The impact of technology on the healthcare sector


By Paul Burrows, HVAC Segment Manager for the Drives business at ABB Australia.

We hear about the technology that prevents human error, automates record keeping, supports traceability and the like. But what about the critical technology that goes into healthcare buildings to enhance energy efficiency, facilitate air quality control, and prevent tripping or other electrical or mechanical issues? We’ve looked at some of the equipment that’s impacting this sector today.

New technologies have an impact on health and medical services — from digital health technologies to automated health and diagnostic services. These technologies not only help to improve the health system, but they can positively affect patients and the health workforce.

Similarly, the role of technology to ensure safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable outcomes in healthcare infrastructure is a key priority to delivering effective healthcare in Australia.

The varying, often complex needs of healthcare Infrastructure

Our healthcare facilities are complex. Not only do they consist of the many varied clinical areas such as medical offices, practice suites, operating theatres, recovery wards, isolation rooms, medical imaging, and clinical laboratories, but also all of the necessary support infrastructure that keeps them operational.  Then of course there’s all of the heating, ventilation and cooling plant maintaining the environments for humidity and temperature control.

Each healthcare space has unique requirements and technological challenges. While there may be some common plant and equipment for general air-conditioning, some areas require dedicated, specialised, and precise systems, for example pressure-controlled isolation rooms and laboratory spaces that need to manage bacteria or cross-contamination.

Operating theatres are also highly specialised spaces. To maintain these sensitive healthcare clean environments the HVAC systems supporting operating theatres often have laminar flow air distribution arrangements with multiple filtration stages including high efficiency particle arresting (HEPA) filters that can add significant static pressure loads on supply fans.

These systems are also dynamic and changing minute to minute and season to season to meet the specific and varied demands of these facilities. The supply and exhaust fans, cooling and heating pumps, and other specialty environmental plant, all need to adjust to these ever-changing needs.

Thankfully, there are technologies that exist to address these complex challenges.

HVAC drives answering the needs of a demanding environment with ease and simplicity

From the moment an ABB drive is initially powered up, the first start assistant guides the operator making start-up and commissioning simple. Basic language, date/time, and nominal motor information is entered into the drive, a slow speed motor rotation test is performed, and the drive is then ready to operate.

The ABB ACH580 HVAC dedicated drive comes complete and integrates all the essentials – chokes, EMC filters, cabling clamps, and optional enclosures from IP00/UL (NEMA) Type Open to IP55/UL (NEMA) Type 12 – are offered as standard, thus simplifying selection, installation, and commissioning.

On a poor or weak network harmonics can be an issue. These electrical disturbances can cause equipment in the network to behave erratically which is not an option in an environment where critical diagnostic and medical equipment must work accurately, consistently, and reliably to protect patient health.

Computers, UPS, drives and a range of other electrical equipment can all add to the harmonic distortion. ABB has recognised this issue in healthcare and developed a drive with an all in one solution.  

The ACH580-31 features active front end technology. This enables the drive to not only dramatically reduce harmonics but has the added advantage of correcting equipment power factor to unity. Compared with other harmonic reduction solutions the ACH580-31 reduces installation costs, has a minimal footprint, reduces the load on backup generators, and can even boost the output voltage when the supply drops.

Drive control input and output terminals are also colour coded to easily identify correct wiring locations.

Easy integration with building automation systems either via several embedded protocols (including BTL certified BACnet communication), or one of the many optional field bus adapters, provides the healthcare operator significant diagnostic information to ensure lasting, safe, and reliable operation of plant and equipment.

For the more advanced and complex systems, ABB’s Drive Composer is a state-of-the-art PC tool, which can be simply connected to the drive’s control panel via a USB interface, to support startup, configuration, monitoring, and process tuning.

Advanced Control to ensure continual operation

ABB ACH580 HVAC drives offers a range of features that allow flexible implementation. Fan and pump control can be performed directly from the drives inbuilt PID control loops providing failsafe and continued operation without the need for external control systems.

ABB Drives can detect, warn, alarm, and ultimately protect plant when operational demands are outside of normal tolerances. These many features can sense when air systems are blocked, drive belts are broken, gears need lubrication, or pump systems are cavitating, which otherwise left unchecked would result in potentially expensive failures, and compromise critical care areas.

Facilitating energy efficient operations to reduce emissions and energy costs

It is always important to consider the operational costs in the healthcare space. Funding is often focused on clinical health services rather than on maintaining facilities – so when renewal projects occur, the highest efficiency equipment should be considered.

ABB ACH580 drives are rated as IE2, the highest energy efficiency classification available. Pair these with the ABB synchronous reluctance (SynRM) motors rated as IE5, also the highest energy efficiency classification, and you are guaranteed to reduce your energy consumption by up to 25%.

