How many HVAC companies can boast a city holiday in their honor?
Maxitrol can. Last week, the Southfield, Michigan-based manufacturer of gas pressure regulators, modulation systems, and safety devices celebrated its 75th anniversary with a proclamation from the mayor, marking the milestone and its contributions to the HVAC industry at large.
“Whereas Maxitrol’s humble beginnings were born from the Detroit Regulator Company and grew with a patent of its straight-through flow regulator design, a significant pressure regulator design improvement,” read the mayor, speaking to dozens of blue-shirted Maxitrol employees gathered at the headquarters for the celebration, “… and whereas Maxitrol is recognized as an international manufacturer… I Kenson J. Siver, Mayor of the City of Southfield, County of Oakland, State of Michigan, do hereby proclaim June 17, 2022, as Maxitrol Day in the City of Southfield.”
Maxitrol got its start in Germany when the company patented the straight-through flow valve. Seventy-five years ago, because of inconsistencies in gas flow, a lot of people were getting burned by flames. The gas valve took care of that, creating an even flow, and Maxitrol’s straight-through flow valve allowed the gas to be set for different appliances.
“Which is the basis of really all gas valves that are used today,” said Bonnie Kern, Maxitrol CEO. “It was a safety product, but it made every appliance that was out there usable and safe for the general market.”
Kern has been involved at the company for almost 30 years, and in her time there — “it’s more of a lifetime,” she joked — she’s seen a lot of changes.
“The technology has advanced so far, especially with natural gas, that the efficiencies are incredible. They're cleaner than they ever were before, safer than ever before,” she said.
In preparation for the 75th anniversary celebration (technically, it’s the 76th, but COVID threw a wrench into the plans last year), Maxitrol staff pulled a lot of the company’s old brochures for appliances going back to the 1940s and ‘50s. Back then, she said, precision controls were unheard of.
“If you looked at how it was before, you turned it on and you turned it off. And [the gas] just came out whatever way it wanted to,” she said. “Now the appliance is one-tenth that size, and you're able to control it exactly the way it should be.”
Looking ahead, Kern said one of the biggest challenges she sees for manufacturers is making sure that new technology, however advanced, can be easily serviced by field technicians — especially newer, younger technicians who, while they may be familiar with digital technology, aren’t up to speed on the system’s fundamentals.
“Younger people want to have something… where they plug it in and it gives you an answer. But if you don't know what the problem is, how can you fix it?” she said. “It can be as simple as an adjustment to the flow of the gas. The older ones, sometimes they know that, but the younger ones may not.”
And as older techs leave the field, the problem is exacerbated.
“In the transfer the knowledge to the technicians, there's a there's a huge intellectual gap, and we’re already seeing this with service reps in Europe — just understanding certain technology,” she said. “So if you make it too complicated, no one can work on it.
“I would say our advantage is, we're able to offer technology that's easy to understand, because most things are kind of prepped so [technicians] can easily use it,” she added. “We're the product you don't see. You don't know is there, but it's critical.”