Fix-it-yourself recovery units cost less, last longer, say mfrs

August 15, 2000
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When the first recovery machines came on the market, getting them repaired was a time-consuming process. The machines had to be sent back to the manufacturer who, in turn, would get them back to the contractor, hopefully within six or eight weeks.

Replacing the machines wasn’t a good option because of the expense factor. New machines could cost several-thousand dollars, and contrac- tors weren’t about to just toss an expensive machine because it didn’t work.

Even though it was a hassle, the machines had to be repaired at the factory; contractors usually couldn’t do the repairs themselves.

There’s a new trend in the recovery business: machines that contractors can repair quickly and easily themselves. This breed of recovery equipment also may cost less to purchase initially, making it still more attractive.

Manufacturers respond

Contractors are usually pretty handy people. They typically have good problem-solving skills and a natural ability to work with complex mechanical systems.

Recovery equipment manufacturers are now recognizing this, which is why they’re giving contractors the option to fix their own equipment.

There’s a speed issue involved as well. Contractors can’t do their jobs properly (or legally) without recovery equipment, and it sometimes takes too long to have the factory repair a unit.

Dave Boyd, Northeast regional sales manager for Amprobe, Lynbrook, N.Y., says his company encourages contractors to repair their “ProMax” machines themselves.

“We advertise this as a lifetime machine,” he says. “It’s a simple machine. It’s got a compressor, a motor, a coil, and a fan. The compressor can be completely rebuilt in the field very easily, usually within an hour.”

To spread the word about how easy it is to repair these machines, Boyd gives seminars to contractors who purchase the equipment. Once contractors are aware of how easy it is to fix the machine, they are more apt to tackle the repairs themselves.

Doug Luba, Sy Luba Heating and Air Conditioning, Great Neck, N.Y., attended one of these seminars. He agrees that fixing the machines is usually quick and easy.

“The ProMax units have been good, because we can fix them ourselves. Right now we have two machines that are down, but we’ll overhaul them this weekend. It takes about an hour, then they’re back on the road and like new.”

As Boyd noted, its machines are very simple, which is another trend in the industry. Fewer gadgets means there’s less that can break down on a machine.

As Mike Tranchina, director of sales and marketing at F.T. Industries/Fluoro Tech, Franklinville, N.J., notes, “Most of the machines on the market today have been refined to the point where they’re simple to operate. They don’t have some of the complex features that they had in the beginning of the recovery industry, so it’s either on or off and it works or it doesn’t.”

Compressor usually is the problem

If a machine doesn’t work, chances are the compressor is the problem. Just to make sure, most companies include a troubleshooting manual with the recovery unit and also have service centers where the contractor can speak with an actual person about a particular problem.

Jim Mulch, service manager at F.T. Industries/Fluoro Tech, says they routinely receive calls from contractors who want to buy a new compressor.

“We’ll ask them why they’re replacing the compressor, and then we find out they don’t have to replace it — there are other parts that have failed that they are not aware of that can be fixed or replaced. We run into that a lot.”

If it is indeed a compressor problem, both F.T. Industries and Amprobe say it’s easy to fix. Says Mulch, “One of the things about our particular units is they are rebuildable, they are fixable. The compressor can be repaired.

“It isn’t a case where the contractor has to change it out. If it’s a valve failure, we sell a valve head rebuilding kit, which comes with the valves and springs, and it’s an easy switch in and out. If it’s an internal problem where it would be a bad rod or a bad seal in the compressor, they’re all replaceable.”

Tranchina adds that their compressors are completely rebuildable. “These are oil-less compressors, and the benefit is that most of them on the market today, including ours, are rebuildable. They’re open reciprocating compressors that can come apart and the internal parts can be replaced to allow the compressor to be like new.”

Boyd says that fixing one of the company’s machines won’t void the warranty either. “If a guy wants to fix it himself, we’ll send him the parts kit. A lot of guys don’t open our machines, because they think it voids the warranty.

“A lot of manufacturers will void the warranty if a guy screws around with the machine, but our machines were designed for that purpose. The compressors are a semi-hermetic design, so they can take the head off, take the valve plate out, take the cylinder off, and replace seals, so when they wear, they can do all that in the field.”

