The Blueprint: Johnson Controls’ Jeff Williams
Every successful project starts with a framework. A vision statement. A blueprint.The editors of Engineered Systems are proud to present The Blueprint — a monthly Q&A interview with HVACR engineering’s leading voices. These one-on-one discussions will examine the trade’s history, current industry trends, the factors shaping the sector’s future, and more.
Johnson Controls believes every building serves a purpose. That’s why the company has been dedicated to making buildings smarter since 1885, and its capabilities, depth of innovation, experience, and global reach have been growing ever since. Today, the Milwaukee-based manufacturer, which employs 105,000-plus employees across 2,000 global locations and boasts more than $23 billion in sales, offers one of the world’s largest portfolios of building products, technologies, software, and services.
Recently, Jeff Williams, vice president and president, Global Products, Building Technologies & Solutions, for Johnson Controls, sat down with Engineered Systems editor-in-chief, Herb Woerpel, to discuss the manufacturer’s short-term vision, the HVACR industry’s thirst for connectivity, the global electrification trend, and more.
Engineered Systems: What are some of the keywords or terms Johnson Controls are focusing on in 2020?
Jeff Williams: Smart. Connected solutions. Energy efficiency. Sustainability. All of that pieced together. Customers are demanding efficiency. With the HVAC system being the largest energy consumer of electricity within your building, we’re focused on becoming much more efficient there in terms of our equipment. We're reinvesting hundreds of millions of dollars annually in our products.
From a product standpoint, the energy efficiency component will get you a 20%-40% savings. Then, we're continually adding to that with our integrated solutions. We’re integrating a number of different digital, smart components into our equipment to yield another layer of system improvement.
We’re also integrating scheduling and sensors into our equipment to tell if a building is occupied or unoccupied to manage the level of comfort.
Engineered Systems: Can you give us a use example of Johnson Controls’ technologies in use?
Williams: We have an environmental waste management customer in the Middle East called Bee’ah that is finishing up what we believe is the smartest building in the world. This building, which is expected to be complete this summer, is a partnership with ourselves as a domain expert as well as Microsoft. We will outfit the new building with intelligent edge systems, devices, and software designed to optimize energy efficiency, make the best use of available space, and help the building’s occupants be more productive through a virtual AI persona. Evoteq, Bee’ah’s digital venture, will serve as the technical project management partner for this unique project, deploying integrated solutions and enhanced digital capabilities for greater operational output. These solutions will enable Bee’ah to analyze volumes of data to optimize building operations and drive efficiency. We’re also offering smart parking, connected scheduling, a zero-waste landfill, etc. We’re walking the walk of energy efficiency and sustainability.
Engineered Systems: Can you talk about the challenges surrounding the speed of technologies and the initial costs required to make these investments?
Williams: Around the world, we have an aging infrastructure, and we have emerging technologies. What you have to solve for is that as you have an aged infrastructure, and if you want to save the 20%, 30%, or 40% in efficiency, how do you retrofit that infrastructure? You don't have an initial investment that clients, customers, and building owners can afford in one shot. So, how can you provide an incremental approach that caters to everyone involved over the long term? How can you offer an investment curve that allows individuals to invest a certain amount every year over a five-year horizon? That I I'm able to, you know, yield those benefits and solutions from Johnson Controls, but do that with an investment profile that they feel confident with. The challenge is discovering that value proposition discreetly that ends with the retrofitting of HVAC equipment. So, we ‘spec’ some YORK equipment that will provide 20% and propose that payback over a five-year period. Then, you offer the building management controls and smart systems that can be integrated to manage comfort upon occupancy. All those incremental benefits add up. So, from a solution standpoint, there’s always an ability to gain incremental savings using the solutions in our portfolio.
Engineered Systems: The Bee’ah facility — do you feel that this building is serving as a worldwide technological guinea pig?
Williams: Bee’ah is absolutely an early adopter. It is a first-to-market opportunity. If you’ve spent any time in the Middle East, you would recognize that the economic value of a facility like this cannot be justified on a piece of paper. It’s an iconic building, much like the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai. A quick side note – we do facility management and security for that building as well. There are several developmental projects in the Middle East that are desperate for the spotlight. And we were interested in gaining the residual benefits of being the solutions providers and a partner of Microsoft in these facilities.
Engineered Systems: How soon do you believe it’ll be before we start seeing these smart solutions acclimated into the U.S?
Williams: We’re quoting jobs every day and discussing how to save electrical usage. That part of it is here today. Regarding some of the new smart, connected, integrated solutions, such as remote management, diagnostic, etc. That's happening in about one of three buildings. When you think about total building solutions, I think you're going to see that emerging in the Americas within the next five years.
Europe is certainly fast paced and has been leading the world in sustainability, recycling, and energy conservation. Industrialization has been rapidly growing in Europe.
Engineered Systems: One of the key buzzwords I’ve heard on the AHR Expo show floor is: electrification. Where are Johnson Controls’ thoughts on electrification, and where does the company stand?
Williams: Johnson Controls sees electrification as more of a benefit than a challenge. We’re investing somewhere around $600 million or $700 million a year on new product innovation, solutions, electrification, sustainability, energy efficiency, and so that I think you’ll notice through our innovations that we’re among the pioneers in that space.
Engineered Systems: Five years from now, what are you going to be exhibiting at the AHR Expo that you're not exhibiting today?
Williams: Much like today, you’re going to see residential air conditioning, light commercial air conditioning, building management systems, etc. That said, in five years, I believe our products will be integrated like never before. Additionally, the value equation and proposition of system outputs will be among the highest priorities. We hope to have more examples like the Bee’ah that are incorporating total solutions because that's where the market is going and that’s what our customers are interested in.
Engineered Systems: As more integration and total solutions are desired, do you ever envision a time when components from different companies can be utilized together?
Williams: Disparate systems are a challenge for our customers and us as well. We work with lots of building owners who say, well, I have a Siemens controller, a Trane HVAC, and a Johnson Controls control system. They’re challenged to get from where they are to where they want to go. We're helping with that whole integration by introducing an integrated digital platform that allows you to not only replace all those disparate components, but to truly get a system integration. We’re aiming to provide solutions like apps are presented on Apple phones. Our solution will just be another app on phone, no matter which company makes the phone. We would like to converge all those apps to deliver incremental value adding up to the sum of comfort.
Engineered Systems: Give peace a chance, right?
Williams: [laughter] You know, we have our domain expert expertise in multiple areas, including fire control, security, HVAC, controls, etc. Customers want to play to our strengths and solve their problems, which we’re determined to do, but we understand that we have to be a system integrator and a solutions provider at the highest level in the best interest of our customers.
Engineered Systems: Our audience is primarily made up consulting and specifying engineers. If you could leave them with one key point, what would that be?
Williams: Recognize Johnson Controls’ capabilities and collaborate with us. We believe that we can tailor a solution based upon your investment profile, big or small. You get this one that says, Listen, we can operate in a continuum. Explore our portfolio. We operate in a continuum and have discrete solutions that work perfectly for, and are intended for, engineering purposes and specific applications. We’re manufacturing system integration, and we’re interested in helping you design solutions for your customers.