Can Ice Damage Your Building?

Ice is a menace to our paved surfaces. It can destroy foundations, roads, concrete structures, pipes, and more. This is one of the key strengths of crystal structures. They can exert great force on their surroundings. Ice starts from liquid water, so it can move, invade, and then cause a massive obstruction or destruction with ease. What few people realize however, is just how much damage it can cause to the rest of a building. High Loads in Weak Places Ice will easily accumulate at the sides of a building, where water typically runs into the gutters. During cold weather events and cycles of melting and freezing, the gutters can become clogged. Water first freezes inside the gutters, then it flows over the edges and starts to freeze on the sides and down the bottom of the gutters. This will quickly grow into a major issue: ice is heavy. The exact weight of ice per-volume will vary with the temperature. For round numbers sake we’ll say a gallon of ice weighs eight pounds. Raingutters vary in capacity as well, a five-inch wide gutter holds just over a gallon and a six inch gutter holds two gallons, per foot. You can see this is going to get heavy very quickly. If your business has one side with rain gutters that is forty foot long, and those are six inch rain gutters, then those gutters alone would weigh 640 pounds once they’re […]

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How Far Does Automation Go?

Your fire safety system is basically a parasite with its tendrils all over the building. It can tap into breakers, elevators, hvac, security, and more inside the building, but is that as far as Building Automation goes? How much can we automate inside a building, if we throw our budget out the window and just build until our engineers are completely fried? Environmental Automation Let’s start with human-level, the things operating a building around us, that we’ll never see or realize are there, managing the environment in the background. We all know that our HVAC systems turn off and on in response to temperature. That is pretty much just the tip of the iceberg. With modern controls we can regulate the air temperature, pressure, humidity, and in some sense, even the ‘freshness’ of the air. We can create rooms with positive pressure, such as surgical words, to prevent bacteria from getting in. We can create negative pressure to help air circulate or pull in fresh outside air. There’s humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and operating schedules to ensure a given volume of air travels into or out of a room on a schedule. There’s even occupancy sensors to concentrate the most environmental management effort where it matters: around people. Then things go a step farther. There are occupancy sensors managing the lights, but with modern LED systems, some buildings actually change the intensity and color of the lights throughout the day, on top […]

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What is a Rollout Switch?

Your furnace is full of sensors, regulators, switches, and detectors of near everything. There are flame sensors, temperature sensors, pressure switches. That’s a lot of stuff that mostly feed into a controller that operates the furnace as long as it sees all the right readings. That one device is an almost single failure point. The only good way to stay safe is with redundancy. In most cases, these are physical, mechanical safeties which will over-ride every other part of a system and force it to stop cold. Cutting Power on Failure The Roll Out Switch is in simplest terms, a very fancy fuse. Most furnaces will have several of them spread throughout, each tuned to a particularly temperature. One near the burner or heat exchanger may be designed to trip if the furnace exceeds it’s maximum rated operating temperature. Another near the controller board may be set much lower, perhaps around 90 degrees celsius, just shy of when most silicon chips start to fail. Some may rest near the fuel line and manifold, set to extremely low temperatures, in case a leak and fire occurs away from the burner. In the event that any of these switches trip, all power to the furnace is cut. There’s no shutdown process, it just loses all electrical power. If things were going wrong or at risk of going wrong, this usually stops the problem dead in its tracks. A shut down furnace cannot […]

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Why Use an Electric Actuator?

In many ways, electric actuators are the holy grail. They are precise, efficient, fast to respond, have low support requirements, can be bought cheaply, can be easily retrofitted into existing environments, and in principal can be configured for absurd output torque. There aren’t a lot of downsides here. We’ve harnessed hydraulic and pneumatic power to move things, but that was always a multi-step procedure. With electronics? Nearly everything is built right into the actuator.   Minimal Install Requirements Facilities using hydraulics and pneumatics need to provide hoses, valves, pumps, compressors, reservoirs, and more. It’s a lot of hardware just to make something move. That’s a lot of money, maintenance time, and space just to have your fully automated, multi-zone heating system. It’s a lot even if you’re automating a brewery or bakery, where the equipment will ultimately save time and money. Facilities using electrical actuators however, need only provide power and control signals. In some cases, multi-phase power is required, but that mostly boils down to some extra electrical panels and service wires. Each actuator is pretty much independent and will operate regardless of what the rest of the facility is doing. That’s less hardware to keep track of, fewer failure points, and overall easier maintenance. In terms of a retrofit in existing facilities, that pretty much means you remove the old actuator, install the new one, and plug it in. In principal, it’ll just plugin and work. It’s hard […]

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Why Are There So Many Types of Actuators?

Actuators are really complicated. There’s a whole little ecosystem around them, all to provide exactly the right type of movement for every application. In principal, an actuator’s just moving something a few inches or a few degrees, but the way it moves really matters. This has lead to actuators with different types of movement speeds, different levels of precision, different return systems, and a lot of complicated terminology about what you’re actually buying into.   3 Types of Performance One of the key metrics is performance and the price it takes to achieve it. Consider for example, the damper actuator in your air vent. It doesn’t matter too much if it takes a minute or two to fully open as long as it works quietly and within the temperature range of your home. Compare this to an industrial fast-acting actuator on the safety systems in an oil refinery. When the plant alarm goes off that something’s might explode, you want that valve to slam shut with all the force of the hulk hitting the snooze button in the morning. In your home, a little electrical actuator would work just fine. In that refinery however? That needs something special. There, you need a pneumatic system that can throw thousands of pounds of force into a valve near instantly. There’s just no other good way to get the job done in a fast manner. Electrical motors on the rise but, in these […]

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Motor Vs. Actuator

For a lot of people, motors and actuators may seem like the same thing. Movement is involved, they may well sound the same, there’s some kind of energy source going in, and there’s no way your facility will function without both of them. In principal, they both use the same technologies, they can even look the same, but they’re different beasts.   The Easy Difference The easiest way to tell a motor and actuator apart is by how they’re being used. A motor is designed to spin at a relatively high RPM for significant spans of time. Think of the motor in your AC Compressor, a fuel pump, the mixer or coffee grinder sitting on your kitchen counter. If you turned it on and left it to function forever, there would be no consequences except for the motor failing. By contrast, an actuator has a linear output, instead of a continuous output. It moves a damper, valve, elevator, or some other device that has a limited range. Think about your car door, it can be all the way open, half open, closed, or anywhere in between. If you wanted to mechanically open it, that’d be an ideal job for an actuator. If you used a simple motor, you’d run the risk of going over 100% open or over 100% closed, and damage/destroy the door. If you used a device that isn’t intended to stop at an exact position, you’d break […]

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