Tools are getting smarter.
This basic statement permeated throughout the tools/testing instrument segment of the HVAC industry at the 2017 AHR Expo in Las Vegas.
Across the show floor, manufacturers displayed a myriad of tools with advanced diagnostic capabilities, connectivity options, and remote capabilities all while ensuring they were meeting the demands of an evolving customer base.
“There is a strong need to get more information from HVAC equipment to the maintenance management team,” said Leah Friberg, education manager, Fluke Corp. “This need has several components: Collect more, complete data from HVAC and environmental equipment, get it to people who will understand it sooner than before, store it for trending purposes, and do all of this in a simple, cost-effective manner.”
DIGITAL CONNECTIVITY MATTERS
The tools segment, specifically hand tools, may not be the first portion of the market that comes to mind when thinking of digital and connected HVAC devices. However, manufacturers are seeing interest in connected tools, and the adoption rate is growing rapidly.
Fieldpiece Instruments Inc. has recognized this by making significant upgrades to its Job Link Mobile System app.
“Everyone has some sort of app in the game,” said Russell Harju, product manager, Fieldpiece Instruments Inc. “People say they want to see measurements on their phones. This is cool, but at the end of the day, it’s not very functional as it only shows part of the picture. Job Link combines measurements from the manifold, psychrometers, clamp meters, and more. Along with the system measurements, Job Link builds reports with diagnostics, photos and notes, and inspection checklists as well as generates invoices directly from a report. With Job Link, a contractor’s professionalism and credibility is immediately increased.”
Sporlan Division, Parker Hannifin Corp.’s SMART and SMART Pro/R Service Tools are wireless sensors that sync with mobile device apps, enabling users to read a system’s real-time pressures and temperatures without using hoses or manifold gauges.
Leveraging an existing smartphone or tablet, this wireless system allows contractors to monitor system performance anywhere within Bluetooth range. The SMART Pro/R app can be customized to display sensor readings, superheat, subcooling, and other automatically calculated system parameters as the user prefers. All of this data can be recorded, saved, shared, and further utilized as proof of work.
“The SMART Pro/R app is able to display multiple calculations on the same screen [multiple superheats, delta T, delta P, etc.],” said Jim Ruether, product manager, electronics, Sporlan. “Technicians can easily attach the sensors to the system. Once the app is activated, the sensor readings and calculated results are available on your mobile device. It’s a very user-friendly system.”
The Testo Inc. 552 Digital Vacuum Micron Gauge has precise and reliable vacuum measurements with a resolution of 1 micron. It displays the saturation temperature of H2O to ensure full and proper evacuation, may be connected with Bluetooth links to a smartphone or device to provide analysis and reporting, and allows users to remotely read measurements of one to six smart probes, including the Testo 552. All measurement data is presented as a live, single-point reading, in table format or diagram, and can be converted into PDF or Excel files.
Connectivity to apps and online resources is clearly essential moving forward, but digital readouts are also becoming prominent on the tools themselves as technicians showcase a desire for easier access to information and needed diagnostics on the job site.
Hilmor’s new Digital Adjustable Torque Wrench’s digital screen displays the torque value while tightening, and its indicator LED lights and buzzer increase in intensity as the specified torque value is reached. The tool’s adjustable head accommodates flare nuts from ¼- to 11/16-inch, eliminating the need to carry multiple heads. Additional features include an ergonomic grip and nine memory settings for common torque valves.
“Our new torque wrench, being digital, allows you to be a lot more precise with measurements,” said Alex Bear, associate brand manager, Newell Rubbermaid. “I think contractors are always asking for more precise measurements and more digital options. These guys are passionate about their tools, and the digital side is innovative and really expanding quickly.”
Yellow Jacket Product Division, Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc.’s, OMNI Vacuum Gauge is made with high-impact, glass-reinforced housing. Per the company, it survives moisture and accidental drops or attachment to a high-pressure line. The vacuum sensor handles 450-psi positive pressure and reads several units of vacuum (microns, millibar, Torr, and Pascal). It features an audio and visual signal when the target vacuum level is reached, an electronic paper display for visibility, and a low battery indicator and automatic power-down when inactive.
CPS Products’ VG200W Wireless Digital Vacuum Gauge operates as a stand-alone instrument but can also wirelessly connect to a smart device using the VGLink™ application. Per CPS Products, when this gauge is connected, it can measure, monitor, diagnose, test, verify, report, store, and share all aspects of a system evacuation.
