Refrigerant recovery machines are one of the most expensive tools that contractors and technicians own, so they want to keep them operating for as long as possible. If the machines are properly cared for and maintained, there is no reason why they can’t last 10 years or more.
However, machines eventually break down or wear out, or else new technicians are hired, which brings about the need to buy a new recovery unit. With a plethora of machines available, buyers must spend some time comparing each unit’s features and benefits to determine which one will best meet their needs in the field.
Looking For a Refrigerant Recovery Machine
One of the most important features to look for in a new recovery machine is reliability. If a machine is not reliable and breaks down in the middle of a recovery, the technician will be left scrambling to finish the job, said Cody Young, marketing manager at Appion.
“When shopping, techs should look for features like a refrigerant-isolated crankcase, which ensures that refrigerant can’t enter the critical bearings in the crankcase and cause job-ending wear,” he said. “Refrigerant-isolated crankcases also allow the machine to perform automatic liquid and vapor recovery, thanks to a more robust design, without the possibility of component failure due to liquid hammering.”
EASILY PORTABLE: The RG3 from Bosch is one of the smallest recovery machines available, making it easily portable when moving from job-to-job or scaling rooftops for larger industrial systems.
Another benefit of a refrigerant-isolated crankcase is the ability to use the same machine with multiple refrigerants, said Young.
“Machines without an isolated crankcase risk cross-contamination because the crankcase is flooded with refrigerant during operation. While a purge cycle can remove the majority of it, the risk still exists,” he said. “Isolated crankcase machines can easily be changed over to another refrigerant by simply pulling a vacuum on it with a vacuum pump.”
Versatility is definitely important, said Bob Belvick, product manager at Inficon, because most technicians want to have one machine that can be used for a variety of jobs.
“Many machines can handle multiple refrigerants, but some are more versatile than others,” he said. “A self-purge makes a unit more versatile by making changing hoses or changing between refrigerants easier and cleaner. Another important feature is a carrying strap. While not useful for every job, it is convenient for carrying a recovery unit long distances or up a ladder.”
Buyers should also consider the speed and weight of a new machine, said Tim Wagaman, senior product manager at Robinair. Technicians want units that work quickly but are also lightweight so they can be easily carried up ladders or into tight areas.
“Current designs are often a trade-off between size, weight, and performance,” he said. “Making the machine smaller can reduce the speed of refrigerant recovery, while making it bigger to recover more refrigerant can make it heavy and unwieldy and difficult to use in the field. Techs should be able to safely lift and move the machine. The machine should also have a purge valve to evacuate all of the previously recovered refrigerant from the internal components before it’s used again, to minimize cross-contamination.”
Many recovery units will be similar, but there are upgraded machines that have additional features, said Dan Kelly, portables product manager at Bacharach Inc. These include a faster twin-cylinder design, a larger case and grille opening to allow for increased airflow across the coil, an automatic post-purge feature, and a longer warranty. Buyers will have to decide whether to invest in some of these more expensive options.
The A2L Question
Just because a machine can handle multiple refrigerants does not necessarily mean that it is compatible with A2L refrigerants, which are mildly flammable. As Wagaman noted, while a machine certified to A2L standards can be used on all refrigerants, a machine not certified for A2L refrigerants should not be used on systems containing an A2L refrigerant.
SAFE FOR A2LS: Inficon’s Vortex Dual recovery machine has been tested and certified as safe to use with A2L mildly flammable refrigerants as well as classic HFCs.
“The biggest difference between a standard machine and one designed for A2L refrigerant is the use of electronic components that are spark-free,” he said. “Many will have a brushless motor to reduce sparks. From outside the machine, it is unlikely contractors will see the difference, but it is important they note that a spark-free machine is needed for A2L refrigerants.”
Belvick added that buyers should be cautious when purchasing a recovery machine that claims to be compatible with A2L refrigerants, because there is not much regulation right now that covers these types of units.
“Some units claim to be A2L compatible but have not been tested,” he said. “Our Inficon Vortex Dual, for example, was tested by an independent lab and certified safe for use with A2L refrigerants as well as regular HFCs. While some uncertified machines will probably work fine with A2Ls, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
Keep the Recovery Machine Maintained
Once technicians and contractors buy a new recovery machine, the key is to keep it properly maintained so that it will last a long time. Regular maintenance will differ from one manufacturer to the next, but in general, Rudy Leatherman, training manager at HBB Pro Sales Group (on behalf of Bacharach Inc.), offered the following advice, which applies to most units:
- Inspect/maintain inlet screen and filter drier;
- Check performance by turning on the machine, closing the outlet valve, and timing how long it takes to shut off on the high-pressure switch;
- After recovering refrigerant from a burnout or after long periods of non-use, run the machine and introduce a tablespoon or so of vacuum pump oil to clean out and lubricate the components;
- If equipped with a standard AC motor, always use a minimum 12-gauge extension cord up to 25 feet; anything longer should use a 10-gauge extension cord; and
- Keep the recovery cylinder cool by standing it in ice water or running a hose over it to reduce the temperature.
Filter driers are important, said Belvick, and are recommended in order to keep the inside of the recovery machine as clean as possible.
“Changing the filter drier regularly is crucial because they get dirty and clogged, just like any other filter,” he said. “The frequency with which it is changed depends on what it is being used for and how dirty the systems are that are being worked with.”
Regardless of the type of machine, it is also good practice to run a capful of oil (refrigeration oil or vacuum pump oil) through the machine when finished with a job to help clear away any debris, copper particles, or acids that have made their way past the filter drier, said Young. This also helps keep the seals lubricated.
“Machines without a refrigerant-isolated crankcase also require a separate purge feature to clear out any excess refrigerant that has accumulated in the crankcase. Doing so helps prevent cross-contamination, as well as slow down crankcase bearing wear, but it must be done at the end of every job,” he said. “Finally, if storing the machine for long periods of time, make sure that there is no excess refrigerant inside — and that it is stored with the valves open so that any residual refrigerant doesn’t build up pressure.”
Buying a recovery machine is a big investment, and contractors and technicians should take the time to research their options so they are able to make a smart and informed decision. And then they should commit to caring for their machine and following all manufacturer recommendations so the unit lasts a long time.