HVAC Residential Market / HVAC Light Commercial Market / Service Market / New Construction Market / Testing, Monitoring, Tools / Meters & Gauges

Tools and Instruments Help Techs Perform

November 7, 2011
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Instruments and hand tools are the workhorses of the HVAC installer and service technician. Whether it’s getting the system ready to use for the very first time or figuring out what’s wrong before fixing it, these detectors, monitors, sensors, and tools make it possible to get the job done. And these days, as changes in governmental regulations, technological advancements, and customer concerns and preferences affect the HVAC industry and its equipment, hand tools and instruments also have to keep up.

Instruments

The right instruments can help an installer or technician do their job effectively, which can result in saving energy for end users, time for a contracting company, and money for both parties, which is what everyone wants.

Leah Friberg of Fluke Corp. pointed out the biggest trend her company sees is energy conservation. “There is much higher awareness in the marketplace about the amount of energy required to condition and distribute air, and more willingness to consider different equipment and different maintenance practices, if it means lower energy consumption for HVAC,” Friberg said.

According to her, this trend impacts test equipment in two ways: more HVAC personnel are measuring power and maintaining the HVAC system for better forced-air system efficiency. That means many technicians are carrying “either a power/energy analyzer or a power logger” for power measurement. And for system efficiency, she said, “We [at Fluke] are selling temperature, humidity, and airflow meters along with energy loggers, because oversupplying forced air is a huge waste of energy. Technicians are using the HVAC meters to determine air quality requirement, verify sensors, and test airflow delivery.”

Lori Lyons of testo Inc. also remarked that people are concerned with energy efficiency. “Not only are individuals concerned about energy efficiency as a way to save money, they are also concerned about saving the planet.”

J. Scott Kleppe of Sensit Technologies noted that people are not only interested in energy efficiency but also in safety. He also sees a fragmenting of the instrument market. “The market has fragmented into low-tech almost disposable and high-tech full-featured combo detectors like many utilities use today. The emphasis on energy efficiency and safety has increased, causing our business to increase in these areas.” He added, “With increased legislation and emphasis on gas safety and safe utilization of fuels, we are seeing an increased awareness for higher quality instrumentation. This will allow a higher degree of safety for the service person, their customer, and the environment.”

Another development afoot in the industry, Lyons said, is “the ongoing migration to digital equipment from the more traditional, analog-type instruments. This change helps technicians in a variety of ways. First, they are able to work more efficiently by completing tasks quicker, so they can see more of their customers in one day. Second, they are able to take more precise measurements and readings, as well as better fine-tune equipment for increased efficiency. Finally, technicians are able to better document the service history for equipment on a long-term basis, so trends can be identified better and help avoid potential equipment downtime.”

Hand Tools

In the hand tools sector, contractors and technicians want higher quality products, observed Adam Opris, Core Enterprises Inc., Accutools. “In this economy with the recession, they cannot afford to use tools that continually break down and are not reliable in the field. We have seen a shift in attitude, from ‘just give me a tool that turns on and gets the job done,’ to ‘I need my tools to increase my productivity and be 100 percent reliable.’ The competition for business is great, and they need to step it up in order to compete in both time to complete jobs as well as quality of work done.”

Beyond higher quality tools, Opris observed, “Over the next two to three years, we see the trend in hand tools moving more towards a need for better support from the manufacturer, more accuracy in products, and a lower cost.”

But it’s not just the tools itself. Training makes a difference in getting the best results, pointed out Opris. “In this economy where money is tight and people are only spending when they absolutely need to, the contractors and techs are making sure they do their jobs fast and with a quality that is unsurpassed. This comes down to not only having the most accurate, reliable tools utilizing the newest technologies, but also knowing how to use them properly to get results that were previously unattainable.”

Another force besides the economy that affects the HVACR industry, including the hand tools sector, is changes in governmental legislation, which can lead to modifications or transformations in HVAC equipment/systems. The alteration in equipment can mean that the tools required for work with the new equipment need to keep pace and the instrument and tool manufacturers must change their products in order for installers and technicians to work with the newly designed equipment.

An example of this is the phaseout of R-22, which led to new equipment that utilized a different refrigerant with different characteristics. Most equipment manufacturers switched from R-22 to R-410A in the case of residential a/c. Different procedures and tools are required for working on residential a/c R-22 units than on residential a/c R-410A units. Also, the rise in popularity of other types of equipment, such as mini-splits, may also require technicians to carry tools that can work with the equipment being installed or serviced.

Illustrating this point, Mary Jo Gentry of Ritchie Engineering Company Inc. — Yellow Jacket Products Division, said, “R-410A and mini-split a/c units are becoming more and more popular, and a large majority of the units use a flaring method to join the refrigerant tubes that connect the indoor and outdoor units. More specifically, flares are required on each end of the line set to connect the evaporator and condenser. Since R-410A is a much higher pressure than older refrigerants, like R-22, mini-split manufacturers often require a larger diameter on the flare.

“These requirements have created a demand for hand tools that help the technician make consistent, properly sized, quality flares. This flaring process starts with good tubing cutters and deburring tools. The most important part is having a flaring tool designed to make the right size flares consistently.”

She pointed out that the company had a flaring tool that had to be redesigned specifically for R-410A in order to meet the refrigerant’s requirements, while taking the guesswork out of the equation.

Sidebar: Personal Tool Tethering

Another trend in hand tools is personal tool tethering. According to Hammerhead Industries, “The result of correct tethering is that when the tool is stored, held, or used, the dangers of entanglement, fatigue, and annoyance are minimized, and worker satisfaction and output are maximized.”

Here are Hammerhead’s top 10 do’s to keep in mind when selecting and using a tether:

• Do verify the integrity of a tether prior to use, looking for indications of excessive wear or fatigue. (If in doubt, replace the tether.)

• Do always use a lanyard that is rated properly for the tool weight, providing that the lanyard be designed with a 25 percent or additional margin for a full extension drop.

• Do verify the tool’s attachment point to ensure that it is strong enough to hold the tool for the full drop distance of the tether.

• Do weigh tools so that a properly rated lanyard is used for the application (never assume the weight of a tool just by feel).

• Do use a quick-release tether when a group of small tools is being used.

• Do use a retractable tether to prevent entanglement when multiple tethers are needed.

• Do anchor all 10-plus-pound tools to a structure, not a person.

• Do use lanyards that have very low stretch force at full extension, so long as they have the proper degree of recoil for the tool and application.

• Do transfer shock loads from a person to a structure whenever possible.

• Do always check with a qualified safety professional if in doubt.

For more information, visit http://bit.ly/o10O9F or call Hammerhead Industries at 888-588-9981.

Publication date: 11/07/2011

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