According to Rucker, the group was formed in 1994 to obtain the training and information necessary to retrofit chillers in the wake of the Montreal Protocol.
“Contractors were having a difficult time, if not an impossible time, trying to get information out,” said Rucker.
To get the necessary information, 10 contractors (including Rucker) met in Minneapolis, MN, to share their knowledge. “Among us, we had enough experience to provide retrofits on our own,” Rucker said.
Seven years later, the group has almost tripled its membership. The group has broadened its training scope to acquire a variety of necessary technical skills to properly service chillers in the field.
Rucker says there is a need for ongoing training when servicing chillers and that manufacturers should work with contractors to provide this training.
Rucker says that chiller courses are not necessarily difficult to find for new models, but older models are a different story. “When you are going out in the field what do you run into? The older models,” Rucker said. That’s why new members are only welcomed into the group if they are able to contribute.
One way members can contribute is by sharing information during training courses. The group meets at least twice a year and holds specific courses on the maintenance and service of chillers. If a manufacturer is not brought in for the course, one or more of the members who are proficient on a specific unit or application shares his/her knowledge. (This also happens throughout the year, not just at training sessions.)
John Saucier of Temperature Inc., Memphis, TN, is one of many independent contractors to benefit from the group’s e-mail system.
When one member sends out an e-mail, all members receive the message. These messages are mostly for help on chiller applications in the field.
For example, one of Saucier’s techs was having difficulty in the field with a specific ddc control. “Ddc automation can be quite complex and requires constant, ongoing training,” said Saucier. “It’s hard to be proficient in more than one brand.”
Saucier sent out an e-mail to his group about the problem and received six replies within 4 hrs. “Our guy called [another company’s] technician, went out on the job, and had the problem fixed within an hour,” said Saucier.
Don Henley, a member from Premium Mechanical Contracting Co., Jackson, MO, also experienced this benefit. His company had taken over servicing a centrifugal chiller that had been experiencing oil loss for the last 10 years. To get to the source of the problem, Henley said, “I sent an
e-mail out to the group and got eight or 10 responses back.”
With the range of experience in the group, Henley says his company was able to fix the chiller’s leak. “The group enables us to communicate back and forth freely,” he said. “If you experience a problem in the field, 95% of the time someone else has had that problem.”
Henley sees the importance of obtaining proper training skills from manufacturers. He says that when some technicians do not have adequate training on a particular unit or system, it can end up reflecting badly on the manufacturer. Henley explains that when a tech has tried everything to fix a piece of equipment and nothing works, very often the equipment and the manufacturer are blamed. The equipment may be fine, but the technician does not have the proper training.
Rucker agrees. “We want a better relationship with manufacturers,” he said. “We want manufacturers to know that we will do what we need to do to have the training.”
Rucker also says that by providing the proper training, manufacturers can be guaranteed that their products will be serviced correctly, which can lead them to sell more equipment.
So far, Rucker and his group have been successful. Besides meeting twice a year, the group is able to set up training sessions with a number of manufacturers. Some-times the group will travel to a manufacturer’s location, or will meet at a member’s company and let a manufacturer come in to provide the training.
All members are responsible for paying their own training and traveling expenses. “As a group, we are willing to spend money on training to show we are committed to excellence,” said Henley.
According to Rucker, most of the members are part of other industry associations, like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA). But the chiller group allows independent contractors to get together and talk about a specialized and specific part of the industry.
The group also isn’t run like a regular association. There are no fees or dues, and there is no profit made off of the group. All members pay for their own expenses.
Other than two committees, there is no political structure. There is a steering committee to plan the locations for training and determine what will be covered, as well as a membership committee to determine the acceptance of new members.
When the group was first formed, a contractor could be excluded from joining if one of his competitors had already joined. The group eventually dropped this idea. According to Rucker, the group decided that it was unfair for only one contractor in a particular market to have access to the training. In fact, two of Rucker’s competitors are members. One is Bob Wilkin of TD Industries, which serves the Dallas and Ft. Worth areas.
“We were honored to be asked to join and took it very seriously,” Wilkin said. “Three of the members have the same market and we compete with each other every day. But there is no issue because the market is plenty big.
“These are very good contractors and they are very competent with big chillers.”
For more information on the Chiller Systems Group, go to www.chillergroup.com (website).
Publication date: 01/14/2002