VRFapp Selection Tool
Simplifying a Very Complex Task for a Multi-National - A 10 Year Development Journey
VRFapp which is today called the "York" or "Smartflex" VRF Selection Tool in USA and Canada, started its life in a McCafe restaurant in western Sydney in October 2010. The 10+ years of VRFapp development parallel some of the biggest changes in todays cloud computing paradym.
VRFapp started in the same year as Microsoft Azure Cloud hosting and just 2 years after the release of the first iPhone that heralded the beginning of the mobile device explosion. The following case study is really the story of the changes in the way large scale applications are developed and managed over the last 10 years than a blow by blow software development saga.
What does VRFapp do?
VRFapp allows relatively untrained sales staff to design and quote on VRF air conditioning systems for large, multi room, often multi-story buildings. Without VRFapp these sales engineers would not realistically be able to quote on projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
VRFapp manages all the tedious calculation iterations, the logical and calculation rules, then walks the user through a piping diagram, controls system design and wiring design.
The end result is a complete Bill of Materials, a Quote, a detailed technical report including wiring, piping and control diagrams and an engineers report.
In 2010 we were approached by a local company, Temperzone, to develop a selection tool for Hitachi VRF air conditioning. Hitachi had several disk based selection tools globally, but none were satisfactory for local use. We had to argue hard for a web based solution, but in the end we reached agreement to start work in mid 2011 on a fully web based application.
By late 2011 we were able to demonstrate a beta version to Hitachi Japan and received approval to roll the system out for use in South Africa, Middle East, India, South East Asia, Oceania, Mexico and Argentina in mid 2012.
At this point the application was being run on linked Virtual Private Servers in Sydney, Singapore and Los Angeles.
In 2014 Johnson Control Inc. entered into a joint Venture with Hitachi Air Conditioning. At the same time, they started a North American VRF division. JCI were rapidly moving away from downloadable selection software and invited us to Milwaukie to discuss development of VRFapp for the North American market.
Part of the JCI solution was to move the hosting from linked VPS to Microsoft Azure Cloud servers.
After a preview launch at the ASHRAE Air Conditioning show in Chicago in January 2015 VRFapp North America (version 4) went fully live in March 2015.
Within the first year of operation we took advantage of cloud hosting flexibility to reconfigured the Azure hosting to better match the usage patterns. Downgrading one central US Azure node and adding another on the East Coast allowed us to provide a better service to usage match, without adding significantly to the cost. Azure cloud hosting provides a high level of redundancy, traffic management and database failover management that are essential to business critical applications.
The rise of the cloud portal!
In 2021 VRFapp is under continual development. Users in North America log in via a cloud based Selection Navigator portal. The portal acts as a hub by combining selection data, reports and a Bill of Materials with pricing data from SAP and customer data from Salesforce to produce almost instantaneous quotes.
This is an excellent example of how a specialised custom application like VRFapp works seamlessly with Enterprise level ERP and CRM platforms. This concept is becoming more common as businesses realise integration of ERP and CRM platforms with custom built specialised software makes sense in terms of both cost and efficiency. Gone are the days when the expectation was that you would shoehorn solutions from an ERP platform.