In the increasingly competitive HVAC market, successful contractors are always looking for ways to be more efficient and to do a better job. Using wireless instruments to take all measurements simultaneously can make the job easier and better, resulting in quicker, more accurate diagnoses and a system that’s optimized for peak performance. Since all of the wireless data is saved, you can compare it to the data you get your next visit.
Many contractors have already started turning to wireless technology to assure quality and shorten time on the job.
Warren Brader is the leader of a team of HVACR technicians from a major defense contractor who maintain and repair HVAC systems and power generators for a branch of the military at their bases round the world.
“It’s about much more than keeping the soldiers comfortable,” said Brader. “The most important charge we have is to maintain the HVAC equipment that serves the computer operations. Those computers are critical to the military at every level and they can’t afford to have them go down because an air conditioning unit malfunctioned.”
Most people think of military computers as those used at military bases for routine tasks such as data processing, but the ones most critical to the military are those used in armed conflicts including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Danger to Battlefield Computers
“All the computer information is classified,” said Brader. “But I can tell you that those central operations are essentially the offices in the field. The commanders spend much of their time there and, if an a/c unit goes down, the temperature ramps up in the servers in that facility and they go down, too. If that happens they lose computer capability for everything. All communications goes down, artillery, fire command, combat operations centers, everything. The systems immediately go to backup power, and we do not lose data, but the standby power is for an emergency, and not doing your job correctly is not an emergency. It is mandatory to get it right the first time using the proper tools and test procedures. So you can see why it is critical to keep those a/c units up and running at maximum efficiency, especially in the summer.”
The first thing Brader did when he arrived at his present job was to, as he likes to say, “get everybody on the same sheet of music.” He did that by making sure all his technicians used the same instruments — what he calls The Right Stuff.
As a perfectionist with 25 years of experience in HVAC, he has deep-set hatred for callbacks. He says the way to prevent them is by consistency of testing methods and the elimination of shortcuts.
“When I came here, I made sure that everyone working under me used the same instrumentation. I was using a Fieldpack, which consisted of a digital stick meter, a data logger, an electronic handle, and 11 modular test heads that fit all three and measure just about everything an HVAC tech needs to measure. They give me the accuracy I need and are extremely portable. I saw to it that everyone working under me had one. And that was good as far as it went. But it still didn’t give me control over the guys in the field. I still couldn’t guarantee that they were doing everything by the book.”
A Chance to Assemble The Right Stuff
In response to his continued aversion to callbacks, especially those half a world away, Brader was commissioned by his military client to put the perfect standardized tool kit together for all the technicians.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be some new technology that will make my technicians’ jobs easier and make them more versatile while giving me more control.’ My meter supplier had just introduced their new system analyzer and it looked great on paper. I ordered one online to evaluate it.
“It’s a wireless hand-held instrument that basically takes the tech by the hand and leads him through each step,” he said. “More important, it receives wireless data from other instruments, records tests and their results so that we have a record of what was done. For instance, a technician needs to measure superheat. He enters the type of refrigerant into the analyzer. It instructs him to take wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures and suction line temperature and pressure. The technician uses the modular accessory test heads he already has in his Fieldpack and attaches them to the analyzer to enter results directly into the meter. When all measurements have been taken, the instrument gives the technician the target and the actual superheat.
“The wireless features of this analyzer and other instruments that it communicates with not only makes their job much faster, but if they’re in hostile climates like those in Afghanistan, it minimizes their exposure to extreme weather.”
Monitoring Techs in the Field
“When I speak to my technicians in the field over the phone or via email, they send me the test results directly to my computer. More important, I can store the data on the share drive for every tech around the world to see what is being done to other units and use this data to track repeat problem areas and evaluate the quality of work. Then I can send that data upon request to our customer to back up our work requests and show the quality of the job.”
It gives Brader what he had been seeking — meticulous control over the maintenance procedures and measurements in the field which translates into reduced callbacks.
Curtis Hopkins, the install manager of Missouri-based Aire Solutions, recently switched to a wireless digital manifold.
“I’ve been using wireless almost from the time my meter supplier first came out with them. I think I have every wireless they make.
“I had replaced my analog gauges some time ago with a digital manifold which was great for accuracy, but it wasn’t wireless. Then last year they came out with a wireless manifold and I got it right away. Now we do wireless superheat, subcooling, amp draws, indoor wet bulb, outdoor temperatures, static pressures, airflow measurement, everything we need to make sure the system is working at maximum efficiency. It makes my job super easy. There’s no more second guessing if I did something right. When I first got the wireless manifold, I would go back and double check the measurements the old way and everything checked out right. But it took me an hour and a half more. So the wireless provides accuracy you can be confident of and saves a lot of time.
“I have the manifold tied into all my other wireless and hooked to my system analyzer. All the instruments send their results to my HVAC Guide? hand-held system analyzer and I download the results to a laptop, and print them out for the customer and put a copy in my files. All my installers use them and the service techs are switching over as well. I’m always the first one to get the newest wireless, so they wait to see how mine works, then go and buy their own. So we have 15 installers working wireless, saving time, and improving accuracy.”
Make Sure It Can Take the Punishment
Russ Harju is the product manager for Fieldpiece Instruments, a leading supplier of instruments specifically designed for the HVACR technician. “One important thing to remember when buying a wireless instrument, or any other for that matter, is its durability,” he said. “Many instruments are not designed for the harsh environment we work in. So whatever brand you are looking at, make sure that it can take the punishment you’re going to put it through.”
One of the latest additions to wireless HVAC tools is the wireless psychrometer. Wayne Davis, owner of Panda HVAC in Nevada, was one of the first to use one.
“Fieldpiece uses me as a beta tester and pretty much takes my advice,” he said. “When they had honed their wireless psychrometer design and put it on the market, I was first in line. Now when I recharge a split system I use the psychrometer in tandem with my wireless digital manifold and my HVAC Guide? system analyzer. I install the psychrometer, hook up the manifold, and attach the Guide to the system. The Guide determines what the charge should be, the manifold installs it, and the psychrometer gives me airflow.”
“The wireless psychrometer is unusual in that it gives four evaporator measurements at the same time — supply wet bulb, supply dry bulb, return wet bulb, and return dry bulb,” said Harju. “It gives the technician more insight into evaporator performance.”
So, it would seem wireless is the way to go. Just don’t forget about durability.
Publication date: 2/17/2014