IE5 synchronous reluctance motors have very low winding temperatures, which increases the reliability and life of the winding. More importantly, a cool synchronous reluctance rotor means significantly lower bearing temperatures – an important factor because bearing failures cause about 70 percent of unplanned motor outages.

Paul Burrows, HVAC Segment Manager for Drives at ABB Australia says, “There’s a major advantage of drives on motors from a commissioning point of view – they allow specific elements to be tuned to their optimal point.” Because variable speed drives (VSDs) only require the push of a button to speed up or slow down a fan, for example.

“Fans that are designed for a specific flow can be exactly set without the need for traditional belt and pully changes and throttling dampers. That saves enormous amounts of time and costs in getting complex air systems just right,” says Paul.

Delivering digitisation for real-time visibility, security, and asset management

Industries all over the world are accelerating the digital transformation to implement more intelligent, data driven, and cloud-based operations. 

The healthcare sector is no different – recognising that digital technologies can not only enhance patient experience, but also improve the quality, efficiency, and demand supply management of infrastructure overall.

Paul says, “automation and cloud monitoring from a digital capacity is giving customers more autonomy, control, and capability to optimise processes. It’s giving them the foresight to see any potential problems before they happen, but also access their infrastructure to resolve any issues potentially without even needing to be onsite.”

ABB offers a suite of digitised capability that includes artificial intelligence (AI) diagnostics as part of the ABB Ability™ portfolio of solutions. They include:

  • ABB Ability™ Condition Monitoring for drives: Delivers accurate, real-time information about drive events to ensure your equipment is available, reliable, and maintainable – all key performance requirements in healthcare facilities.
  • ABB Ability™ Digital Powertrain: A suite of digital solutions including devices, software and services. It combines connectivity and data analytics with our expertise to make your operations efficient, predictable and safe. The solution also collects condition monitoring information from ABB Ability™ Smart Sensors mounted on motors, bearings, gearboxes and pumps, to enable full transparency on all parameters.
  • Drivetune: A smartphone application which is capable of connecting wirelessly to ABB drives. With a user-friendly interface you can more quickly and efficiently start-up and tune your drive and access its controls. The appealing dashboard shows intuitive drive status, performance and configuration.
  • ABB Ability™ Mobile Connect for drives: An online platform that provides end users drive support from anywhere. This allows an expert to remotely communicate with on-site drive users or service personnel, to help them easily commission and troubleshoot drives. Chats, sharing images and backups, viewing parameters online and sending support packages are all possible, making technical support processes quick and efficient.
  • Remote Visual Guidance: Provides remote technical support for motors and drives using augmented reality (AR) technology. The customer is connected with an ABB expert via a mobile phone or tablet using a live communication tool supported by AR. The tool allows them to see exactly what the customer is seeing. The customer can chat and share images and videos and the ABB expert can guide the customer through the troubleshooting process with the help of interactive tools that visualise the instructions.

Support to take you through the lifetime of your equipment

ABB works closely with healthcare industry professionals to preserve hospital safety and guarantee engineering systems work reliability and effectively, whilst promoting a healthy and comfortable environment for the patients and medical workers that occupy their buildings.

If things don’t go as planned, it’s good to know that there is a robust network of professionals ready to provide support. Customers have access to a dedicated team of ABB partners with a local presence, more than 8,000 technologists and a global customer call centre, there’s no problem that cannot be quickly resolved and implemented.

ABB also has seven global R&D centers and operates in over 100 countries with its own manufacturing, logistics and sales operations to ensure timely responses.

The technology roadmap towards energy efficient, reliable, safer, and more sustainable healthcare infrastructure is more apparent than ever, and it’s never been easier for facilities to adopt these solutions.

About Paul Burrows

Paul Burrows is the HVAC Segment Manager for the Drives business at ABB Australia. He is an electrical engineer with a passion for unlocking the benefits of how evolving technology will shape our future. Paul’s achievements within the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC&R) industry extends over 25 years with influences in all types of buildings. In primary roles designing and implementing building management systems (BMS), Paul has worked on many iconic Australian buildings to provide innovative solutions that are both safe and environmentally friendly. In the health care sector, Paul’s work includes the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Royal Women’s Hospital, and Epworth Eastern Hospital. Perhaps one of the most rewarding achievements so far was Paul’s contribution to RMIT’s Bundoora and Brunswick campuses where he both designed and successfully delivered the largest energy performance contract in the southern hemisphere. Paul is excited by his involvement in commissioning new HVAC&R technological advancements particularly in the areas of automation and digitisation, which continues to drive him each day.


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