out their shingle as a “Consultant.” I do see that there may be a need for this in newly emerging technologies. I myself started out consulting after I left Margaux Controls in the 1980s because the technology was so new that most end-users did not possess the combined knowledge of controls and refrigeration to allow them to properly operate their systems. Today, however, most EMS vendors have done a credible job of documenting the basic operations of their systems. It is the desire to do more than the basics is that really requires the skill, vision, and knowledge of an experienced Controls Consultant.

An experienced Controls Consultant will possess a depth of knowledge in the controls industry, developed over years of working with systems, seeing the multitude of issues with integration and operation, devising strategies taken from many areas of the discipline to address the problems and devise creative solutions that customers demand. They will have a knowledge base rooted in not only controls but also in the systems they are controlling; HVAC, Mechanical, Refrigeration, etc. They should be familiar with a number of systems and should have worked for a large number of customers, using all that experience to identify known trouble points and be able to recommend proven solutions. Having hands-on experience with system design and actual installations would be a necessity.

A Consultant will be a source of ideas and implementation. Having seen the process from initial design to final execution, they should be able to deliver information and solutions that in-house employees do not have the time or exposure to provide. Especially in situations where many employees' time is “maximized,” there is little if any time available to look for alternative ideas or new concepts. It is more like “head down and grind out the work” mode for most of them. Alternatively, a Consultant will have their head up, looking at the industry, evaluating coming trends, and merging them with their current experience and knowledge base. The Consultant will see the broad spectrum of the industry, whereas the employee is typically responsible for only one part of the process. Additionally, this experience will be invaluable when assisting those who want to aggressively push the envelope as far as energy-saving strategies.

The right Controls Consultant will provide value far exceeding the cost of their services. These services can range from a one-time consultation about a particular problem to the coordination of long-term projects. An example of this was a customer who was building a new store and asked me to look at the prints for a quick controls evaluation. I reviewed the prints, went to the job site, and talked to operations. For two days’ worth of my time, I found a redundancy that we eliminated to save them 5 times that amount of money. Besides reducing redundancy, other important areas of service are blueprint redlining to scope, control integration, the avoidance of loopholes between trades, value engineering, the balance between saving and monitoring, and various other application issues.

Many companies can and should take advantage of the “a la carte” services that the Consultant has to offer. Architects can use them for print review, OEMs for application analysis, general contractors for job buyout de-scoping and technical questions, electrical contractors for immediate controls expertise, and customers to support their own in-house efforts and to bring in new ideas, develop special projects and help drive innovation. In short, there is specialized knowledge available vis-a-vie the Controls Consultant waiting to help you with whatever portion of this industry you work with, and you will spend less and get better overall results if you take advantage of their services.

Why Controls should drive the Ref/MEP design in Supermarkets

By Larry Herman – President Redline Control Design, LLC,

I have been designing, installing, and integrating Energy Management and Electronic Control Systems in Supermarkets for over 35 years, and I have seen several major changes during that period. Since their onset, electronic controls have always been adapted or integrated into refrigeration, mechanical and electrical design. Due to a long-overdue acceptance of the latest control objectives, that needs to change. Control systems should now take the forefront, and the other MEP systems need to be designed around those capabilities.

When they first arrived on the scene in the early 1980s, electronic controls were quickly accepted by the more progressive chains and owners. They provided a tighter range of control, some energy savings through floating suction setpoint, and certainly the quickly accepted way to achieve product loss prevention through sophisticated alarming abilities. They were typically retro-fitted, either during a new installation, remodel, or as part of a rollout program. In the ensuing years, individual “rack controllers” with better compressor control strategies lead to the refrigeration manufacturer's factory installing them to better run racks using dissimilar horsepower compressors. At a later point, much of the old mechanical controls and clock that were retained as “backup” were eliminated due to better controls reliability, a greater prevalence of replacement parts, and a general reduction in the build cost and complexity of the racks.

This is the point in time where most new and remodeled stores received some sort of “EMS” as a general design parameter. Rack controls were typically supplied by the manufacturers, and architects designed sensor layouts and HVAC controls as part of the systems. The general build of a supermarket stayed pretty much the same. As the capabilities of the systems improved, many new control features were added, including standard and digital unloaders and VFD control of compressors and fan motors. All of these features, though, are evolutionary. The real revolution, which started many years ago in fits and spurts, is finally here, DISTRIBUTED CASE CONTROL.

Pioneered by EMC and EIL back in the late ’90s, distributed case-control has finally been improved to the point where now many companies specify that as the method they want to operate the refrigeration in their stores going forward. Danfoss, Emerson, and Micro Thermo all have sophisticated and reliable case controller systems to run electronic expansion valves and produce dramatic operational performance and cost reductions. What hasn’t changed, not quite yet, is the Ref/MEP design of the store. Many stores are still being designed the old way, with centrally located refrigeration racks and electrical distribution systems. This is what is causing so many discrepancies between the refrigeration/electrical system design and the control design.

The ability of the new EMS to have truly distributed control requires that the MEP designers understand or consult with those who know the capabilities of these systems. This is a crucial area for the “build for less” crowd to identify and embrace. Being able to put smaller refrigeration racks closer to the cases they serve can save tens of thousands in piping costs. Eliminating centrally located electric defrost panels and embracing single-point power to all cases can also save many tens of thousands of dollars in electrical build costs. All of this, though, requires that the full abilities of the selected EMS be understood and utilized. Using all of what the controls can do should drive how the mechanical and electrical systems are designed, not the other way around. This will eliminate many of the headaches and cost over-runs now encountered when the electricals are designed for a conventional store, and the refrigeration is via case-control. Going forward, this must be the norm in order to provide the lowest cost of installation as well as the lowest cost of operation. Please feel free to contact me about any design or integration assistance that you may need.

About the author - Larry Herman has spent his career in the Refrigeration and Controls industry, was at the inception of computer-based EMS in the early 1980s, and has been a Business Entrepreneur, Contractor, Operations Manager, and Consultant over the last 40 years.