Imagine sitting in a crowded city bus during rush hour on one of the hottest days of the year. All the passengers are sweating, everything is sticky, children are crying, tempers among the passengers are running high and tolerance with the poor apologetic driver is almost non-existent. This is what it might look like if the bus' air conditioning system isn't working as it should. 

Christonik develops IoT-systems for permanent health check of HVAC systems

If it was up to Christonik, this situation would not arise in the future, because Christonik ApS is a specialist in servicing, repairing and renovating air conditioning and heat pump systems (HVAC) on electric buses and other vehicles in suburban district west of inner Copenhagen (Vestegnen). Christonik had the idea to develop a system that can make the HVAC system detect if it is not running optimally. However, they had neither the capital nor the resources to take on the development project themselves.

So they applied for funding for an Innobooster project, co-funded by Innovation Fund Denmark.

Christonik's project is to develop an IoT solution that they will install on the buses' HVAC systems. This enables Christonik's technicians to constantly monitor how the A/C system is doing, like a constant health check.

"The HVAC system is a separate unit with sparse monitoring and communication with the rest of the bus, so there is very little knowledge about how the HVAC system is doing," says Anders Jacob Madsen, development manager at Christonik ApS. 

Optimised service checks improve environment and economy 

HVAC systems need to be serviced every year, and in case of a breakdown shortly after a service, it could be a long time before anyone notices.

"If the electric buses are driving around with a defective HVAC system, it will have a big impact on the range of the bus if it uses too much power to cool the bus down when the HVAC system is not working optimally," Anders Jacob Madsen continues, adding:

"In addition, the operator will be fined if passengers complain about the heat, which will mean that the bus will have to be taken out of service and tested. With our system, they can avoid that." 
The operators/traffic companis are obliged to maintain a temperature of 18-26 degrees in the bus. Christonik's IoT system measures the temperature of the pipes as an indicator of the system pressure. Christonik is able to monitor the temperature readings of all the buses from the office, and if there is a difference in temperature over time, it could indicate a fault in the HVAC system.

"There can be several types of faults, such as a blockage or a hole in the HVAC system that causes a loss of refrigerant, and that's money right out the window. It can also have a major environmental impact when each bus runs on up to 15 kg of refrigerant, and 1 kg of the most commonly used refrigerant is equivalent to a 1774 kg CO2 load," explains Anders Jacob Madsen.

The IoT solution is cost-saving both for the operator and for Christonik as a service company.

"It's a big advantage for us if we know in advance what's wrong with the HVAC system so we can have the relevant spare parts from the start. Moreover, the operator only has to go to the workshop once when we can both find the fault and repair it at the same service," says Anders Jacob Madsen.

The importance of Innobooster for the IoT development project

Christonik received help from FORCE Technology via the Innobooster to, inter alia, formulate the project content and write the application. In addition, FORCE Technology has contributed to the conceptualisation of the project and the development of a prototype through data processing. It will be tested on buses to give operators an overview of the efficiency of HVAC systems, both in terms of operational status, environmental emissions and the ability to predict potential system failures.

"We are a small company that cannot afford a development project like this. With the Innobooster opportunity, we got funding to get started, and when management can see the sense in it and spot a great business opportunity, it motivates them to continue further development. It is groundbreaking and innovative for this industry," explains Anders Jacob Madsen, who himself has been recruited through the Innobooster scheme.

We see great opportunities with this product and hope in time to open service companies in more countries, for example in Southern Europe, where temperatures far exceed a Danish summer and with an even greater need for well-functioning HVAC systems in the buses. We also see an opportunity to sell our IoT solution to other service companies. Anders Jacob Madsen / Christonik ApS
Air conditioning
Christonik has developed an IoT solution that can assess the health status of the air conditioning systems in electric buses.