TULSA, Okla. — The Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center (NAIC) Research and Development Laboratory is now open in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

AAON Inc. cut the ribbon on the facility — which the manufacturer is touting as the world’s largest acoustics and thermal performance lab — on Tuesday, Oct. 29 during a grand opening ceremony that welcomed hundreds of attendees.

“The value this facility brings to the company is enormous; we are able to show our customers firsthand why AAON is a leader in the HVAC industry,” said Gary Fields, president, AAON. “Its capabilities have already resulted in multiple large AAON equipment orders, where the customer required testing that was not possible anywhere else,” said Gary Fields, president of AAON.


Advanced Testing for Innovative Design

The 65-foot-tall, 134,000-square-foot NAIC consists of 10 testing chambers, allowing AAON to meet and maintain Air-Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) certifications.

AAON claims the NAIC is the only laboratory in the world capable of measuring supply, return, and ambient sound under actual load conditions for air conditioning systems up to 300 tons and chiller systems up to 540 tons. Environmental application testing capabilities may be conducted between minus 20°F and 140°F testing conditions with up to 8 inches per hour of rain testing, 2 inches per hour snow testing, and 50 mph wind testing.

The lab’s 540-ton sound and psychrometric test chamber is isolated into three different sections for supply, return, and outside sound measurement. Furthermore, the testing chamber is able to measure the efficiency by which energy is converted into heating, cooling, or air movement. Installation of units into the three-room sound and performance chamber includes ducting through the floor of the outdoor room into the discharge and inlet rooms with necessary sealing to prevent air leakage. During tests, airflow will be measured between the discharge room and inlet room. Inlet, outlet, and radiated sound will be measured simultaneously. Power measurements will be presented in both one-third octaves and full octaves. Twelve-inch concrete walls isolate the 540-ton psychrometric test chamber for sound testing.

The instrumentation in the psychrometric chambers is capable of reading temperature, humidity, pressures, airflow, water flow, fan speed, air velocity, voltage, current, frequency, power factor, power, etc. From these values, unit performance and other valuable information is collected. The integrated data acquisition system in the chambers is capable of reading, processing, and saving more than 93,000 points of data per minute. The chamber data combined with the data gathered from floor testing creates more than 120,000 different data points in one minute of testing.

“We’re able to test sound and performance in these chambers and collect an incredible amount of data,” said Katrina Acosta, acoustical engineer, AAON. “We have two 20-ton chambers, which can be split into two 10-ton chambers, and our 100-ton chamber is still under construction. A few weeks back, we had a 180-ton rooftop unit in here. That was pretty exciting to see.”

The lab is capable of meeting heating test standards, such as ANSI 103-2007, ANSI Z21.47-2016, ANSI Z83.8-2016, and cooling test standards, such as AHRI 210/240, AHRI 340/360, ASHRAE 37, ISO 13256, and more.

Construction of the facility began in February 2016. Since than more than 200 workers have committed 277,000-plus man hours to the project. The facility is estimated to have incorporated 278 tons of reinforcing steel, 1,224 tons of structural steel, and 6,520 cubic yards of concrete.

Factory witness testing is now available for order at all chambers, allowing users to watch units be tested at real-world conditions.

Today, the facility employs more than 40 individuals, and AAON predicts it will employ more than 80 individuals by the end of 2022.

“We have a couple of chillers here on-site,” said Ben Baier, regional sales manager, AAON. “The biggest we can accommodate, is 540 tons. We also have another 400-plus to air-cooled chiller down there as well. We’ve had our chillers tested elsewhere, which meant we had to drive them across the country and sit for hours and hours while the operators dialed in the proper airflow measurements. Here, we can do exact testing because we have an actual chamber. We’re excited to introduce this space as ‘the place’ for HVAC laboratory equipment going forward.”


Grand Opening Ceremony

While the facility’s been under construction for the last three-plus years, the facility’s namesake, Norm Asbjornson, founder of AAON, shared that the project’s been in the works for more than 25 years during the grand opening ceremony.

“We knew many years ago that we were quickly outgrowing our facilities,” Asbjornson said. “So, about 25 years ago, we began talking about what we were going to do and how we were going to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish,” he said. “We started formulating the idea of creating something that’s never been done in our industry before. By doing this, we have created an opportunity to position ourselves as a world leader in products, which we are endeavoring to be, and a leader in technology, which we have been and still are.”

Asbjornson proclaimed that this endeavor will solidify AAON’s place in the industry and provide a valuable resource for the industry for many, many years.

“I believe this building will be in use for more than 100 years because it is very, very futuristic in its capabilities,” he said. “It will be a long time before it's obsolete because somebody's got to do something significantly better to make it obsolete, and I don't know how they're going to accomplish that.”

The grand opening event was attended by several local and state politicians, including Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell.

“When it is said that there is nothing else like this in the world, we know that it's a very big deal,” Pinnell said. “When you have world leaders coming here to Oklahoma to see this, we know we're on to something pretty big. And that is because of Norm and the rest of the leadership team right here at AAON. We look forward to working with you and partnering with you to make sure that Oklahoma continues to be a top-10 state when it comes to manufacturing and, hopefully, very soon, the number one state in the country for anyone looking to do manufacturing.”

Mark Fly, executive director, NAIC, said this endeavor further solidifies AAON’s position as a national and international industry leader.

“Research and innovation are essential for this company's growth, for our region's economic growth, and for northeast Oklahoma be really well known as a leading hub for manufacturing across all types of industries,” Fly said. “We're blessed to have that reputation. This investment does nothing but solidify that and ensures our standing for the next 50, 100, and 150 years.”

For more information, visit www.aaon.com.