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The Right HVAC/R Tools Can Drive Field Performance

Originally published: 03.01.14 by Bill Spohn

The typical goal of HVAC contractors and their customers is to extract maximum performance from installed equipment. This makes sense — it’s a goodinvestment, right?

This usually equates to expending the least amount of energy necessary to satisfy the customer. Equipment performance might also relate to efficient use of space or low noise levels. You want to obtain the smoothest operation and highest efficiency possible. Or, you follow this process: right size, appropriate equipment, correct installation, and proper commissioning. If good processes yield good equipment performance, then good job-related processes should yield high productivity, or good field performance. Let’s take a look at a contractor’s work processes as they relate to the tools that are used. Are you performing as efficiently as possible with the right HVAC/R tools? Are your tools and techniques fast enough to get the job done as efficiently as possible? Fast comes in many flavors: let’s cover a few below.

Physics on your Side:

A major vacuum/recovery unit manufacturer has spent years teaching the market that the proper use and right set-up can make all the difference. I am talking about valve core removal tools, large bore hoses, and proper fittings, which can dramatically decrease the time to achieving low micron levels in an AC/R system evacuation. This saves techs time while performing a thorough evacuation. What’s funny here is that all of these vacuum principles

were explained in a book that was born the same year I was. I think we are now rediscovering the Lost Art of HVAC/R; more on this in a future article.

Wi-Fi, Wi-Not?

I’ve seen a lot of wireless, headless, separate-able, WiFi and BlueTooth® related products come out in the last 10 years. I was a skeptic at first, but now I am fully convinced these are not gimmicks or fads. Manufacturers are paying attention to customers needs for more robust designs, longer wireless ranges and simpler set-up. In addition, multiple measurements (humidity, airflow, line temperatures, etc.) can be tied back into a main unit, providing richer information and even system diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Tangle Tamer:

Wireless probes and remote displays eliminate the need to plug in, manage and protect the cords and plug ends on many probes and instruments. You can now place the business end or probe where it needs to be and the display or screen in the most convenient viewing spot for your multimeter, multifunction IAQ instruments and visual inspection scopes, among many other tools and meters.

Saving Steps:

Remote system monitoring saves you time and frustration on the job site. Things have advanced so rapidly, for example, you can now operate the controls or thermostat yards away from the outdoor unit while watching system temperatures and pressures on your Smartphone. Wireless readouts and controls have also hit the building performance market. These game changing attributes are not without controversy. Search the popular “boards” to see the most recent market reactions.

Form-ula for Success:

Well-organized contractors know the power of good data. Data to show “as found” and “as left” characteristics may save your asterisk in civil or criminal court someday! Plus, many utility and state energy programs are looking for very specific data on forms in order for customers and contractors to receive rebates or fees. The last thing you want is to have paperwork hold up payday. Many digital tools today can store or print data. And the more sophisticated ones actually interface with software programs to produce professional, detailed reports. Today’s Internet savvy, data-aware customers (both residential and commercial) are looking for the value in the services you perform. What better way to illustrate the value in your work than to produce a custom report that demonstrates the benefits you bring. A wave of new product systems that work directly with “the cloud” are now coming down in price and have broader availability.

Hitting the right combination:

As the manufacturers rack their development brains to provide differentiation and unique selling points, I have seen a trend toward product combinations. Many manufacturers are now either employing contractors or conducting surveys to determine what designs will be most beneficial. Multi-use tools, both digital and mechanical (hand tools), can save time and physical effort, as you have less to cart from the truck to the worksite. While many of these combo products have you saying “Why didn’t I think of that?,” other combinations may force you to say “What the….?” Before you purchase, be sure to walk through the way YOU would use a new combo product in your mind. Involve your technicians’ opinions too. Additionally, look for peer reviews, either locally or on the Internet.

Calc-u-now or Calc-u-later: Digital tools now focus on more than just lone measurements. Rather than using look-up tables, charts, slide rules or off-line calculations for superheat, subcool, enthalpy, or even target evaporator exit temperature, you will find these application specific results right on the digital or graphic display. This goes back to the speed issue: in this case, the speed of gathering real-time and relevant information to get the job done.

Pain in the back meets Catch 22: You don’t want to be walking back to the truck to get that one odd tool, but you cannot carry your whole truck to the worksite. Enter the back and time savers. I have seen the lowly tool bag/ bucket get a makeover over with rugged, well thought-out designs and ergonomic features. In fact, ergonomic is what the E in the leading brand stands for! And it’s not all about physical efforts and pain; it’s also about safety and lost time due to injury. A new strap quickly connects to refrigerant cylinders and frees technicians’ hands to carry tools and climb ladders improving safety while the extra “hand” can reduce time on site and increase productivity. One size doesn’t fit all. While I have covered the highlights in the latest tools that can make a performance difference, I realize not all of these are for everyone and that one size does not fit all. Take your time to investigate the new products, read reviews, ask questions, and learn about how they can help your bottom line. But also keep in mind that a desired new tool can brighten a technician’s outlook and show you care. Be sure to involve the technicians in the decision-making and monitoring of productivity gains, and you will reap the benefits of employee engagement. 


Articles by Bill Spohn

The Right HVAC/R Tools Can Drive Field Performance

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