After more than two decades of trial and error, Bob Bachman has transformed a tangled pile of wires and circuits into two unique and innovative educational tools.
The Bachman Trainers are troubleshooting devices offering multiple electrical puzzles in various combinations to students inside a controlled, educational setting.
The trainers are currently available in two models, the Straight A/C Electric Heat model, based on a 230-V single-phase package air conditioner with one strip heat package, and the Heat Pump/Electric Heat model, based on a 230-V single-phase package heat pump with one strip heat package.
Instructors are able to stand behind the 1-foot-wide, 2-foot-long, and 3-foot-tall device and simulate an array of relevant HVACR electrical problems through the push of a button. Students must then solve the problem using only a voltmeter. Problem-solving equations may be as simple as a simulated line break or considerably more complex, such as four simultaneous defects across a single circuit.
“Electrical troubleshooting is one of the hardest things to teach HVAC students,” said Bachman. “These trainers can simulate more than 500 combinations of real-world scenarios at the push of a button, making that lesson plan much easier to present.”
Where the Idea Came From
Bachman, 54, grew up in Ottawa, Ill., an area plagued with few blue-collar opportunities. After graduating high school, Bachman relocated to Phoenix, to attend technical courses at Refrigeration School Inc. Earning his degree in 1979, he entered Phoenix’s HVAC industry, earning $4 an hour as a journeyman.
Six months later Bachman briefly returned to his hometown, had a quick cup of coffee in Houston, and eventually dropped anchor in Stockbridge, Ga. After serving as a technician with Shumate Mechanicals for several years, Bachman branched out as a subcontractor in 1992. In 1999 he stopped subcontracting, and opened his own contracting business, Bachman Mechanical Services.
Around that time, Bachman began compiling ideas in a notebook for an educational invention that would eventually evolve into the Bachman Trainer. After a few weeks of deep thought, he knew he had no choice but to build the devices.
“The idea first started way back in technical school and really started to come about when I was building panels for Shumate. All the different jobs I’d held really whet my appetite for the control aspect of the industry,” he said.
“It got to a point where I was absolutely haunted by the idea. I’d wake up at 3 a.m., crawl out of bed, and have to jot my thoughts down in my notebook. I had to make a decision; it was either build the device or continue to wake up at 3 a.m. with these visions for the rest of my life.”
Bachman turned to his garage and began toiling with multiple circuits, wires, and notebook sketches. After about 1,000 hours of work, and a $3,500 invoice, he emerged with a prototype unit in 2001.
“When I first sat down, there were a dozen brick walls in my way and I had no idea how to knock them down or go around them,” he said. “It was a very intensive task, but I eventually got the job done.”
With the inaugural instrument complete, Bachman was unsure how to market the product.
Despite all his intense labor, the finished gadget sat in the corner of his garage for nearly four years before it found its way to a classroom.
In 2005, Bachman lent the trainer to an HVAC instructor at Laurus Technical Institute (Jonesboro, Ga.). After a few months, Bachman offered to sell the device to the school, but much to his dismay, they declined.
“A week later, we left to celebrate Christmas in Ohio and I received numerous calls from the school begging me not to sell the trainer because they wanted it back,” he said. “I guess as soon as it was removed from the classroom, the students sort of revolted. The teacher had no choice but to bring it back.”
The machine sold for $4,500. Bachman pocketed a handsome 32 cents per hour profit through the sale.
His second trainer was sold to the Mechanical Trades Institute, a union school that provides HVAC training for the United Association Local 72 in Atlanta.
The school purchased the trainer more than three years ago and has used it to train students.
“I almost think this trainer is a necessity for our school,” said Jerry Stephens, an instructor with 33 years of HVAC experience. “The machine provides basic instruction for our novice students and helps us keep our fifth-year students in the right mindset. We’ve used it in two state contests and two regional contests and, while we could do without it, our classrooms benefit a whole lot more with it.”
Educators at Florida Gateway College (Lake City, Fla.) use the training system every day.
“Prior to the Bachman Trainers, we did a lot of stuff on a chalkboard and then attempted to show students the problem on an actual air conditioner. But, having them work on actual systems is a bit of a daunting task when you have a classroom full of students,” said instructor Drew Mock. “Now we can wheel the trainer in and students can each have a turn using a voltmeter.”
Following the encouragement of Florida Gateway College instructors, Bachman expanded his inventory and designed a second training model that focuses on heat pump technology. The heat pump model still exclusively uses a voltmeter, but includes enhanced methodology that provides an added challenge for advanced students.
What Does the Future Hold?
Altogether, Bachman has sold a dozen trainers to institutions in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan. Sales are currently pending in Alabama and Ohio. Trainers that used to take him 1,000 hours to complete now require only 100 hours of labor.
“I’m currently learning about electronic controls, and considering incorporating them into the devices, but that costs a bit more money. Unfortunately, as my costs go up, so does the price tag on the trainers,” he said. “I also have another trainer in mind, a mechanical refrigeration trainer that deals with pressures, suction temperatures, and superheat. I have a lot of research to complete on that idea, and it may be a year or more away, but that is one of my short-term goals.”
While the first unit was built humbly in his garage, Bachman has global aspirations. “In five years, I can see this operation moving into a facility with a few employees building trainers day in and day out,” he said. “I’d like to share this idea with the world. I know there will always be brick walls in our way, but we’re confident. With hard work we’ll find our way through them.”
The Bachman Trainers are currently being distributed by Technical Training Aids, based in Birmingham, Ala. For more information call 800-851-3987 or visit www.bachmantrainers.com.
Publication date: 3/5/2012