SAN ANTONIO — Chillers are complex pieces of equipment and a lot of training and education is needed to keep contractors on the top of their games when dealing with this equipment. These concerns are the exact reason why the Chiller Systems Group (CSG), which was formed 19 years ago, continues to meet annually.

“The main goals for the group are information and resource sharing and training,” said Brad Bolino, chairman, CSG steering committee. “We also work to keep open lines of communication with each of the major manufacturers to make sure that all contractors are treated fairly while competing for business.”

The most recent meeting of the group was held in San Antonio and hosted by TDIndustries. It was attended by more than 150 members, vendors, and guests. The two-day meeting had a mix of new products, business management advice, and an open forum to discuss anything related to chillers. The group discussed how to startup a controls business, how to make money on full-coverage chiller contracts, and energy-related retrofits among many other items.

Rob Bottimore from American Chiller Services Inc. in San Leandro, Calif., received the Pat Rucker award for his years of support and many contributions of time and talent to the Chiller Systems Group. CSG education, technical, marketing, website, and publicity committees also supplied annual updates to the membership.

The discussion about how to get involved in controls systems was especially lively. “Today, contractors must know how to get into the building controls systems in order to service the mechanical equipment. This is a challenge because the manufacturers have their own building automation controls and will not provide training or allow contractors access to software tools and replacement components,” Bolino said. “The CSG has begun to face this situation by forming a special group within our organization to deal with building automation controls.”

The Control Group meeting was held a day before the CSG meeting at the same location.

The Beginning

The first meeting was held in 1994 in Minneapolis and seven forward-thinking mechanical contractors were involved. “At this time there was a huge retrofit market to convert chillers to use the new refrigerants. The manufacturers would not sell the conversion materials directly to contractors,” said Pat Rucker, one of the founding members. “They claimed conversions were too complicated for contractors to handle. Contractors in this group have talented chiller technicians and they traded information in order to make the conversions without the manufacturers. Manufacturers were keeping service bulletins and training information away from contractors.”

However, the group and the chiller manufacturers have come a long way and now enjoy a solid relationship as the most recent meeting showcased.

There were product offerings and presentations from Midwest Parts and UtiliVisor, Daikin McQuay, MCS, Catalysis, Turbochyll, and Financial Risk Solutions. CSG subcommittees reported on Trane, Carrier, Johnson Controls, Daikin McQuay, and Turbocor equipment.

“We do our best to maintain an open and honest dialogue with all the manufacturers and have committees dedicated to each of them,” Bolino said. “We believe that the manufacturers have an interest in us because we represent a substantial volume of sales for new products and replacement parts. Because of the high level of technical competence of the membership, we represent a very low-risk sale of any product.”

In today’s difficult environment, the group members find great value in being able to bounce ideas off each other. In addition to the annual meeting, members interact daily by phone and through a private email Listserv where technical data and assistance is provided.

The group has stayed relatively small due to the rigorous process of accepting new members. There are multiple interviews and only the cream of the crop receives the invitation to participate. And, once welcomed in, full participation is expected. “Members must participate or they are dropped,” Bolino said. “All committees and work is done voluntarily by the members. There are no paid employees.”

The group is proud of what they have accomplished in the last 19 years, while looking forward to what the future entails. “All members feel they are leading better companies for belonging. We feel we not only make the members better contractors, but feel we have made the industry better for all contractors, and have given end users more choices for service,” Bolino said.

The Group’s 2014 annual meeting will be held in Jacksonville, Fla., and will be hosted by Thermaserve.

“We believe that the group will continue its managed growth and its group innovation,” Bolino said. “There will always be a place for high-quality, competent, independent contractors, and the CSG exists to support and enhance them.”

Founding Fathers

The Chillers Systems Group was formed April 29, 1994, with the first meeting being held in Minneapolis at Owens Service Co. The founding members were:

• Owens Services, Minneapolis;

• Entech Sales & Service, Dallas;

• Balco Mechanical, Boston;

• Colorado Chiller Maintenance, Denver;

• Delaware Valley York, Philadelphia;

• Southeastern Chiller Services, Jacksonville, Fla.; and

• Chiller Services, Charlotte, N.C.

Publication date: 5/13/2013