Five years ago, Southern Air BAS Manager Steve Walker envisioned a new auto-tune process for HVAC systems.
HVAC equipment heavily relies on closed-loop feedback systems, he explained. In order to maintain desired aspects like temperature, water flow, airflow, and humidity, you must understand and configure three process variables from a complex differential equation. The process is not easy and requires field tuning via trial and error.
His idea was to create an auto-tuning process for the three process variables within the differential equation needed to auto-tune the HVAC process.
“It’s easily said,” Walker added. “But when you don’t have the right resource to help you understand the differential equation and write the program, it’s a challenging task.”
Fast forward to last summer, when Jude Quintero ’20 began work as an intern at the company.
“Once I started talking with him about our processes, I knew he had the right stuff for my auto-tuning process,” Walker said.
“Southern Air was doing manual tuning where its technicians had to guess the three tuning values,” Quintero said, adding that the process took up to two hours.
He and Walker worked together to develop a relay feedback auto-tuner for proportional-integral-derivative controllers in HVAC systems. Now, the company’s workers can finish the work in about 20 minutes, with more accurate and repeatable results.
Quintero’s participation as part of the Southern Air team was vital to the project’s success, Walker said.
“We had to teach him a lot about HVAC equipment and processes, and he taught us about differential equations. There were many times we didn’t understand each other, and several times when I had to ask him to repeat his findings or dumb it down a little. But we had a lot of fun learning from each other.”
Though his internship was completed months ago, Quintero has continued his work at Southern Air and even made it the subject of his senior research. Southern Air was able to copyright the work, and now the company is planning to license it for sale to other organizations.
Quintero has also shared his work with other physicists across the country, including a presentation at PhysCon last fall. His ultimate goal is to teach at the collegiate level or work as a researcher.
“What intrigues me about research is that you’re constantly learning new things about the world, and you get to come up with and test out new ideas all the time,” he said.