Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) air conditioning systems have proven themselves in the South African midmarket as highly functional, reliable, and easy-to-maintain solutions for small, mid-sized (and now also larger) buildings and offices. There is high potential for growth in this sector locally and Johnson Controls is betting on the world’s no. 2 in this segment—Hitachi’s SmartFlex VRF systems—to begin filling that gap.

With rising energy costs and growing awareness of energy consumption, VRF systems are increasingly popular, offering the potential of energy savings of one third over more conventional systems. Since its acquisition of Hitachi some 18 months ago, Johnson Controls has actively focussed on how it can use its strengths – its established presence in world markets and the intelligent functionality that has become synonymous with the JCI brand – to grow its share in local markets. We believe the addition of these benefits, especially the intelligent functionality, in effect boosts the Hitachi SmartFlex VRF systems from a mid- to a high-level VRF solution.

All the efficiency, more control

​To the Hitachi’s SmartFlex VRF systems, JCI adds local support and backup services and greater availability of systems and parts. The biggest differentiator, however, is the intelligent functionality we add.

Says Neil Cameron, Johnson Controls Area General Manager, Building Efficiency – Africa, “The release of Johnson Controls’ VRF Smart Gateway makes integration of Hitachi’s SmartFlex VRF systems with building management systems quick and easy, enabling 24×7 monitoring and control. This opens up a whole raft of functionality.”

“VRF Smart Gateway enables fast, simple integration into building management systems, providing comprehensive data on all VRF system components. This data is available in any format, on-demand from any connected device. It is automatically structured and organised during the integration process, eliminating the cost and headache of tedious formatting. The data makes early warnings, remote alarming and remote control possible, as well as separating billing for tenants with analysis by way of always-on cloud monitoring, enabling better control of use and spend, as well as preventative maintenance.”

The tech spec basics

​Modular in design, the Hitachi VRF systems can efficiently control climate in nearly any space, from small offices to high-rise buildings. A VRF system typically consists of one or more outdoor units from which refrigerant is piped to a series of indoor fan coil units serving individual zones within building spaces. These systems achieve extremely high efficiencies (4.21 COP at 8°C and 2.78 COP at -8°C) by modulating the flow of refrigerant according to the exact demands of individual areas. As a result, individualised comfort is delivered to all areas and operating costs in buildings with varied loads and occupancy rates is reduced.

VRF systems – now connected

​There are two basic types of Hitachi SmartFlex VRF systems, ranging in capacity from 3-30 tons:

Heat pump VRF systems are two-pipe systems for non-ducted or ducted applications. Precise heating or cooling is delivered to multiple zones.

Heat recovery VRF systems are three-pipe systems for non-ducted or ducted applications. Precise heating and cooling is delivered with an extra measure of flexibility, since the system can provide simultaneous heating and cooling while transferring any excess heat or cooling from one zone to another.

Cameron concludes, “The Hitachi VRF units operate quietly and are easy to install, service and maintain. Definitely worth considering.”

Neil Cameron, Johnson Controls Area General Manager, Building Efficiency – Africa

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