CHICAGO — As technology in the HVAC industry continues to advance, so do the tools used to install and maintain those new systems. The HVAC tool market is trending toward wireless and Bluetooth technology as well as multipurpose tools — anything that can make the job faster and more accurate.

Wireless Capabilities

“Wireless applications are leading the way,” said John Jeffers, vice president, North America sales, CPS Products Inc. “Consumers want to be able to measure and log all the information and keep it on file.”

Jeffers said he’s also noticed a trend in refrigerant recovery machines re-
focusing on reliability and performance. “There was a race to make everything as small as possible, but I think we’ve gotten past that point. We’re seeing a trend in added reliability, more solid compressors, and also superior airflow. You have to have the airflow to be able to recover high-pressure refrigerants. So, the cooling capacity and ability is very important.”

CPS Products showcased its TR600 recovery unit last month at the AHR Expo. The product features patented twin-cylinder oil-less compressors and a high-capacity condensing system to achieve fast recovery rates, vapor, or direct liquid. Additional features include sensibly located controls and connections, large gauges, and a 550-psi high-pressure shutoff switch. The device is also vivid yellow in color, another current trend in the market, according to Jeffers.

“For some reason, people like the color yellow,” he said. “And, there are still trends out there for camouflage. Camouflage patterns or black-and-chrome patterns have been very popular. A lot of our technicians are hunting enthusiasts, or they ride Harley motorcycles — it reflects their own personal lifestyle in tools. That’s kind of where we’re going.”

Russ Harju, product manager, Fieldpiece Instruments Inc., said the industry is using mobile apps to connect with consumers.

“Most everyone carries a smartphone or tablet these days, and why not give the device double duty?” Harju said. “By adding the app component to some of our wireless products, we’re adding portability and functionality to devices they already have. In addition to apps, wireless products are still a trend in the industry. Technicians in the field still believe this is the smartest way to test systems.”

Fieldpiece displayed its JL2 transmitter for attendees at the show. The JL2 is a wireless receiver and transmitter that receives measurements from the wireless Fieldpiece SMAN Digital Manifolds and the wireless dual psychrometer. The device performs calculations to diagnose the a/c system.

“This is the first step in helping the tech run his job through his tools and making the HVAC service call easier, faster, and better,” Harju said.

Brian Morrison, product manager, hilmor, said the biggest industry trend is the shift to wireless, Bluetooth, and mobile-enabled tools.

“In North America, there’s a large growth of mini splits, so there’s a call for tools to work with mini splits. There’s also still a lot of confusion about what tools are needed to work with mini splits. And that’s why things like mini-split kits have seen some growth. Overall, they are just becoming a very widely accepted market.”

hilmor introduced 90 hand tools at the AHR Expo, including pliers, wrenches, and wire strippers. The manufacturer’s Quick-Adjusting Tongue-and-Groove Plier simplifies grabbing hold of hex, square, or round fasteners while the jaw quickly adjusts with the press of a button. The tool’s large number of grooves, simple sizing, strong hold, and comfortable grip ensure guaranteed positioning and hold while diminishing hand fatigue. hilmor’s Demolition Screwdrivers feature a metal strike plate and heat-treated, chrome-plated, through-shaft de-
sign to stand up to abusive applications such as prying and chiseling.

Multiple-use Devices

General Tools & Instruments was one of several manufacturers to display new tools with multiple functions. The new Mini-Anemometer/Psychrometer with cfm/cmm (cubic meters per minute) and Enthalpy has the ability to measure eight HVACR-related parameters in one handheld device that is small and light enough for one-handed operation. General Tools’ DAF3009 can measure airflow volume (in cfm or cmm); air speed (in feet per minute [fpm], millisecond [msec], kilometers per hour, miles per hour [mph], or knots); enthalpy (in Btu per pound or kilojoules/kilograms; ambient temperature; dew point temperature; wet bulb temperature; wind chill index; and relative humidity.

“These instruments and tools have multiple functions, they don’t do just one thing,” said Peter Harper, vice president, strategic marketing and brand development, General Tools & Instruments. “You have more options without buying more tools.”

