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The challenge of change

Challenges facing the HVAC indutry range from rapidly changing legislation to advances in communication technology. HVR sought the views of Powrmatic managing director Phil Brompton
One of the many positive things you can say about the HVAC industry is that it's never boring. As a result, anyone who is involved in the industry can expect to face a number of issues, from various directions. As a company that manufactures heating and ventilation products and distributes air conditioners, Powrmatic is no stranger to such issues.

Managing director Phil Brompton has been in the HVAC industry for some 40 years, so he is ideally placed to spot the key trends that are affecting the sector now, and those that are likely to impinge in the near future. 'One of the most obvious issues is the exponential rise we have seen in new legislation,' he observes. 'Much of this is related to energy conservation and, of course, that is to be applauded. However, there has to be a sensible balance whereby the government and other legislative bodies engage in adequate consultation with the industry before imposing changes that may not be practical.

'Without sufficient consultation we risk a repeat of the anomalies we experienced in 2006 when the SBEM calculations were rushed through. One such anomaly was that the calculation method initially favoured inefficient electric heating in air conditioning units over high efficiency gas fired heating - and the industry had to work very hard to get that put right,' he recalls.

With so much new legislation being introduced it would be comforting to think that lessons had been learned from such debacles. However, Phil Brompton isn't entirely convinced. 'I'm not sure the government is giving enough weight to the impact such changes can have on the UK manufacturing industry. And that applies to both our own manufacturing processes and the manufacturers who use our products in their factories,' he warns.

'For example, the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC (ErP Directive) is introducing specific efficiency values for fans with input powers ranging from 125kW to 500kW, from 1st January 2013. This will require us to use ErP compliant fans in our products from this time, but some of these aren't commercially available from fan manufacturers yet.

Units don't qualify for ECA

'Similarly, changes to the efficiency criteria for including gas-fired warm air space heaters in the Energy Technology List were introduced with minimal consultation. The result was manufacturers weren't given time to gear up for increased production of higher efficiency units. Even now the majority of the units currently available don't qualify for Enhanced Capital Allowances.

'Of course, I have no objection to legislation that encourages higher efficiencies. In fact, the current experience of the warm air sector parallels what boiler manufacturers experienced some years ago, with the increased emphasis on condensing units. The important thing is that sufficient time is allowed for such changes to be accommodated. For instance, it is almost certain that the Building Regulations will require net efficiencies of 101% for warm air space heaters in the next few years. The difference here is that there has been sufficient exposure of this intent that companies like ours have had time to introduce condensing technologies to their ranges,' he continues.

Clearly many of these changes are driven from Europe but it seems that not all European countries respond to legislative changes in the same way, as Phil Brompton points out: 'We have heard that some of our European competitors are resisting the move to condensing warm air heaters quite strongly. And there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that such measures aren't policed with equal rigour in all countries.

'The problem with this is that the condensing units cost a little more because of the secondary heat exchanger. So we could end up with a two tier system where efficiency requirements are higher in the UK than in the rest of Europe. This means that UK factory owners end up paying more for their heating systems than their continental competitors, putting them at a disadvantage,' he adds.

Nor is it just the continental companies that are somewhat less than consistent. Powrmatic has recently become a distributor for the Midea range of split system air conditioners, and so needs to keep up to speed with changes in this industry as well.

Phil Brompton points out that the ErP requirements for air conditioners under 12kW are changing here as well, requiring all manufacturers to achieve a Seasonal Coefficient of Performance (SCOP) of 3.4 up to 2014, increasing to 3.8 beyond that date. However, the UK has chosen not to be part of this mandate, though major brands such as Midea will be offering units to this specification.

'This situation further highlights the confusing picture that is presented to our customers and the challenges they face in specifying products when the goal posts keep shifting,' Phil Brompton suggests. 'I think this is going to make communication between manufacturers, specifiers and installers even more important in the future - and that can only be a positive development.

'This is something we have always considered to be important and is one of the reasons for the importance we place on our relationship with installers. We believe an important element of our partnership with installers is to help them understand the implications of such changes through technical bulletins and other aspects of technical support.

'I also believe that greater collaboration at all levels is the way forward for the industry as a whole. The momentum of Building Information Modelling (BIM), and the integrated project approach that supports it, will necessitate a higher level of co-operation and transparency than the construction industry has been used to.

Challenge traditional practices

However, if we are to hit targets for cost and carbon reduction - and deliver a better service to our end customers - we need to challenge traditional practices. I like to think Powrmatic is already ahead of the game in this respect,' he enthuses.

For smaller projects, Phil Brompton believes that more procurement will shift to the internet, particularly for those installers who are on site all day and need to order equipment in the evenings. 'It's clear that the larger projects will continue to need our design and technical support but we also need to be looking at ways to facilitate online purchasing of standard products.

This is something that all HVAC manufacturers will need to address within the next few years if we are remain responsive to customers' requirements. So there are certainly some interesting times ahead for the entire supply chain,' he concludes.

Powrmatic's key milestones

  • 1951: Powrmatic founder BIJ Stamm opens warehouse and office in Whitechapel to supply automatic oil burners from then sister company Kresno Stamm Europa - and develops the first fully automatic oil fired warm air heater.

  • 1957: Re-location to Reading.

  • 1964: Move to bespoke manufacturing facility in Ilminster, Somerset.

  • 1968: Powrvent ventilation products introduced to portfolio.

  • 1971: New launches include ranges of sheet steel boilers and air conditioning products.

  • 1974: Acquisition of Tanaire Ltd brings range of hot water/steam unit heaters to product portfolio. New partnership with Riello Burners leads to discontinuation of Powrmatic's own burner.

  • 1977-1980: New ranges introduced include Sapragaz suspended gas unit heaters, SIME cast iron boilers and Sabiana hot water and steam unit heaters.

  • 1981: New programme initiated to design and develop the PGUH range of suspended gas unit heaters.

  • 1985: Acquisition of Lidiard and Skelton brings fire ventilation equipment to the range. Third factory constructed at Ilminster site.

  • 1997: Formation of Powrmatic Ireland.

  • 2000: PGUH range replaced with NV range.

  • 2003: Purchase of Selkirk Manufacturing, which now trades as SFL Ltd.

  • 2007: Production activities consolidated onto Hortbridge site in Ilminster.

  • 2008: New generation of high efficiency (103 per cent net), fully condensing, low NOx gas unit heaters.

  • 2009: Second generation NV gas unit heater launched.

  • 2010: Powrmatic signs landmark agreement for distribution of heating products within the Russian Federation.

  • 2011: Powrmatic's ventilation division wins contract for London 2012 Aquatic Centre.

  • 2012: Powrmatic appointed UK distributor for Midea air conditioning equipment. High efficiency CPx range of cabinet heaters launched. Purchase of Salvagnini P4 folder increases production capacity.
  • 10 December 2012


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