By Barney Richardson

It has always puzzled me as to how different service companies organise their maintenance and repair contract work.

What constitutes a good service technician, whether it be routine service work such as filter cleaning or general plant or unit cleaning and monitoring, or a breakdown? Another side of service work is to carry out refrigeration checks and possible repair work after detection of faults, gas leakages or breakages.

What is in the service vehicle to support the service practitioner in the field? If it is just for filter service and cleaning work, it will not be sufficient for the very different requirements of the refrigeration service repair mechanic.

The filter servicing vehicle is usually fitted out with cleaning materials, replacement filters and bags for disposal of dirty filters. How many of those who are tasked with filter work take care not to contaminate workplace and new replacement filters with the dirt and dust from the old filters? If the new and old filters are allowed to bang about in the back of a bakkie this can happen.

The profitability of the service contract is related to losses when brand new filters are damaged or dirty before even being used. This can cost the company thousands of Rand each month if there is not proper care and checks are not carried out.

For the service and repair company, the fitting out of a bakkie or van is significant in what is actually needed. The consumable requirement will be refrigerant gas such as R410a – commonly used in room air conditioners or other commonly used refrigerants. Maybe a cylinder of R22 if the plants are of an older vintage. There will also be a range of cleaning materials needed.

Every service/repair mechanic must have a gas welding set like a portapack to start with. Then, essentially a refrigerant recovery unit and service cylinder or two depending on how many different refrigerants one may encounter. An accurate scale is a must-have when recovering gas and when recharging a system. Of course, a good vacuum pump is necessary too.

Because of the nature of refrigeration and the plants installed, copper tubing, bits and pieces, and some common size fittings will always be in a handy box. A selection of compression fittings and small diameter soft drawn tubing is also always nice to have.

Which parts that will need replacement on a regular basis can be difficult to decide. They can be items such as pressure switches for low or high pressure and those for oil safety. The LP and HP pressure switches can be usually standard ones, but for electrical switch gear, for example for contactor coils it can be difficult with so many different types of contactors in use. An experienced service mechanic will, through experience, build up a knowledge of what will be needed regularly.

Besides the selection of commonly used parts, the company’s service manager will know what make of equipment the company has installed in recent years. Alternatively, if it is a new service contract not installed by the company, a survey of the plant and units will give the information of the make and composition of possible parts needed. This will also apply to the replacement filters. The service planning will have a schedule of what type and sizes of filters that will be required on a service visit in order to have the filters ready for that day.

A major breakdown will need a full survey of the nature of the failure and an estimate prepared for the client before the repair can proceed. Compressor replacement is always a big deal. If it was a burnout, flushing of the system will be necessary and burnout kits fitted with the fresh clean refrigerant which will be charged into the system.

You must be way ahead of your competitors to ensure that the quality and efficiency of your service and/or repair is the best in the industry. Of most importance is that all service and repair staff are qualified and competent in what they do. Being registered with SAQCC Gas and being in a position to issue a certificate of conformity when work on the pressure system has been completed is essential.