HVAC Manufacturers Collaborate With Startups to Unlock the Potential of Connected Healthy Buildings

This article was written by Daphne Tomlinson, Senior Research Associate at Memoori.

Two European HVAC manufacturers, ebm-papst and Belimo have accelerated investment in digital solutions and strategic partnerships with startups to enable rapid technology transfer for data-driven connected, energy efficient and healthy buildings.

The ebm-papst group, headquartered in Mulfingen, Germany, is the world’s leading manufacturer of fans and motors for a diverse range of applications in almost all industries, including ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, household appliances, heating, automotive and drive engineering. In fiscal year 2019/20, they generated revenues of 2.18 billion euros.

The group founded ebm-papst neo GmbH & Co. KG in April 2020, to develop digital solutions to improve the energy balance and air quality in buildings or for intelligent data analysis. Over the past two years, neo has been developing an IoT enabled, high-performance building fan, capable of delivering a wealth of data to advanced building systems.

ebm-papst neo has invested in partnerships in recent months, one of which was with Envio Systems, a developer of a cloud-based IoT platform for enhanced performance and operation of commercial buildings. In December 2019, the group also participated in a $5 million funding round for the startup founded in 2016.

In August 2020, Ebm-papst, Envio Systems and RESET combined their expertise to create a smart building response to airborne pandemics, enabling operators to achieve high-performance indoor air quality without sacrificing energy efficiency goals.

Fans from ebm-papst are used within various types of equipment, such as air handling units. They use sensors to record and process various parameters, e.g. rpm, vibration, noise, air speed, volume, pressure and, above all, air quality. The air quality sensors installed by ebm-papst are certified by RESET and are guaranteed to deliver accurate and comparable air quality measurements. RESET is the world’s first sensor-based building standard for commercial buildings and their interior spaces which monitors, certifies and communicates air quality in buildings.

The data from the IoT enabled fans allows Envio to provide buildings and tenants with a level of response and control that was previously impossible. Rapidly deployed ceiling mounted filtration units can, for example, be networked to remove surges of airborne pollutants (including aerosolized viruses) in hyper-local indoor areas as soon as they emerge. Connected local and central air systems can be optimized to balance clean air rates with outdoor air delivery, while reducing energy costs. Furthermore, air changes and air cleaning rates can be accurately measured and managed, as opposed to estimated and mis-managed.

Another HVAC manufacturer is also investing in innovation from startups. Belimo, headquartered in Switzerland, manufactures field devices for controlling heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Sensors, control valves and damper actuators make up the company’s core business. The public company reported sales of CHF 693 million in 2019.

Belimo accelerated its cooperation with startup companies in 2019 when it founded Belimo innoVision AG, as a business incubator to invest and partner with innovative startups in the HVAC sector and actively support them during the foundation phase.

More recently, in November 2020, the group announced a strategic partnership with Facilio. Founded in 2017 in India, Facilio provides an integrated facilities management SaaS platform that harnesses IoT and machine learning to manage building operations, maintenance and sustainability performance.

Belimo has developed intelligent IoT-enabled devices for HVAC systems that provide valuable data for customers to improve the efficiency of installation and commissioning, to control, service and optimize buildings more efficiently and remotely. Through its IoT ecosystem, Belimo will collaborate with Facilio to deliver a single connected operational environment, helping building owners and operators gain complete real-time visibility and control of their space and equipment.

“The real estate industry is engaged in creating sustainable buildings and contributing to ESG goals through digital transformation and industry collaborations. The synergy between Belimo’s digital ecosystem and Facilio’s O&M platform leverage available data to unlock the potential of connected buildings and address the new challenges,” said Salvatore Cataldi, Global Strategic Building IoT Expert, Belimo.

Customers in the commercial office, healthcare & retail categories use Facilio across 60 million square feet to reduce operations costs, increase net asset value & de-risk operational liability. Now headquartered in New York City with offices in Padova, Dubai, Chennai & Singapore, Facilio was backed by Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management in a Series A round in December 2018. Facilio’s total disclosed funding is estimated at $7.9 million.

Collaboration between startups and incumbent players in the built environment is crucial in order to explore IoT technologies, execute strategic projects and test out new business models to ensure successful long-term outcomes for both stakeholders.

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