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Decision Point: A Primer to Selection of Engineering Products

Posted by
Roger Chang, December 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

In our daily lifes, we're faced with a plethora of choices over companies to support, whether we're considering a car, a service, a smartphone platform, or a brand of food. Ultimately, our choices are informed by past experience, sometimes by impulse, but most often, through research. Publications, such as Consumer Reports, guide us towards making an informed decision, based on impartial product testing.

For the commercial HVAC product market, we face a daunting challenge of equipment selection, because very often, a designer does not ultimately have control over the final product installed. Due to requirements for competitive procurement, it is very rare for any product to be sole-sourced. The process requires a "basis of design" product to be selected, along with language that alternative vendors and products can be considered, as long as they meet certain performance criteria. Often, there is no way for an engineer to tie in requirements for overall reliability, service support, or final cost.

With recool, we hope to highlight positive experiences we've had with specific manufacturers. One of the key decision points for engineers in selecting equipment is the robustness of product data. Before the proliferation of the internet, product information was typically provided in paper catalogs and by sales representatives. For major HVAC equipment, such as air-handling units, boilers, and chillers, a sales representative uses proprietary data and software to develop a selection, with a corresponding model number. This process often requires a number of iterations, which can result in significant design schedule impacts. With the internet, more product data is now available on manufacturer websites. Manufacturer specific selection tools, whether web-based or stand-alone software installs, can now be used by design engineers. This carries with it certain benefits, as well as risks. It is still possible for an engineer to interpret data incorrectly or to rely on software that results in what appears to be a valid equipment selection, but cannot actually be produced. Lastly, it is extremely rare for any cost data to be provided directly to design firms. The concept of "budget pricing" is prevalent, but impossible to compare from one manufacturer to another.

For this post, we'd like to highlight some of the companies that have created selection tools or websites with clear and informative data. There's still a significant amount of transformation needed in the market, to improve decision making. A final word of caution: a good website doesn't always equate to the best products. In fact, some of the best products are not supported with very good internet prescence. We hope visitors will provide links to their favorite resources and offer comments on ways the market can transform.

Bell and Gossett - B&G is a leading manufacturer of pumps for the HVAC market. Their web-based selection tools are easy to use.

Price - Price has significantly expanded their product line over the past decade and now supplies a range of radiant cooling and heating, chilled beam, and displacement ventilation products, in addition to more traditional terminal units and air distribution devices. Price has incorporated clear engineering guidance and educational resources on their site, with data available in formats most useful to a design engineer.

Baltimore Aircoil Company - BAC is a major supplier of cooling towers, with both web-based and stand-alone software selection tools.

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