Conceptualizing sustainable & compact heat pumps
Japanese heat for the south of Europe, made in Belgium
Somewhere deep in West Flanders in between the rustic landscape and the sea, there is a little piece of Japan. You won’t find bonsai trees or samurai but you will find Kaizen and Japanese perfectionism all over the place. While Daikin is mostly known for its air conditioning systems, the heart of the Daikin heat pump development is in Ostend. In the “EMEA Development Centre” the development is done for all European heat pump models. In this way Daikin is in the front seat to contribute to the energy transition from fossil fuels to a more sustainable future of heating systems.
The heat pump
A heat pump seems a magical device as it seems to defy the logic of physics. Where an efficiency of 100% seems top end, a heat pump will easily go up to 400 or 500%. So this means that for every kW input, the heat pump will give about five times that same output in heat. While heat pumps still have their difficulties convincing certain customers because of cost and the complexity of the installation, there is a huge growing potential for the future.
Geert Verellen started 2 years ago in Daikin as an onsite consultant for Verhaert consulting. Daikin was looking for someone that could do conceptualization and pre-development of heat pump units. His background in product development and engineering was a good basis to make appealing and realistic concepts by using a design thinking approach in a mainly engineering-oriented environment. Together with Piet, Benjamin and Natan they (currently) form the Verhaert Consulting team within Daikin where we all contribute to the development of heating systems.
The project started in 2018 is a monobloc heat pump focused on the South of Europe that forms the next step in the popular Daikin Altherma range. A monobloc is a system where the hydraulic components are located in the outdoor unit, this means that there is no need for an indoor unit and this saves indoor space. It is a compact system that uses only one fan and is suitable for limited spaces. It runs on R32, which is a refrigerant with a low global warming potential that is ideal for attaining the new European CO2 emission targets. The focus for that sales area is on a good cost-functionality ratio. This means that in development every cent of the product cost is questioned and analyzed.
The outdoor unit
The design challenge was to produce a high capacity unit in a very compact casing configuration for a limited cost. A heat pump is a series of components focused on 3 stage. The outside air is guided with a ventilator over the heat exchanger. The refrigerant takes the heat from the outside air, gets compressed in the compressor and releases it in the water circuit via a second heat exchanger. The water circuit provides heated water to the heating system or a storage tank. All the components have to fit in the housing and must be mountable, reachable and serviceable. Most of the components have to be connected by copper tubing which have to be brazed. With a lot of creativity, pushing edges and reworking, the first prototypes were build and had the first successful tests. After this the detailed development could start to prepare the concept further for production.
A heat pump unit is nothing without a proper control unit so while the development of the outdoor unit was done, a new controller PCB was simultaneously developed by the electronics department. The PCB is more compact, cost efficient and is packed with features that will be rolled out in the near future. For the monobloc system there was the need for a housing that is easy to install, looks appealing and fits into the Daikin outlook design DNA. What makes it interesting is that it is a complex cooperation within different disciplines, departments and companies: cooperation with the electronics department for the PCB that is also in constant development, the assembly and production was outsourced to a subcontractor, for plastics there is the cooperation with the supplier located in East-Europe and a mold maker in the South of Europe. While the road was a bit bumpy, the controller passed all necessary tests and the deadlines were reached. When a project is launched, it is an exciting moment to see how the market reacts.
The impact of corona on Daikin is divers, in March it was a serous shock and a serious negative impact was expected. But as time went by, business went better and better. On the long term the health crisis even creates an awareness for climatization and air quality, which is expected to be beneficial for the business. Because Japanese companies take health very seriously, the measurements taken on site are very severe. Sometimes it was looking on the ground with damped glasses for the right arrow to follow while trying to keep enough distance from the masked colleagues that are doing the same. But it is necessary to avoid contamination and provide a safe working environment.
As the projects are closer to market launch, other departments take over and it is time for purchase, production engineering, quality and sales to take it to the market and make the new products a success. In the development department, the projects for the next years are already lining up. There will be a lot of work to cope with the huge ambition of the company.
And more than ever we need creativity and innovation, for the times they are a-changin’.
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- Competence: Design
- Client: Daikin