Ten-plus years of research and design went into the 2014 Dealer Design Awards’ gold-winning product in the Electronic Tools category. By talking to contractors at trade shows, industry gatherings, and focus groups, and conducting technician interviews, Stride Tool Inc. created the Imperial iManifold™.

“This is one of the best tools I have seen come out in a while,” said one contractor judge. “I like the fact that the display is separate and will be less likely to get broken from use and transport.”

The Imperial iManifold 900-M is a digital refrigeration gauge. Using a smartphone or tablet as the user interface, the iManifold leverages the smart device processing power, communications, GPS, and other inherent features. With it, technicians can troubleshoot, charge, create reports, service, and assess equipment performance.

In addition, separating the instrument from the display with a 400-foot range allows the technician to be where he or she needs to be without being tied to the gauge set.

“Built-in onboard diagnostics allow an entry-level technician to be as productive as a seasoned veteran, and remote communications allow a service manager, factory support rep, or other field support representative to see the readings on the iManifold in real time and offer service advice,” said Jim Bergmann, new product development manager, Stride Tools Inc. “It’s like cloning the abilities of your tech support to multiple techs at the same time. Add to that the large number of accessories, including the wireless probes with up to 1,000 feet of range and it’s easy to see that no other product has the capability and functionality of this unique offering.”

Applications include commercial, residential, and industrial for comfort cooling as well as refrigeration.

The Imperial iManifold records data from wired and wireless sensors and incorporates the live data as well as field-recorded data into a very detailed commissioning report, eliminating the need for hand recording as well as transcriptional errors, spelling errors, and paperwork processing. It records temperature, pressure, and humidity measurements, and allows user input of voltage, amperage, and more. The iManifold troubleshoots system operation in real time and, going one step further, explains how it arrived at the solution and what the expected improper operation symptoms are, then recommends subsequent service steps.

“The iManifold addresses the looming issue of massive HVAC technical workforce retirement in the next decade,” said Bergmann. “It bridges the knowledge and skill gaps between the entry-level technician and the seasoned veteran through remote connectivity, remote support, and onboard diagnostics to help solve problems quickly. Simply put, the iManifold connects an entry-level technician to years of experience.”

According to the company, this is an anchor product for Stride Tool and a platform for many other new wireless probes and accessories that will expand the diagnostic capabilities of the tool. The plan is to add several wireless probes and accessories to the iManifold product line each year.

Silver Winner

The Mastercool Leak Detector 55800 won silver in this category. The product employs a metal oxide gas sensor for the detection of chlorofluorocarbon gases and blends. Upon the detection of extremely small levels of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases, the tin oxide sensor is characterized by high sensitivity and a fast response time, according to the company. Integrated into the design is a microprocessor that automatically selects the best operating conditions for the sensor to ensure optimum performance. The optimum sensor performance is maintained and monitored throughout the life of the sensor by the microprocessor.

Other design features include an intelligent tip design that senses the condition of the environment to help eliminate the potential for false alarms. The leak detector has a progressive, color LCD display that provides visual identification. Once turned on, the accelerated start-up program prepares the sensor for readiness. A sensor diagnostic is performed, and optimal conditions are established. The unit is ready for leak detection when “Ready” appears on the LCD. A self-calibrating feature has been integrated into the design to ascertain maximum peak performance throughout the sensor’s life. In addition, self-diagnostic software was designed to provide the user with information about the readiness of the unit as well as any product status that may impair the unit’s operation.

Six years of design research was conducted by the company. Mastercool listened to and observed various trends and issues within the marketplace as it was working on this project. The company also had discussions with worldwide manufacturers and distributors. Mastercool’s engineering team is constantly attempting to improve existing designs, and, representatives said, in the future, it will expand distribution to all industry segments.

Bronze Winner

Taking bronze was the PalmScope™ from General Tools & Instruments. The product is a full-featured, pocket-sized video inspection system. About the size of a cell phone, the PalmScope can be operated with one hand, leaving the other hand free to use tools. Its clamshell design allows the camera-tipped probe to be coiled inside the device’s thermoplastic rubber housing when not in use. The PalmScope allows users to visually inspect inaccessible or hazardous areas and diagnose problems or read hidden part and serial numbers without the need for disassembly or teardown. It is built to survive the harsh environments of HVACR maintenance.

The PalmScope’s integral 2-foot-long, flexible-obedient probe with 9-millimeter-diameter camera tip enables users to maneuver in narrow, tight spaces. It’s also waterproof, oil-proof, and dustproof to IP67 standard. The camera offers a depth of field of 1 inch to 10 feet and a 60-degree field of view. Four LEDs on the camera head produce bright, crisp video on a 2.7-inch high-contrast color LCD screen with 320-by-240-pixel resolution (QVGA). Users can zoom up to 4X, and the unit has 180-degree video flip function for reading upside-down labels and serial numbers.

The PalmScope includes four probe tip accessories — a 45-degree mirror, pickup hook, magnetic pickup, and thread protector. It comes with a nylon pouch and a belt clip.

According to the company, the device has countless HVACR and plumbing applications, such as detecting leaks and cracks in ducts and piping and inspecting for corrosion and deposit buildup. The instrument can also be used to examine heat exchanger tubing, plenums, and the internal components of equipment, as well as getting behind walls, above ceilings, and under floors.

General Tools and Instruments representatives plan to develop a PalmScope with video recording capabilities. This feature will allow the user to record and save inspection videos on SD cards for documentation and future reference. Such documentation will arm technicians and contractors with proof of their findings to support maintenance and repair recommendations.

Publication date: 7/21/2014

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!