By Benjamin Brits
So many tools to achieve the job are available to HVACR technicians and even when looking at the “essential short list”, one would find anything up to thirty different types of apparatus.
If you had to consider the history of hand tools, some can be traced back thousands of years, however the modern tool age came about in the mid to late 1800s where patents surface for things like pliers and wrenches that are still used today.
You may probably not give too much thought to the tools that are required for technicians to use; however, you see so many different options from various manual tools to electric driven options in addition to the fast-growing segment of battery-operated equipment. The HVACR industry features many different materials too such as copper, aluminium, stainless steel, titanium, plastics and synthetics for certain applications. Each of these mediums have different tolerances and characteristics to take into account, and sometimes require the use of different types of tools – pipework for example requires different tooling and accessories to work with steel versus plastic.
The idea of tools (and in this context and industry we will include testing, monitoring and digital technology) has been built up over many decades to increase capability and reduce time on site. It was long the case of the past that teams would struggle for hours or days to complete installations or repair work. This naturally became an increasing challenge for businesses who had extended downtime and for teams who were essentially inefficient. As the world has moved towards far more streamlined operations and even predictive maintenance through artificial intelligence, so has the world of tools.
Ranges of equipment have expanded and contracted according to demand and function, and today sees such advancements in technology and connectivity that a technician is really able to do anything on site. Some sectors such as heavy equipment and earthmoving have advanced so far that through digital technology, mechanics are able to use tools similar to virtual reality whereby they can see from various angles the exact makeup of components which makes their job of taking apart and re-assembly flawless with guidance of the exact method and tool required. In other sectors too, technology has moved towards “human aids” that include mechanical supports that enable technicians to carry heavier parts and move within more confined spaces – imagine how useful this would have been 15 years ago when there was no other option but to carry that 300kg motor by hand up a narrow set of service stairs four stories up by four people!
With the vastness that is tooling it is no surprise that manufacturers spend a lot of money on research and development. Some tools can’t be improved much more than on an aesthetic or comfort level and generally long periods of time pass in between product changes. However, power tools and digital devices on the other hand have the ability to not only improve on those elements already mentioned but can further be developed for energy savings, improved control and accuracy, more simple ways of achieving a task, portability, and reduction in size or weight.
Most common HVACR tools
The HVACR technician tool ‘short-list’ developed by a division of the United Nations (OzonAction) includes the following and is an illustration of the vast amount of equipment technicians in this field have to be familiar with as they go about their daily work. This is also not an extensive list while specialists will include other tool-types:
- Tube cutter
- Deburring tool
- Flaring tool
- Pipe calibration tool (internal/external)
- Ruler, pen & pencil
- Adjustable wrench
- Torque wrench
- Tube expander tool & expander heads
- Vernier calliper
- Oil can calibrated leak test
- Torch igniter
- Rubber mallet
- Safety glasses & insulating gloves
- Refrigeration ratchet
- Spray bottle (for leak detection)
- Manifold gauge
- Weighing scale
- Tool kit for press fittings
- Non-metallic abrasive pad
- Phosphorus brazing alloy, silver brazing alloy & flux
- Pipe bending tool
- Engineer’s square
- Recovery and recycling unit
- Vacuum gauge
- Oxy-acetylene torch set
- Vacuum pump
- Electronic leak detector and calibrated leak test recovery piercing pliers
Getting the basics right
Now, although such vast toolsets and ranges exist today, it’s the simplest of tasks that can lead to several problems down the line. A common question that comes across the desk of training facilitators is the need to remove burrs. Deburring is commonly performed after machining operations on pipework, which typically leave sharp or jagged edges on the material. It is important to deburr any workpieces to remove any edges that may interfere with the fitting or movement of parts. Deburring also ensures that finished surfaces are smooth and even, and removing any burrs aesthetically improves the finished workpiece, ie a quality product/installation.
Flaring tools then use pressure to make a fabricated mechanical joint for joining or sealing tubing with a flare connection. Flaring allows the technician to connect tubes to each other or another kind of fitting. Flared ends tend to have an approximately conical shape.
Tube expanders are rolling tube type expansion tools used for fixing and moulding tubes to tube sheets in the manufacturing processes of heat exchangers such as boilers and condensers.
In the category of the basics, one would find brazing that also requires knowledge of different techniques (based on angles) as well as the various types of solders and how and when to use flux. Knowing the basics can be a flaw no matter what type and quality of tools you have access to. Similarly, the simple tasks of measurement and cutting techniques could hamper technicians and is the reason for different types of tools being developed for the toolbox.
The correct and safe use of tools
No quality of tool or equipment can avoid the factor of risk in using them carelessly. The correct handling and application by operators of any tool or equipment, are not only critical in terms of operator safety, but also for the longevity of the equipment, effective and efficient use of the related consumables, as well as the quality of the overall end result. These are some of the reasons why so many tool suppliers spend countless hours to provide operator training on regular occasions and for different levels of expertise.
When considering pipework as one of the simplest of tasks, in this particular tool range there are many factors that come into play during grinding and cutting applications that impact upon production and safety. Incorrect tool handling and operation, cross-contamination of materials, incorrect product selection, limited knowledge of the machinery being used, frequency of applications and non-adherence to labelled guidelines on the machinery, the consumable itself, and even operator fatigue all play an important performance role.
For this reason, many training modules are specifically designed to address these issues. The aim most often is to correct operator behaviours in an effort to reduce the risk of injury, tool damage and loss of production time and enable operators to give a higher standard of improved attention to the project on hand.
Training courses will also include an analysis of an individual’s requirements and experience and how to establish the best possible tool solutions for the tasks that the operator undertakes. Imparting technical know-how and solutions to operators also provides the knowledge of consequences of using tools incorrectly for an application. Wrongful or careless handling of tools and consumables alike can lead to injuries for the operator, and others too.
For example, stainless steel (INOX) has corrosion-resistant characteristics and grinding tools that are specifically designed for stainless steel (INOX) should be used. These products are free of ferrous, chlorinated or sulphurous fillers and are designed to reduce and minimise the risk of corrosion as well as heat build-up and discolouration within the working zone. This is a perfect example of the importance for operators to know and understand correct product selection and usage that can further spoil a product.
Selecting the correct tool drive has a significant impact on the cost-effectiveness of the process too. Selecting the ideal tool drive – air grinder, electric grinder, high frequency machines or flexible shaft drives – and consumable combination will ensure optimum performance and most cost-effective processing. Factors to consider when selecting the ideal tool drive includes, application requirement, performance and safety requirements of the consumable being used, ease of handling and safety features, to name a few.
Training thus ensures that the combination of correct tool solution dovetails with a safe and accurate grinding or cutting performance by the operator. It is a win-win situation, the operator benefits from training and guidance and the company benefits from a superior production process whilst keeping the working environment safe and incident-free.
As an extensive subject matter, look out in future issues of RACA Journal for more information around tools and tooling to keep up to date with all of the latest technology.
What are your favourite tools to use?
- RS Components