Forum Sings the Praises of Older Equipment

July 11, 2001
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CINCINNATI, OH — It’s not always practical to replace old equipment. Things such as parts availability, remaining useful life, and the learning curve for the new systems have to be taken into account.

A forum on “Challenges of Maintaining Obsolete Equipment,” part of the recent ASHRAE Summer Meeting here, addressed challenges of working with both newer and older pieces of equipment that become “obsolete.”

Set Up Strategies

The most critical factor, according to general consensus, is to know your risks and have strategies in place. These can include having a source of rental equipment, a good relationship with the manufacturer, and a plan for phased replacement of the equipment.

But there are still a number of questions. For instance, what do you do if the oem is no longer in business? When do you replace vs. repair?

In the first case, it would probably be advantageous to find a secondary source of equipment, perhaps a source of reconditioned or secondhand parts. Regarding replacement, system designers and operators need to ask themselves whether the equipment in there today is comparable to what they’d get new. It really needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“Equipment salespeople assume that old machines are so inefficient,” said one engineer. “Many older pumps and other types of equipment are easier to repair.” Newer machines tend to have closer manufacturing tolerances, and therefore require more manufacturer repairs.

You also need to ask yourself if the older system is really all that inefficient. A contractor attending the forum commented that older systems seem more inefficient because they remove more moisture — really a benefit.

Too often, “People involved with equipment don’t know about the systems,” said an engineer. Savings can be achieved without ripping out older equipment.

“Downsizing and rightsizing saves a lot,” commented another. “You have to look closely at current usage.”

The contractor added that “In major retrofit, the system should be re-engineered.” This happens only rarely, he added.

An engineer chimed in that “You have to determine if there’s an actual end of the life of the equipment. But when you replace, you have to re-engineer.”

Another engineer stated, “We look on an equipment failure as an opportunity.” It’s time to take advantage of possible energy savings. And if the building has been maintained, plans to address these failures should already be on the books.

Say, for example, a building has units running on R-500; leaks can create rather expensive losses. There is an obligation to let management know the risks.

Parts and Service

What makes a system obsolete? “Quality of service determines how quickly the system becomes obsolete,” said an engineer.

So another part of the strategy, said an attendee, is to “Identify the service people in town who understand how to repair and maintain the system. You might even have to fly them in. We have a guy who works on steam absorption systems for everyone in the area.”

And what about aftermarket suppliers; can you, say, call a machine shop to make parts?

“We’ve had a fair amount of success getting parts made up,” said an attendee. “We gave them an old part for the pattern.”

Electronics failures, however, are a different matter entirely. “The turnaround of technology is so fast, you can’t even get bootleg parts,” moaned one engineer.

“You wind up replacing a whole control system rather than a panel,” said another. These problems crop up on equipment that’s only six or seven years old.

And this raised the question, “How many owners actually go for manufacturer’s recommended spare parts list? For an incremental cost, it saves money down the road,” stated a forum participant.

Networking with owners of similar equipment, through organizations like the Building Owners and Managers (BOMA) Inter-national, puts system operators in touch with potential sources of “obsolete” equipment.

Publication date: 07/16/2001

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