Most people underestimate the breadth of knowledge required to be a good technician. Seasoned veterans of HVAC equipment have had 20 to 30 years to learn everything they need to know. Their knowledge is vast, but as innovation continues to push equipment into a new high-tech space, these veterans will have to adjust — and quickly.
Humans simply can’t absorb new processes as fast as they become available. And newer recruits have even less time to learn old procedures and new techniques at the same time. Machines, however, have that capability. They can remember infinitely more than we can, and their use allows even the newest recruit to arrive at a jobsite with the experience of thousands of technicians alongside him.
While machine-assisted predictive maintenance is not the norm yet, it will soon be a necessary tool for HVAC technicians that will make it easier to prevent mistakes and to train new recruits as time goes on.
OUR STRUGGLES TODAY
Assuming each machine malfunction follows a normal distribution, a technician who sees one new HVAC malfunction every single day could take years to learn the diagnostic skills needed to analyze each function alone. This doesn’t even account for the various combinations and permutations of problems that can exist on a piece of equipment. It’s nearly impossible for a single person to know everything about these machines.
Experienced techs have gotten to know the machines they work with, but new technicians are entering the workplace with very little real-world training. A new HVAC technician might neglect to apply bearing lubrication or simply forget to tighten a bolt and cause major problems due to a minor moment of forgetfulness.
And companies increasingly lack the time and resources to train technicians adequately, so the new workforce as a whole falls short in expertise.
For those new technicians, we need more advanced, high-tech mentors to give them the confidence to hit the ground running. And with the collective knowledge gathered from skilled HVAC technicians, those old hands will have the security of knowing they don’t need to do everything themselves.
THE NEED FOR PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE
An issue that would take a tech an hour to troubleshoot takes computer-driven diagnostics a fraction of the time. As machines store more and more data regarding machine malfunctions, they become better at predicting when the next malfunction will likely occur.
Typically, buildings have about four to seven pieces of equipment that need analysis. But only a few of them will be under warranty, despite needing major repairs. Technicians will soon be able to use tool-assisted analytical techniques to answer definitively whether small maintenance today could prevent major repairs down the line.
For example, an experienced technician might say to a client, “I’ve seen this issue before; this machine won’t last longer than three more months.” Now, imagine that technician’s knowledge is accessible to every person out in the field and that the technician’s intuition has the hard data of hundreds of similar scenarios behind it, all tracked by technology.
PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE AND TECH-CLIENT RELATIONS
Today, the HVAC industry is similar to the field of medicine. The emergency surgeon gets all the credit for saving the day, while the general practitioner goes largely unnoticed. Similarly, HVAC techs who swoop in to repair broken machines get the glory, while those who keep them running smoothly remain in the background.
It’s nice to be the hero, but just as medicine is transforming from an expensive and reactionary model to a predictive and cost-effective one, so will HVAC. The result will be fewer high-margin jobs in the wake of catastrophes but more low-margin, predictive tune-ups.
Tool-assisted predictive maintenance won’t become the industry standard overnight, but the shift is coming. These changes will reduce stress for clients and technicians alike while improving our ability to avert disaster.
HVAC technicians must embrace this new technology as it enters the industry to see how much more efficiently they can work with the right tools at their side.