Luba, who owns four recovery units, says that as his other recovery units break down, he’s replacing them with machines that can be repaired.

“I’ve thrown away three machines. When the compressors go, which is typically what happens, it costs as much to replace the compressor as it does to buy a new machine that can be repaired.”

Maintenance

When a recovery machine breaks down, most manufacturers are quick to point out that it’s often the fault of the user — not the machine. Leon Cogswell, product specialist at Robinair, Montpelier, Ohio, notes that the equipment takes a lot of abuse, going up and down ladders and in and out of trucks.

While he adds that Robinair units are easy to repair in the field, with components that can easily be swapped out and replaced, he says that leaks and component failures most often are due to improper maintenance and abuse/misuse. To keep the equipment working properly, he says technicians should leak check the unit periodically to make sure refrigerant is not being released, as fittings can come loose over time.

“There should be good air-flow, because most units kick out on high pressure if there’s not enough. Also, hoses should be examined every month or so to be sure they’re not cracked or worn,” says Cogswell.

Boyd notes that one of the biggest problems is that technicians don’t take the time to replace the filter-drier on the inlet of the recovery machine. That important component filters out all the “nasty stuff” that comes out of a system, such as shavings of copper, flux, and solder.

“That’s the hardest thing there is on the recovery machine — the stuff coming out of a system. If you do not have a filter-drier on the front end of the machine, you will suck that stuff into the compressor head.”

Boyd adds that the filter-drier is there to protect the compressor, and it should be replaced every time the machine is used and then charged to the customer. Do technicians take the time to do that?

Boyd chuckles, “That doesn’t happen — not even close. Not in my dreams.” In addition to causing compressor problems, a clogged filter-drier can dramatically slow recovery times.

Tranchina agrees with that assessment, saying that it’s just good practice to have an inlet filter so the compressor won’t be damaged. Other than that, his main concern is operating the equipment properly. That means never operating it with the valves closed on the high side of the recovery system.

“We’re pulling refrigerant vapor and in some cases liquid through a compressor, and we’re compressing it into a recovery cylinder. If that recovery cylinder valve is closed because the technician just forgot to open it, the refrigerant will build in the hose and build in the recovery system until there’s no more space left for the refrigerant to go, then you get a major failure. That’s with all reciprocating recovery systems.”

Other maintenance includes replacing the O-rings at the end of the hoses. When a technician tightens the hoses down hard all day long to prevent leaking, the O-rings flatten out over time. Therefore, the O-rings should be visually inspected and replaced whenever they look like they’re flattening out and the hole is getting smaller.

Then, of course, there’s the problem of rough handling. It only seems reasonable that if a machine is dropped or banged around, it’s more likely to fail.

Some still like the factory

It may seem odd, but even though it’s often possible for contractors to repair their recovery units themselves, there are some who just don’t want to do it. These people will probably always rely on the factory to fix their machines.

Boyd notes there are some contractors who just don’t want to mess with repairs. “Some of these guys can make more money in the field, or they don’t want to be bothered after they get home, so they send them back — all the time.”

The good news is that some factory turnaround times are decreasing. Mulch notes that they’re currently able to turn around equipment in about 24 hours. “The time we lose is in shipping, which can take anywhere from three to six days,” he says.

Another option F.T. Industries offers is providing the contractor with a refurbished recovery unit. In this instance, a contractor sends back his machine that isn’t working, and the company will send out a reconditioned unit that is no older than one year. “The units are like brand new, and they carry the balance of the warranty on his machine that failed,” says Mulch.

If the machine is out of warranty, it is still possible to purchase a refurbished machine. Refurbished units carry a six-month warranty, and they can be sent out immediately, as the factory has them in stock.

Mulch notes that the cost of a refurbished machine is typically one-third to one-half the cost of a new one. A contractor will also get credit if he sends his broken machine back to the factory, which will then be repaired and resold as a refurbished unit.

So whether you opt to repair a machine yourself, send it back to the factory for repairs, or purchase a refurbished unit, there are many options now available to keep downtime to a minimum.

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