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Memoir of a New Product Guinea Pig

March 28, 2011
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Butch Welsch

I enjoyed reading the reviews of the AHRI-ASHRAE show in this magazine [Feb. 21, 2011 “Expo Attendees in Great Mood”]. However, this year something seemed to stand out more than in previous years. It seemed like every exhibitor had a number of “new and exciting products” to dazzle the attendees. It appears that new products are coming out faster than we can possibly absorb them. These new products are available in HVAC equipment, accessories (especially thermostats), as well as many of the other items we use regularly. We are given the impression that if we don’t jump on the bandwagon and buy the newest product we will have missed an unbelievable opportunity.

Through the years our company has attempted to stay on top of the new technologies which have been developed. When one is younger, it seems really neat to be the first HVAC contractor to try out a new type of system or product. I suppose there is some value in being able to say that you are the first to install the new fantastic whatever.

Some of these new items actually caught on and have become standards of the industry, while others are merely memories like dial telephones and Edsels. We installed the first subdivision of gas air conditioning units, back in the 1960s. The sales pitch was no compressor to fail - which was true. However, there were a great number of other parts that could fail, and did. Not many gas air conditioners are still around.

In the 1970s, we did the first area subdivision with heat pumps. While not exceedingly popular in this area, at least the technology proved appropriate and now heat pumps are standard in many parts of the country.

Also in the 1970s, how about individual package rooftop units on three-story apartments? No furnaces or air handlers in the living space. It seemed like a good idea then, but it never caught on.

Then in the 1980s came the new 85 percent high-efficiency furnaces. Well, you knew we would be among the first to sell them in quantities. We were among the first to suffer all of the condensation problems which became inherent with those units.

Although we have had our experiences with many new technologies, at least all of the technologies didn’t come at us all at once. It seems like today’s new technologies are coming so fast that it’s really hard to keep up.

I think there is a message of warning here. There are so many technologies coming so fast, that I would strongly recommend that a contractor look very long and hard before committing too many resources and too much effort on any one of the new technologies. While I know that some of these will, in fact, be stable forces in our industry in the future, gambling on which ones of these will survive the test of time is very difficult. Take the time to do as much research as possible to make sure that those which you are going to embrace will really be successful.

A concern that I have, because I have seen it happen recently, is that many companies are racing to get their new products and technologies to market. With competition as strong as it is, companies are rushing the research, development, and most importantly - testing of these new products. I believe that some have found that it is impossible to verify in six months, in a laboratory, that a piece of equipment is going to operate properly for years in a real-world situation. Rushing a product to market is not new. We just don’t want our customers to be the unknowing testing agents for a manufacturer’s newest idea. I feel it’s important that if you are installing a product with new technology that you make sure that you are dealing with a company that will back you up should there be problems.

I’m not recommending that you never sell new products. What I am suggesting is that you make a concerted effort, in advance, to make sure that all of the necessary testing has been done and that you can comfortably sell and put your name behind any new product you install.

Publication date: 03/28/2011
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