Klein Tools Inc. also released several new tools at the AHR Expo including a new 11-in-1 Screwdriver/Nut Driver with Schrader® Valve Core Bit. The tool includes a unique-style bit for installation and removal of common TR-4 Schrader® valves and aggressive thread extractor tip for backing out broken cores. It contains 3/16- and 1/4-inch slotted; #1 and #2 Phillips; 1/4-, 5/16-, and 3/8-inch nut driver; #1 and #2 square; and a core extractor.

“Everybody in refrigeration knows how hard those Schrader valves are to remove,” said Mark Klein, president, Klein Tools. “Contractors want tools that make the job simple, faster, easier, and more accurate. Safety is also a huge trend, so we’re seeing more insulated products.”

Chris Carroll, national sales manager for HVAC and refrigeration, MasterCool Inc., said, while wireless tools are all the rage, manufacturers should consider the cost.

“It all comes down to whether a contractor can afford to buy the product,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding the right wireless product you can sell to the masses. At MasterCool, there are a number of products in this electronic world of smart instruments, and the process of them trending toward wireless is happening as we speak. It all comes down to product life cycle and making them available when the market is ready to accept them.”

According to Corey Dickert, director, product management, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., the industry is really trending toward cordless tools.

“As battery technology keeps getting better, you’re seeing the cordless market explode right now,” he said.

Milwaukee introduced its M18 FUEL™ Deep Cut Band Saw, among other new items, which cuts faster than its corded counterpart. The band saw delivers up to a full day’s run-time on one charge.

“For the first time, cordless not only cuts the cord but actually outperforms it,” Dickert said. “So, really, the only reason to hold onto a cord these days is if you’re sentimental.”

Much like smartphones and other smart technologies, smart tools are also becoming more popular.

“There are a lot of people coming out with Bluetooth-enabled tools or wireless tools — anything that makes calculating superheat and subcooling easier,” said Matthew Wehmeyer, product manager, electronics, Parker Hannifin Corp. “I’ve seen a lot of that lately. No longer do you need to use P/T charts and a calculator or pad and paper to calculate superheat. And, anytime you can make your tools smaller, so they can be easily carried with you and diagnose your system faster, that’s also a trend.”

The Sporlan Division of Parker Hannifin showcased its Smart Tools Service Kit, which includes lightweight wireless sensors that conveniently sync with a mobile device app, enabling technicians to read a system’s real-time pressures and temperatures without using cumbersome hoses or manifold gauges. The wireless system frees technicians to monitor system performance anywhere within Bluetooth range, minimizing charge loss and cleanup by eliminating hoses as well as minimizing unnecessary steps between system components and equipment.

David Roberts, marketing communications manager, Ridgid, said he frequently hears HVAC technicians asking for cameras. “The request for inspection cameras keeps growing. I see more and more of them on the market; there’s a flurry of activity in cameras and camera growth. You can store and share information through a USB port, memory card, or download to a computer. There are even software application developments, where the tool is smart and can use an app to take a picture and email it right from the tool itself. More and more, contractors are seeking intelligent tools that utilize available technologies.”

Roberts said Ridgid reinforces the trend with its SR24 Locator, which is used to find utilities underground contractors are seeking equipped with GPS and Bluetooth technology for easy integration with external data-capturing devices.

“As the user is tracing the utility above ground, it’s also making a digital map of where the user walked, so they can share that report and show exactly where those utilities are located. They essentially have a roadmap available so they don’t have to repeat the process again and again when they return. That’s a new phenomenon, and I think it’s going to be a game-changer.”

Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc. is another manufacturer taking advantage of the growth in wireless tools. The company highlighted its new ManTooth™ Single Pressure Wireless Digital P/T Gauge at the expo.

“There are only a couple of units on the market that read pressure and temperature and then communicate these readings to a smart device (iOS or Android-based),” said Mike Lanners, vice president, domestic sales and marketing, Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc. “It also has the ability to send snapshots of real-time readings via email directly off the app. It’s kind of a relatively innovative new product to the industry. We’re using Bluetooth wireless technology to show our readings, rather than using just a typical analog or digital gauge. Instead, readings are being sent to your smartphone or tablet.

“We are seeing this type of technology entering our industry more and more, and we’ll continue to see it as we move along,” Lanners continued. “There will be more wireless and Bluetooth integration into this industry with different tools and products.”

Publication date: 2/23/2015

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