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Johnson Controls’ Air Distribution Technologies Buy: More Than Meets the Eye

Benjamin Freas — May 12, 2014

Johnson Controls made news in April with the announcement that it will acquire Air Distribution Technologies from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) for $1.6 billion.  Air Distribution Technologies makes ventilation systems under several brands, including Hart & Cooley, Ruskin, and Titus.  The move appears to be a straightforward horizontal integration that will enable Johnson Controls to capture a larger share of total construction spending.  The acquisition will allow building owners to turn to the same company for HVAC equipment, HVAC controls, security and fire safety systems, energy management, and now air distribution.  Indeed, Johnson Controls is already selling air distribution equipment through its FlexSys line of underfloor air distribution (UFAD) systems.  According to CEO Alex Molinaroli, “This investment expands Johnson Controls’ position in the buildings space with additional products that are complementary to our existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning offerings.”

The Future of Controls Integration

However, this move could be more than a simple expansion of a product portfolio.  At this year’s Building Energy Summit, Grundfos provided a glimpse into the future of controls integration with its MAGNA3 pump line.  What is striking about these pumps is how little work they leave for a controls company (such as, say, Johnson Controls).  They include a built-in heat energy meter, an integrated temperature and differential pressure sensor, and optimized building management communication.  Additionally, wireless communication permits the pump to connect with another MAGNA3 pump, allowing multiple pumps to be controlled jointly through a single connection to a building automation system (BAS).  The wireless communication also connects to the Grundfos GO mobile app.  Much of what used to be accomplished by field integration is now shipped in the same box as the pump.

This level of controls integration may reach airside equipment, too.  Imagine a system where temperature sensors are integrated into return grilles.  UFAD systems already allow for individual diffuser control, but if a traditional air distribution system were to include diffuser-level damper control, it would enable every individual occupant to create its own ideal environment and would do so without much of the equipment needed to provide control today.  Could this model of integrated controls be the next big step in airside equipment?  The integration of Air Distribution Technologies into Johnson Controls might provide an answer.

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