Measurements May Double Money
Originally published: 04.01.08 by Jim Bergmann
Equipping and training technicians with the proper tools improves company performance.
Back in the 18th century Benjamin Franklin wrote: “I considered fresh air an enemy, and closed with extreme care every crevice of the room I inhabited. Experience has convinced me of my error. I am persuaded that no common air from without is so unwholesome as the air within a closed room that has been breathed and not changed.”
More than 200 years later we still need to remind our customers that IAQ, along with proper equipmnt operation, is paramount when it comes to customer comfort and appliance safety.
We also need to remind ourselves the best way to support customer comfort and appliance safety is via measurements.
Customer service aside, what is a service technician’s job? If you manage them, you better know. I can sum up their job in three words: to take measurements. Technicians take measurements to repair and test equipment, to achieve peak performance in the field, to ensure your clients’ safety and well being, and to deliver in the field exactly what the manufacturer designed in the laboratory and built in the factory. Measurements prove facts. And the fact is measurements can make or break the bottom line.
If your technicians are not properly trained and equipped, it is easy to say that every day your company is leaving hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the table. Your technicians are missing key problems, your sales force is missing key sales, and your customers are often left uncomfortable, overpaying on their utilities, or in worst cases left in harm’s way.
As a technical specialist for Sparta, N.J.-based Testo Inc., manufacturer of portable instrumentation, I see a lot of interesting situations on job sites. Mind you these aren’t average jobs. These jobs are the ones where the technicians have been called back time and time again. These are the jobs that cost companies money, damage the reputations of the technicians, and frustrate customers to the point of exhaustion. Jobs where homeowners are physically sick from poor IAQ, manufacturers’ reps are at their wit’s end, and building owners are requesting removal of the equipment. Jobs where the technician may be sleeping next to the furnace or boiler just to press the reset button or cycle the appliance when the inevitable happens again. The sad part is it takes little effort to determine the problem and suggest a solution if proper measurements are taken.
Well thought out, planned and executed measurements are key to your success in the hvacr industry. While you are not responsible for knowing what the readings should be, you are responsible for ensuring that your techs know and that they have the proper equipment to perform the job right the first time.
The Challenge: Test The Techs
Every day I talk to technicians just like yours and ask them if they have taken measurements or performed industry standard or recognized tests. Many have never heard of combustion testing, do not know how to measure airflow, test worst-case depressurization, or even the simple required tests on a standard gas furnace. Why?
The answers are plentiful and almost painful: Not enough time, it’s hard to get the same results twice, the equipment “works” without proper setup even if it doesn’t work right, no idea what to measure, or instrumentation is just too expensive.
Let’s face it, we have service technicians with 20 years of experience and those with one year of experience 20 times. Many keep repeating the same incorrect procedures and processes with substandard measurement instrumentation and techniques over and over again each time expecting a different or better result.
The real results: high rates of system failure, unnecessary warranty claims, callbacks, poor system performance, loss of confidence by the consumer and technician, and dissatisfied customers.
According to a recent EPA Energy Star presentation, 70% of residential air conditioning systems installed today have improper airflow. Additionally, 74% of air conditioning systems have improper charge. If 7 out of 10 of the units your technicians serviced last year had these problems, how much revenue was left on the table? Are your techs finding these problems or are they creating them? Do they have the instrumentation they need to find them? Quite simply having the tools is only part of the solution. More importantly, the technician must know how to use them and how to evaluate the measured results.
To understand where your company stands in terms of offering customers properly installed equipment it is a good idea to test your technicians’ measurement capabilities.
At your next service meeting have all your techs bring in their measuring instruments. If time is an issue, bring in the instruments you will use for your current heating or cooling season. Set up a test station using a piece of shop equipment and have your techs take readings of CFM, temperature drops and rises, and return air wet bulb and dry bulb. Measure the suction and discharge pressures and calculate superheat and subcooling. Check COAF and O2 in a furnace stack. Have them write down their measurements. If their instrumentation does not read the same or very close to it, how would they ever consistently set up equipment? This might be the single most valuable thing your company can do on a quarterly basis. Use simple math to calculate the percentage of error.
Your technicians should not get in the habit of making estimations whenever a true measurement can be made. Measuring is the most critical part of all service and sales calls. When replacing existing equipment, a complete evaluation of the ducting system including verification of proper airflow at the registers is warranted.
All of these measurements have direct correlation to equipment operation, performance and safety. Each segment and process requires test instruments and probes specifically designed for the task at hand.
For example, airflow can be measured with a hotwire, Pitot tube, or mini vane anemometer. Each probe has a specific application it is best suited for. No one is better than the other, just better for a specific measuring application. Where a vane is an ideal tool for residential airflow measurement, it would not work as well as a Pitot tube in a small diameter duct with an exceptionally high velocity of air. Refrigerant charge is more critical than ever for proper equipment capacity and efficiency. Digital gauges with accuracy of 0.5% full scale are pretty much required.
Diagnosing why equipment malfunctions is like processing a crime scene. Expert knowledge is required to determine how the equipment was operated and how it was installed. It takes an expert to decipher the original design specifications or changes that took place in the environment after the installation was performed. As the ANSI standard for QI/QC (Quality Installation/ Quality Contractor) moves forward and building scientists continue to cross the line into the realm of hvacr performance evaluation, it may be time you do some investigation on your own as to what the future will hold. It’s time to look at what your technicians do and how they do it. After all, it’s your company’s reputation on the line. Don’t know how your techs are performing? Wait long enough and I am sure someone else will tell you.
Measurement is not an option in your business; it is your business. When you discover that, you will discover a whole new revenue stream of new business, and more profit in your existing accounts