FARGO — Russel Schell's goal for RJ Energy Solutions remains the same as when he first launched the business in 2013: Save businesses and homeowners money on their utility bills.
But today he has a new tool in his belt.
At 1 Million Cups Wednesday, Nov. 6, Schell will debut RJ Predictive Diagnostics, an app he has developed with the help of Project Phoenix that enables his staff to use sensors to remotely monitor heating and cooling systems, machinery and equipment.
RJ Energy Solutions has been testing its predictive diagnostics app for several months at KFC restaurants in Fargo, Detroit Lakes and Elk River, Minn., and Bakersfield, Calif.
"We are monitoring their walk-in coolers and freezers for if they’re getting too warm, but we’re also monitoring their amperage to see how much energy they use. We can see if they have a loss of power or if they’re getting ready to have a breakdown because too much amperage is being used," Schell said. "It might be a loose connection or a failed motor. We have algorithms that help us see that as well."
They saved the KFC on 25th Street in Fargo $400 in just one month by transferring the heat from the kitchen to the dining area through adjustments made to the kitchen exhaust hood system. They also showed management how they could save 85% on their energy costs by switching to LED lights over their buffet.
Yum! Foods, the parent company of KFC as well as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and WingStreet, has taken notice.
"They ask us how we would scale if we had them all. They say they have the same problems in Bejing, China, as in Fargo, North Dakota: food spoilage, energy costs, that whole thing," Schell said.
How does it work?
Predictive diagnostics was already on Schell's mind when The Forum first spoke with him and Operations Manager Nancy Paulson in 2014.
Schell had just left a 20-year career working for companies like Trane and Johnson Controls to start his own business aimed at providing clients energy savings, increased productivity and decreased repair and maintenance expenses.
Since then, RJ Energy Solutions has focused on residential and commercial energy audits. Consultants use thermal imaging cameras and drones to detect temperature differences in walls and ceilings. Infrared images show where air might be coming in around doors and windows or through light fixtures and electrical outlets. The images also detect any insulation or ductwork problems.
Schell has always said the future of the business lies in predictive diagnostics, but finding the right app developer proved more difficult than expected. Schell approached tech companies in California, Minneapolis and locally, but didn't find the right fit until moving into North Dakota State University's Research and Technology Park last year. There, Schell connected with Anthony Molzahn of Project Phoenix.
Joshua Schell, a solution specialist at RJ Energy Solutions, explained that sensors come with very "basic, non-intuitive software." They told Molzahn and his team they wanted software that would use engineering standards and algorithms to alert customers of energy loss or other potential problems.
For instance, if the standard amperage for a piece of equipment is 6.7 and they are registering 7.2, it's a sign of an impending problem, Russell Schell added.
Project Phoenix delivered. Paulson said they are able to use the app and sensors to monitor things like water usage as well.
"For instance, at the Bakersfield KFC, we monitor their water usage because water is so expensive in California. They had a sprinkler head go out (before partnering with us), so the water kept running and running and running, costing a $1,000 water bill," Paulson said. "By monitoring their water usage, we could help them save that money."
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Paulson said the uses for the app are endless.
"We're looking to scale this into any building, whether residential, commercial, farm and ranch, hospitality, C-stores, grocery stores, basically any building with a shell," Paulson said.
Schell will share his entrepreneurial story at 1 Million Cups 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at The Stage at Island Park.