April 2015
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AHR Expo Rolls into Chicago

Biggest Show Ever

Steven R Calabrese

Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

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The subtitle says it all. The funny thing is that this headline is from a show publication that I received at the show. The AHR Expo rolled into Chicago, taking place on three consecutive days in January, Monday the 26th, Tuesday the 27th, and Wednesday the 28th. I attended the show on Tuesday, and wondered how they could proclaim this. Upon further inspection, I realized that this was in reference to the number of exhibitors that registered for the event, and not reflective of the number of attendees.

Indeed it was the biggest show, in terms of both exhibitors and attendance, as I received verification of the attendance record a few days later. Overall, the 67th Annual AHR Expo broke records for amount of square footage (more than 480,000 square feet), number of exhibiting companies (over 2,100), and attendees (61,000).

The Expo rolls into Chicago every three years, and I’ve attended them faithfully throughout my 25-year career in the HVAC business. Except for the last one. Having good intentions, and even writing a column about it back in 2012, anticipating my visit, I ended up not attending. Not because I was sick. Not because I was too busy. Because it snowed! Now that may not seem like it would be that big of a deal for a midwesterner, and it really isn’t. However for those committing themselves to attend the AHR Expo from out of town, and getting on a plane, booking a hotel room, and making a big-to-do of it, you’re going to the show, no doubt about it. However when you live in town (in the suburbs, for me), you kind of have the luxury to play it by ear. So when my day came to attend, that day was snowy and the roads were bad, so I elected to not go.

Not this year though. I was determined to attend. With the weather cooperating and the workday presenting no fire drills, I made my way in from the suburbs to the Windy City, parked in the McCormick Place parking garage, and followed the masses to the exhibition floor. Biggest show ever, I thought to myself, as I took in the sheer magnitude of the event. I headed straight to the Building Automation and Control Showcase, since even though I was planning to come the following day as well, I knew that I needed to start there, and if I had the time, I would venture out beyond the controls area and into the rest of the exhibit. Good thing, because the controls showcase in itself was massive, with aisles and aisles of stuff that interests me greatly.

As I sauntered up and down the aisles, I started to pick up on the “buzzwords” of the day. Without getting too much into these, saving discussions on buzzwords and products for subsequent columns, I will way that, the last time I attended an AHR show in Chicago (again six years ago), the focus was very much on wireless technology. This time around, the focus was most certainly on Wi-Fi, with Wi-Fi enabled products peaking out from around every corner. I’ll get into some of these products and their capabilities in the next couple of months as I continue this series.

As I did last time I was here, I wandered from booth to booth, asking “What’s new?” The exhibitors were happy to elaborate on their latest and greatest products, and I was interested to hear what they had to say. I won’t say that I’m “out of the loop” with regard to new technology, as I do try to stay current. However it’s always more informative to speak with others and have a two-way conversation, rather than just reading from a magazine or an online publication. I asked a lot of questions, and learned a lot about many different trends and new technologies that I was maybe already familiar with, but not completely up to speed on.

After close to two hours of hanging out in the Building Automation and Control Showcase, I decided it was time to venture out into the rest of the show and see some of the equipment that we in the controls game are typically controlling with our gadgets and gizmos. I did have an ulterior motive, though. In years past I had the good fortune to catch a glance of, if not meet and get an autograph from, a Chicago Bears legend. A certain booth hosted these legends, and I was determined to find that booth and catch my glimpse of a childhood hero. No go. I did find the booth, but no sign of any legends. Bummer. Oh well, time to grab some chow!

The enormity of the event began to take its toll on me. As I walked through the exhibition and up and down the aisles and aisles of equipment, the whole experience started to become surreal, as if the towering equipment such as cooling towers and air handling units was somehow becoming to resemble the Big City itself, and I was wandering up and down the streets of this city. Time to go! But before I left for good, I rolled on over to where the presentation rooms were, hoping to make my acquaintance with none other than Mr. Ken Sinclair, publisher automatedbuildings.com. My timing was impeccable, for as I arrived upon the scene, there he was walking into the presentation room that was soon to host the afternoon installment. Happy to see you Ken, missed ya last time!

Reliable Controls So good intentions aside, I did not make it back to the show the next day. I was happy that I went; I took in a lot in one day, and could have used another day to absorb. Alas it was not in the cards for me. Just a side note…the following Sunday, Chicagoland was hit with a couple of feet of snow. Wonder if the AHR Expo would have been the Biggest Show Ever if the snow came a week earlier!

Tip of the Month: Think wireless! The time has come for this concept to enter into our consciousness, when we think of building automation. For years the concept of doing things wirelessly has been moderately accepted, yet the practical implementation of wireless has always, at least in my little world, been questionable for a number of reasons. Time to break down the barriers and consider wireless to be a viable technology for our industry…just think Wi-Fi.

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