11 Jun 2015

Plactherm´s smart underfloor heating adapts automatically to adapt to current needs and conditions

The four layers that comprise Plactherm form a modular and efficient underfloor heating system Credit: Plactherm.
  • Sensors that measure temperature and physical presence are integrated within each floor tile to adapt to current conditions.
  • Each floor tile works independently to create different zones that can be controlled via smartphone.
  • This innovation, 30% more efficient than rival systems, was selected by the third edition of the Repsol Foundation´s Entrepreneurial Fund.

By Carlos Corominas

A friend told engineer Lluc Martí in 2011 about the trials and tribulations of heating her workplace: a physical therapy clinic for children. Radiators were not powerful enough and caused the atmosphere to be excessively dry, causing itchy eyes and headaches in patients. Martí´s gaze then came to rest on the giant puzzles that the children played with at the clinic, and thought to himself that if each one of those pieces were to incorporate a heating mechanism, one could construct an extremely efficient heating system. Thus Plactherm was born, the company founded and lead by Martí as CEO.

The system is comprised of floor tiles that work independently, each with an integrated CPU that regulates the temperature to which the tile must be heated. These tiles also contain a series of environmental sensors which allow the tiles to make decisions autonomously, making this a smart heating system.

The intelligence is based on an algorithm developed by Plactherm which allows the system to automatically adapt its workings to the user´s needs. For example, the system can activate itself so that the user finds their home already heated to an optimal temperature upon their return. “You just need to tell the system you expect to be home by eight, and it will calculate the precise time and exact temperature at which to turn itself on”, says Martí.

Plactherm´s tiles are also able to detect how many people are physically present in a given room. This allows the system to adjust the optimal temperature depending on the number of people present at any given time.

But the user can also control the system manually, for which purpose Plactherm developed an app for PCs, smartphones and tablets. From the app, one can control the temperature in each of the different zones within the heating system. “You can give the order to heat the tiles located around the sofa, without heating those under the television”, says Martí.

To make this possible, Martí´s team designed a system that allows each individual tile to work like an independent radiator. Martí describes the result as “a kind of sandwich” where the first layer of the tile is made of vinyl, hardwood or carpet with a width of between three and six centimeters, or a special cement called Stonita made by Escofet. Next comes an electrical resistance layer that emits heat, and finally a layer of insulation. Given its proximity to the surface of the flooring, its ability to maintain the heat produced, as well as the innovative materials used by the design, this system achieves an energy efficiency which is 30% higher than that of other underfloor heating systems.

Underneath these three layers, Plactherm incorporates a CPU and the sensors, connected through circuits that run through the layers above and throughout the adjoining tiles. This small computer is responsible not only for heating each tile, but also collects temperature readings and the number of people physically located above each tile, information sent by the sensors. “The key to the puzzle is that each tile has its own autonomous system which allows it to work independently, yet the tiles are all integrated with each other”, Martí explains.

Plactherm´s installation does not require the client to perform any major remodeling work as it is not necessary to remove the existing flooring system. “You can just lay [Plactherm] on top of your flooring and plug it in”, Martí explains; and the existing flooring will not be damaged, since the bottom layer is made with a sponge-like material.

Currently Plactherm is in the testing phase, with plans to install the system in a Repsol facility in September to test its performance. From that point forward, Plactherm will offer a rental service for office spaces. Although the projected lifespan of this heating system is ten years, Martí says that Plactherm will perform regular maintenance visits to confirm that the system is functioning properly and repair any damaged elements.

In the next phase, Plactherm will offer an installation service for private residences which will include the collection and management of the data collected by the system. This domestic service will be taken to market in 2017.

Anti-intruder tiles

Beyond regulating the temperature, Plactherm´s presence sensors can be used to alert the user of the presence of an intruder, or to notify of a person who has fallen and cannot get up. “If the system detects that someone has gone from occupying one tile to occupying several, and no further movement ensues, this can be used to trigger an alarm”, Martí explains.

The ability to detect physical presence may also have commercial applications. Stores might use this to study the movement patterns of their customers in order to optimize the placement of their products. “This could also be used to measure employee performance in the workplace”, Martí points out. To this end, Plactherm can record the movements of a shop attendant and compare this with the sales count and customer localizations and movements.

This series of innovations has led Plactherm to be selected by the third edition of the Repsol Foundation´s Entrepreneurial Fund. In addition, Plactherm will participate in an incubation process through the Kic InnoEnergy initiative and in the project accelerator INCENSe, financed in part by the European Commission.

Thus Plactherm introduces a functional and efficient heating solution which also offers satellite services like presence control. Thanks to this innovation, the children at the physical therapy clinic can play with the puzzle pieces at an appropriate temperature, and without itchy eyes.