Most schools around the country with an HVACR program have trainers or actual equipment for students to practice on. The machinery grants students a hands-on experience, which accompanies the theory lessons they learn in the classroom.

Simulation software offers another approach, giving students an alternate route to learn the information taught in class. The computer-based instruction serves as a way for students or techs to practice their servicing skills on a generic piece of HVACR equipment.

Simulators are utilized by HVAC training programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels, and are also used by union apprenticeship schools, said Sam Gilmore, sales manager, Simutech Systems Inc.

Different simulators offer training on various types of equipment, running the gamut from residential air conditioning units to supermarket refrigeration. “By using computerized fault-insertion and built-in test equipment the trainee can quickly learn the operating characteristics and methods of troubleshooting and repairing mechanical and electrical faults that are commonly encountered in the field,” described Gilmore.

Learning Tool

Carter Stanfield, program chair of the air conditioning technology department at Athens Technical College, Athens Ga., and author of Fundamentals of HVAC/R, called simulation software a great learning medium, which actually boasts quite a distinguished history. “We have used troubleshooting simulation software for many years. Simutech had DOS-based troubleshooting sims [simulators] out before Windows,” he said. “Today’s software is a big improvement in terms of graphics, but the idea of using the computer to simulate problems encountered on a real system is not very new.

“If the student approaches the exercise correctly, it is a good way for them to learn systematic troubleshooting and logic. Troubleshooting software is a natural use for computer training because it does something that really cannot be done with books, videotapes, or other media,” he said. “Computer-based simulation software can also record what the student has done, so the instructor can look over the approach to see if it is logical, or if the student is just going down a list replacing parts.

“We have successfully used products from Simutech, Prokup Media Inc., and MyHVACLab, and have had good results with all of them. One thing to realize is that students will require some time to learn how to use the software. Things progress slowly at first, but once the student learns how a particular program works, they can get to the business of learning troubleshooting technique. In general, the more thoroughly a program replicates a real system, the more time it takes to learn,” observed Stanfield.

Jeff Taylor, edison liaison at, found that his students enjoyed using the simulation software. “What I thought was most interesting was the spike in enthusiasm from all students. It was taken as a troubleshooting game and caused much discussion about troubleshooting techniques.”

Simulation software is often used to drive home information taught in the classroom setting.

Jamie Kitchen, training manager, Danfoss, said, “One of the things I have always liked in well-designed simulation software is how it utilizes the ‘doing’ portion of learning to reinforce the concepts being covered. I remember taking multiple courses without ever putting the theory to practice and, of course, it was quickly lost.

“Being able to make an input and comparing the result with expectations cements the experience into long-term memory. After all, this is how we learned even before we could talk when we were infants.

“Once the learner migrates to physical trainers or vice versa, (it does not seem to matter as either way allows the learner to re-experience the effect), it further reinforces the concepts learned,” said Kitchen. “Of course … enthusiasm makes all the difference. Without it, the point is rather moot.”

Doug Donovan, CEO, Interplay Energy, isn’t surprised by the interest that simulation software attracts. “The studies (mostly military and medical, where they have been using simulation for decades) all seem to point to one thing: If the content is cognitive, procedural, and there are many variables, simulation training in combination with hands-on training is more effective than hands-on training alone. Take note, that’s blended — not simulation alone — that provides the best results. It’s not just hands-on training alone. HVAC troubleshooting content matches up nicely as it is cognitive, procedural, and has many variables. And, not surprisingly, 19-year-old men love diving into a game-like simulation. It seems to be in their blood.”

Extracurricular Activities

Simulation methodology can be used outside of the formal educational setting, including at contracting companies, to train their techs. Gilmore said that over 200 American and Canadian contractors use the company’s HVACR training simulators, in addition to more than 2,500 schools and apprenticeship programs.

“Simulators are useful for contractors because their technicians can hone their troubleshooting skills, which decreases the time it takes in the field for a tech to repair a system. This is especially true for problems that are hard to troubleshoot,” stated Gilmore.

“Normally, contractors using our simulators have an instructor who selects specific faults in the simulator for the technicians to troubleshoot. This generates a work order for the technician, which contains a customer complaint. The tech then proceeds to troubleshoot the system, just as he would in the field. Other contractors allow the technician to use the simulator’s random fault generator, rather than use an instructor to generate the faults.”

Craig Johnson, owner at Surgi’s Heating and Air Conditioning, Kenner, La., likes the idea of using simulation software at his contracting company. “Each hour of in-house training costs my company salary expense and lost revenue. We like to think that we make up for that with more knowledgeable and satisfied employees. The use of simulation software and online training would be a great supplement to what we do.”

Publication date: 6/3/2013 

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