Emerging HVACR Industry Trends Spark Tool Changes
Manufacturers look at tool design, future expectations
The HVAC tools of today continue to evolve as the market presents new demands to tool designers. Simple hand tools are reaching new heights with added safety and ergonomic features. Advanced hand and power tools are defining the new rate of speed and efficiency expected on the jobsite. Test equipment is being driven further into the digital age as the lines begin to slowly blur between diagnostics and self-repair. The tool market is changing, and the contractors looking to keep at the forefront of jobsite technology are looking to manufacturers for insight as to the next step their tool arsenal should take.
Despite the changes in the tool market, some things remain the same. According to Alston Mullins, business development manager, DiversiTech, benefits like more technology, lighter weight, and ease of use still ring true in the tool market. Add safety to this list of tool concepts, and a picture begins to emerge that covers items like the use of mildly flammable A2L refrigerants in the approaching future.
“With the phasing out of R-22, we’re seeing new refrigerants come on line that are less of a threat to global warming, but are more flammable,” said Mullins. “In order to have a spark-free environment and remain safe working with these new refrigerants, I anticipate the possibility of technicians needing to become certified to work with these flammable refrigerants.”
The idea of a spark-free environment provides a future nugget of information for contractors to consider, not only as they train their technicians for the change, but also as they purchase the necessary tools to keep their technicians safe.
Milwaukee Tool is addressing spark-free environments with a different approach to pipe connections.
“Connection technology continues to evolve and grow year over year due to the productivity and safety benefits associated with the subject,” said Corey Dickert, senior vice president of product management, Milwaukee Tool. “We are going to see a continued investment in press technology as companies move away from traditional methods of pipe joining like brazing, soldering, and welding.”
The pipe-joining version of spark-free technology removes the need to pull special permits, have watchers, or limit jobsite refrigerant choices in the future if mildly flammable refrigerants become commonplace.
Refrigerant safety and spark-free environments aren’t the only shifting trends at the jobsite. Intelligence requirements are being demanded of mechanical tools as diagnostics and the cloud require a digital interface, said Andrew Greaves, regional manager, Northern U.S., NAVAC Inc.
“One of the largest trends in HVAC tools that we are seeing today is the marriage of previously ‘simple’ or ‘dumb’ tools with intelligent design, putting them in digital or even cloud-based arenas previously only associated with high-end test instruments,” he explained. “The new generations of young people entering the trade have a lifetime of internet access and aptitude for navigating the digital landscape. Combined with a need for more precise work done to maintain today’s HVAC equipment, this will drive tool innovation in this direction.”
This technology trend is pushing more and more tools to not only gather data, but to also analyze it, all while growing continually simpler to operate, said Dan Wright, marketing, Fluke.
“It’s not enough just to make a measurement or even to write it down in a notebook,” he explained. “Once the data is recorded, it needs to be reviewed for meaning in an effort to point to probable failures before they happen.”
Wright added that the technician’s job is already complex enough without adding more buttons or new positions on the test tool.
“We are focusing on user simplification, and greater power is being delivered to users with an emphasis on simpler operation,” he said.
As manufacturers continue to design for the up-and-coming trends, some are taking a closer look at advanced cordless technology, the impact of multifunction tools, and a shift in what some customers view as most important when making tool buying decisions.
Milwaukee has been investing in advanced cordless technology and improved batteries for its tools.
“Lithium-ion, along with advancements in motor technology and electronics, has allowed us to pack a massive amount of performance and power into a more compact structure,” said Dickert. “When designing a battery pack with a specific use case in mind, the ability to determine what that output should be is much more flexible than what an outlet can provide with a corded tool. The result is that the industry is now at a point where on many products, if users are choosing corded, they’re choosing to have less performance capability.”
Multifunction tools are another design advancement manufacturers are addressing as demand from contractors and technicians for these types of tools increases.
“Contractors are asking for a versatile tool that improves efficiency and weighs less in the toolbox,” said Rocky Hyatt, HVAC specialist and brand ambassador, Channellock. “It is also less expensive because it takes the role of multiple specialty tools, which means you don’t have to invest as much in tools.”
Hyatt explained that multifunction tools can make tools function faster, better, and more accurately at a lower price point.
One change that Greaves is seeing is a fundamental shift of design considerations as consumers migrate their focus from cost and need to less traditional influencers.
“In recent years, through heavy influence on social media and a newfound commitment to proper practice and accurate data, that balance has skewed more to the ‘customer needs and desires’ side,” said Greaves. “The cost is still important, but the market is showing a willingness to put more dollars into tools that bring the features they need.”
He explained that it is much more fun being a part of tool development when the focus moves away from cutting cost and is more heavily directed towards performance and features.
HVAC equipment is getting smarter, technicians are getting smarter, and the tools of the trade are getting smarter. That is what the future holds for tools like manifolds, said Mullins.
“They’ll become even smarter than they are now with additional capabilities of recording, tracking, and communicating information from the field to the office,” he explained. “I also think we may continue to see the use of virtual reality on jobsites, allowing technicians to communicate with manufacturers or other specialists in real time and with the benefit of sharing visually what the technician is seeing.”
Greaves said that the changes the industry is currently working through in tools will likely keep everyone busy for the next three to five years.
“To boil it down to what I see coming more specifically, keep an eye out for tools that combine multiple tool functions in one piece of hardware,” he said. “Look for larger AC cord tools moving to DC drives and even losing the cord altogether. An exciting time to be in the industry, no doubt.”
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