Testing, Monitoring Products Designed with the User in Mind
New products feature wireless connectivity, data storage, app functionality, and more
ORLANDO, Fla. — For the HVACR technician in the field every day, having the appropriate testing and monitoring equipment is essential to his or her job. Manufacturers understand this and have worked to integrate new technologies into their latest products in order to increase technician efficiency, measurement accuracy, data collection and storage, and ease of use. Many of these new testing and monitoring products were on display last month at the AHR Expo in Orlando, Florida, where manufacturers showcased and demonstrated their newest, smartest products.
Santiago Duval, product manager for Fluke Electrical Products, current clamps, Fluke Corp., said generational changes in the workforce, changes in communication, and changes in maintenance philosophies are shaping the testing and monitoring market.
“Product design is being adapted to adhere to younger technicians as more baby boomers retire,” said Duval. “Technology stemming from the rise of the smartphone and philosophical changes in maintenance are also changing the way tools are built.
“‘Run to failure’ used to be a predominant maintenance practice because it happened naturally,” Duval continued. “But, this practice has considerable risk — the most obvious being costly, unplanned downtime. The change to proactive, preventive maintenance is now possible through the development of wireless networks and test tools that send measurements to a maintenance database.”
Jahn Stopperan, director of product strategy at Yellow Jacket Products Division, Ritchie Engineering, also highlighted the role of the smartphone in influencing the direction new testing and monitoring products have taken in recent years.
“Behind all of this is the continued pressure for the contractors to be more efficient, productive, and profitable,” he said. “Technicians are looking for ease of use, speed, and accuracy in their tools and testing equipment.”
Manufacturers are designing new testing and monitoring equipment to make the HVACR technician’s job easier while ensuring accurate measurements and safe operation. At the 2016 AHR Expo, E Instruments Intl. released four new products, including the BTU1500 Portable Combustion Analyzer High Efficiency Kit designed for mechanical contractors, plumbers, boiler technicians, and those monitoring and installing condensing and high-efficiency systems; the AQ VOC, which measures TVOCs in either ppm for µg/m3 for low-range sensors or ppm for mg/m3 for high-range sensors; the AQ Comfort, which is the IAQ monitor made for the HVAC professional; and the Model 7899 Gas Sniffer, which is a portable, rugged, and easy-to-use leak-detection tool ideal for any industrial or HVAC professional.
Bacharach Inc. was also keeping the end user in mind when it designed its recently released gas measurement and detection instruments, said Dave Marple, portable instruments product manager, Bacharach Inc. The company recently launched the MGS-550, a full-featured point detector featuring two-sensor capability covering a wide range of toxic, combustible, and refrigerant gases that provides all of the industry-standard analog, digital, and relay outputs with IP66 and explosion-proof enclosure options.
“For the MGS-550, the market needs are also driving the need to get fast, yet accurate, gas readings into the real world through one or more of the product’s analog or digital outputs while providing functionality to turn on fans, strobe lights, sirens, etc.,” Marple said, adding that Bacharach also recently updated its Tune-Rite™ software and has included it in every Fyrite® INSIGHT® Plus combustion analyzer for free since August 2014.
Bacharach also recently released its Bacharach Reporting App, which simplifies the transmission of combustion data from the analyzer onto a mobile device and into the real world. “For HVAC contractors, technology really is the driver in that nearly everyone has a smart mobile device, which can conveniently be used for instantly searching Google and other sources of information,” Marple said. “So, introducing the Reporting App to provide an instant combustion data report and Tune-Rite to provide an instant ‘HVAC assistant’ truly helps bring combustion analyzers into the 21st century.”
Keeping the customer in mind, Dwyer Instruments launched its SMART Air Hood™ for measuring airflow at the AHR Expo. The product features a new ergonomic design, reduced weight, and increased accuracy.
“We’re looking to revolutionize how air balancing is done,” said Michael Chhutani, global product management team leader for Dwyer Instruments Inc. “The experience of the balancer is the key in proportional balancing, because they’re guessing. With the SMART Air Hood, we’re actually taking the guesswork out of it and using calculations in the software app to calculate the amount of flow at each register in order to tell a user where to set the dampers and adjust the system.”
“We tried various designs before we landed on this variation, which has Quad Flow technology for accuracy,” said Justin Foster, software engineering manager at Dwyer Instruments. “From an accurate reading, now we can do what’s called predictive balancing. In traditional commissioning, proportional balancing is only partly effective. In our process, it’s predictable. We know exactly how many steps it’ll take. The software does all the work for you.”
To better serve the industry professionals who use hilmor’s digital manifolds, the company recently expanded its hose line, said Alex Bear, assistant manager of brand marketing for hilmor. “We’ve added additional lengths to our [manifold] hoses this year, and we’ve also changed the design of our hoses to include ball valve ends that are crimped onto the ends of the hoses,” he said. “This allows a user to seal off the flow of refrigerant immediately.”