No matter how the industry evolves, consumers make the determinations on what they want. With that in mind, Bacharach Inc. has developed the MVR-300, which is a refrigerant detector for use in occupied spaces. Typical applications include monitoring for potential leaks from air conditioning/HVAC systems in hotel rooms and apartments. The primary aim of the MVR-300 is to ensure the safety of occupants, enhance the effectiveness and energy efficiency of the HVAC system, minimize potential environmental impacts from leaking gases, and help compliance with regulations.
“There is an increasing requirement for aesthetically unobtrusive instrumentation, such that it is ‘invisible’ to the occupants,” said Tom Burniston, product manager, fixed instruments, Bacharach. “The largest trend in this sector is a requirement to immediately identify which room or area a refrigerant leak has occurred in. The MVR-300s addressable Modbus connections make this easily achievable with a discreet and effective instrument.”
The M18™ Force Logic™ Press Tool from Milwaukee Tool Electric Corp. features a one-handed, in-line design and is an ergonomic solution for navigating around installed pipes. It is just one of several new tools the company has released this year, including the M18 Short Throw Press Tool w/Viega Jaws, M18 Short Throw w/PEX Crimp Jaws, and M18 Transfer Pump.
“Today’s market is rapidly changing,” said Corey Dickert, vice president of product management, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. “Now, more than ever, HVACR contractors are feeling the impact that changing consumer demands and technology have had on how they operate their businesses. All firms, large and small, are looking to maximize bids and service times and minimize call backs.”
Rob Trefz, director of marketing and business development, Ridgid, believes contractors want to be as efficient as possible, and replacing manual tools with power tools increases job site efficiency and saves valuable time on the job.
“Contractors must drive efficiencies in order to remain competitive, win bids, and make a profit,” said Trefz.
The PEX-One from Ridgid is a battery-powered tool for installing PEX systems. It can connect ASTM 1807 copper ring fittings and PureFlow systems up to 1 inch in size. It replaces manual tools that have been traditionally used to install PEX, can be operated with one hand, and is light and compact, which enables connections in tight spaces.
Spectronics Corp.’s OPK-400BEZ/E Complete BigEZ™ Leak Detection Kit is designed to help contractors become more efficient.
The kit is used to locate refrigerant leaks in medium to large air conditioning and refrigeration systems, including high-pressure R-410A systems. The user adds a small amount of dye to the system and lets it circulate. The fluorescent dye can be added with the system off or running. The dye/oil mixture escapes with the refrigerant wherever there’s a leak. The exact source of every leak will be revealed by its bright fluorescent glow.
Per the company, the kit also includes the BigEZ™ dye injector, a multi-dose 4 ounce (118 ml) universal/POE dye cartridge. This tool is calibrated in 1/8-ounce increments, so a technician can add the exact amount of dye for each system, simply by turning a handle.
When considering industry trends, Friberg said everything starts with consumer demand.
“Our customers all point to a shortage of skilled technicians who are trying to service increasingly complex equipment,” she said. “This has led to a clear need for a system that collects more information and presents it in a manner that the management team can easily assess.
“This demand has resulted in several breakthroughs in communication technology. Smartphones have become the ubiquitous information tools of choice, and Fluke’s ability to transmit measurement data to these devices is helping bridge the skills gap.”
The 3540 FC Three-Phase Power Monitor is the first tool from Fluke that streams three-phase voltage, current measurements, and the associated power quality values directly to the online record in real time. Per Friberg, this is useful for service technicians who need to validate power supply issues at installation or troubleshoot erratic equipment issues they suspect are related to conflicts in the power supply. This happens often, and it can be hard to get to the bottom of it.
Consumer demand, quality, and convenience were also top of mind for Klein Tools Inc. at the expo. The company showcased a driver hand tool featuring a patented tip that switches from ¼- to 5/16-inch magnetic hex sizes. Twisting the thumb nut will lock the tip setting. The driver includes a Schrader/Core extractor plus No. 2 Phillips and ¼-inch slotted driver tips.
Dwyer Instruments Inc. underwent three years of research and collecting the voice of customers in order to improve the performance and accuracy of air balancing with the Dwyer SMART Air Hood™, which it displayed at last year’s show. This year, the company showcased a companion app for the product.
“With proportional balancing, you have to do a full sweep of the room, see what all the registers are reading, and then make guesses as to what to adjust the dampers to,” said Michael Chhutani, group product and marketing manager, Dwyer Instruments Inc. “With the PredictAir™ app, it does the balancing for the balancer. As we all know, the industry is getting younger and younger, as are the people doing the balancing. The industry is having a lot of turnover as people retire, and now younger balancers are coming in, but all of that experience is gone. The app gives them those years of experience, right in the app.”
Publication date: 2/27/2017