Alan Kessler is the vice president of research and development for engineering and quality at Rheem Manufacturing Co. (Atlanta, GA, U.S.; www.rheem.com). Kessler has extensive experience with technical programs, engineering operations, and executive business management with high-volume manufacturing of consumer capital goods and specialized commercial systems. He holds a bachelor of science in machine design from Kansas State University and a master of science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. If you would like to contact Kessler, please e-mail email@example.com.
Just a few decades ago, the
latest and greatest product was the true 80% efficiency furnace. At the
time, the average furnace was only 60–70% efficient.
Ultrahigh-efficiency products were just beginning to cross the minds of
the era’s most innovative engineers.
While a 100%-efficient product is nearly impossible, the industry certainly has made great strides in the design of energy-
products. Today, more than 40% of all furnaces shipped in the United
States are at least 90% AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency), and
today’s technological advances make it possible for manufacturers to
produce furnaces that are 98% efficient.
need to design energy-efficient products goes beyond reducing energy
consumption and monthly utility bills. It also now includes reducing
the carbon footprint and extending a product’s total sustainability. A
recent study by the Home Improvement Institute found that 78% of North
American homeowners are interested in home improvements that will
reduce household energy costs and utility bills. Research also shows
that water heating, room heating, and air conditioning account for more
than 50% of domestic energy use.
consumer interest in green products growing, it is an industry
challenge to design eco-friendly products that are available to
consumers at all price-points. Typically, as efficiency increases, so
does product cost due to the need for greater technology and
more-costly materials. The responsibility lies with the manufacturer to
reduce the total life cycle cost of a product. This requires the
assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use,
and disposal, including all intervening transportation steps necessary
or caused by the product’s existence.
The goal of this analysis is to evaluate all alternatives and find the most cost-effective
and economical approach with the lowest long-term life cycle cost.
Often-times, the biggest hurdle for engineers developing affordable,
highly efficient products lies in the inability to control raw material
commodity costs, which can vary significantly due to speculative market
activity. This fact has a great impact on product design and can
ultimately alter the future of green design.
HVAC and water heating industry is currently heading toward fantastic
breakthroughs on the green front. One of the exciting things the
industry is looking at is co-generation, which utilizes solar energy to
generate electricity to power buildings and homes. While not currently
practical for most homeowners, it’s only a matter of time before
engineers will be able to reduce the cost and increase the
affordability of these ultraefficient products for many more
In the heating and cooling
arena, we have witnessed a significant increase in product efficiency
as we continue to evaluate life cycle costs and explore new
alternatives. This can be seen in the improved efficiency of gas-fired
products made possible by enhanced heat exchanger designs that allow
more heat to be extracted from the fuel burned. Additional developments
include more-efficient variable-speed draft inducers that improve
combustion at lower firing rates, as well as better blower motors and
housing designs that consume fewer watts.
High-efficiency products are traditionally very feature-rich. While today’s higher-efficiency
products require a greater initial investment, the value consumers
receive typically outweighs less-expensive, less-efficient models. With
a higher price tag, homeowners expect durability and reliable
operation, while benefiting from more-comprehensive home comfort
capabilities, active electronic diagnostics, and increased warranty
protection. Home-owners make purchasing decisions that meet their
lifestyle needs; even when legislated regulations force noneconomical
choices, consumers will oftentimes make the decision necessary to
mitigate the adverse financial impact on their lifestyle expectations.
the capabilities of innovative electronic controls and sensor
technology continue to evolve and become more cost-effective, it will
make way for more-sophisticated control algorithms to be developed and
applied to further improve operating costs, increase energy savings,
and optimize comfort. As we are poised on the verge of many new
eco-friendly alternatives like solar and geothermal technologies, it is
truly an exciting time for product designers.