The retooled hose also features an extra abrasion-resistant layer for superior protection in tough conditions, and all of hilmor’s hoses are rated for 800-psi working pressure to work with the newest high-pressure refrigerants.
“Systems are becoming a lot more efficient and have a lot less refrigerant in them,” Bear said. “It’s going to protect the user’s hands and the environment, and it’s going to help the system, as well.”
THE WIRELESS REVOLUTION
Perhaps the most widespread trend influencing testing and monitoring equipment is the broad move toward digital tools with wireless capabilities, which has spurred advances in data logging, cloud storage, cloud computing, and real-time communication.
At the AHR Expo, Testo Inc. showcased its next-generation 550 Digital Manifold featuring Bluetooth connectivity for integration with smartphones and tablets via a free app. The 550 provides convenient analyses, monitoring, test reports, and invoice generation; it can also send measurement data via email from the job site directly to the customer or back to the office.
Also at the Expo, CPS Products displayed its new BlackMax® digital manifold and charging scale, which both integrate with the CPS Link mobile app.
“The new charging scale has the ability to manage [refrigerant] tanks — both supply tanks and recovery tanks — through the app,” said John Jeffers, vice president of North American sales at CPS Products. “In installing it, you’re able to download all of your activities at specific jobs, and you have your client data and your equipment data you’re working on and what you’ve done with that system, including how much refrigerant you’ve put into that system. All that information goes into the cloud, and you can also email it to your customer or service manager. It’s for saving your data and is another way of keeping track of what you do at a job site.
“The other new product is a wireless digital vacuum gauge, the BlackMax® digital manifold,” Jeffers continued. “It works in conjunction with CPS Link to let you perform select manifold functions from up to 300 feet away, and it’s available in two- and four-valve models.” The manifold is extremely accurate, features a rugged design, offers data-logging capabilities, supports more than 90 common refrigerants, and more.
Yellow Jacket has also embraced the wireless trend and recently released the ManTooth-PTV, which offers pressure, temperature, and vacuum readings, all in one instrument. Additional capabilities include data logging, the ability to email screenshots of readings right from the app, and the ability to add refrigerant without removing the ManTooth module from the charging port.
“With the introduction of our new offering, we now have a complete line of wireless gauges that technicians can select depending upon their specific needs and what tools they already have,” Stopperan said.
Fluke Corp.’s new Fluke Connect-enabled clamp meter is one of more than 40 wireless tools the company now offers and features wireless capabilities designed to make the HVACR professional’s job easier.
“With the Fluke 902 FC True-rms HVAC Clamp Meter, technicians can document measurements, email results to customers, and collaborate with colleagues in real time directly from the job site,” Duval said. “This eliminates the need to carry multiple tools.”
The 902 FC can transmit measurements to a smartphone or tablet for a detailed analysis and those measurements can be uploaded to the cloud. Technicians can also combine measurement data from multiple Fluke Connect test tools to create and share reports from the job site via email and collaborate in real time with other colleagues with ShareLive™ video calls or email, increasing productivity in the field.
“The 902 FC is an example of how familiar tools can make technicians more effective on the job,” Duval said.
SMARTER, FASTER, AND STRONGER
The wireless connectivity trend is relatively recent, though industry leaders agree it’s here to stay. Additionally, equipment will only continue to become more accurate, easier to use, and reliable.
“I believe that connectivity — aka the Internet of Things or IoT — will continue to be at the forefront of product development in many industries,” Marple said. “For instance, many consumer products, ranging from door locks to thermostats to garage door openers to your car itself, are now connected. As these types of products get smarter, HVAC testing and monitoring products need to get smarter, as well.”
The influx of data will also influence how manufacturers design not only the tangible equipment itself, but also the software systems that collect and interpret those data.
“The focus will continue to shift from ‘What is the measurement?’ to ‘What does that measurement mean and what actions are required?’” Duval said. “More measurement data will be reviewed in real time, and better-informed decisions will be made and implemented on the spot.” This real-time analysis of data will increase productivity, allowing work orders to be authorized while the technician is still in the field, he added.
The up-and-coming generation of HVACR technicians will also continue to be a driving factor in product innovation, Stopperan said. “These individuals are skilled and confident in the use of electronic devices. Therefore, tools that extract quickly and tabulate data in a consolidated, easy-to use device is an important feature we incorporate into our new devices.”
With the new generation of tech-savvy HVACR technicians taking over and demanding more from their tools and equipment, manufacturers will continue to create innovative and user-friendly products designed to meet those expectations.
“These tools will give the technician better information to do the job, and, for owners of HVAC equipment, it will mean more planned maintenance and fewer reactive problems,” Duval said. “Testing and monitoring tools will continue to be essential to HVAC technicians.”
Publication date: 2/22/2016