By Benjamin Brits
No matter what the area of specialisation of your business, the HVACR sector requires a substantial toolbox for technicians as products are continually improved to cater to changing market needs.
The Rosani Clean 15 supplied by Rothenberger has stainless steel components suitable for use with various disinfectants. Image credit: Rothenberger
The tools and tooling required for ventilation, new installations or maintenance jobs will no doubt be very different, and most technicians will favour a particular or preferred set of tools to perform their jobs, some preferring traditional tools and some embracing the advancements that technology offers.he topic of tooling is so vast it could essentially fill an entire publication. In this article we aim to highlight some new tooling and trends that could assist in how you consider your tooling setup in the current environment. As you would know, the better efficiency you can work towards, the more this translates into savings, and savings into a competitive advantage.
There are naturally basic tools and tooling that will be applicable to all technicians such as hammers, pipe cutters, plier sets and screwdrivers, but technicians require a much broader set of tooling as they are often required to do various overlapping tasks that may include sheet work, pipe work, working with refrigerants and electrical work. Generally, this type of tooling is available in kits or tool-bags from reputable suppliers.
As much as I’m sure you are tired of hearing about Covid-19, it has turned things upside-down all over the world, from manufacturing plants to simple things like the way we have to interact with others. It has also highlighted awareness around building-health where the HVACR sector plays a significant role, and where building designers now have a special focus on airflows and social distancing for the future.
Some new essentials, some essentials to revisit
Cleaning and disinfection
The inside of an air-conditioner or ventilation system is arguably a perfect spot for many kinds of pathogens, being moist and warm – and not just limited to the latest coronavirus because that is what is part of almost every discussion at the moment.
Rothenberger South Africa now offers a new product for the sector – a portable spraying backpack holding a 15ℓ capacity, where you mix in the required amount of detergent/disinfectant/antiseptic liquid for cleaning and disinfecting of HVAC systems. The backpack works with the cordless alliance system (CAS) rechargeable battery, so the battery is also multi-purpose and compatible with other CAS tools and the statistics indicate at least 100ℓ of spray-time, while maintaining a particular pressure via the electronically-controlled pump.
Smart probe kits work with your smartphone via Bluetooth technology. Image credit: Testo
It has three different types of nozzles, a direct strong spray for harder surfaces, an intermediate spray, and a very fine mist spray. The direct hard nozzle is used on the external side of the building to clean out the outside parts of an air-conditioning (AC) unit. The intermediate nozzle is used predominantly for inside of buildings, inside AC units and vents. The mist nozzle is for smaller units and cleaning of the sensitive condenser fins.
Testo South Africa has introduced a new refrigeration smart-probe-set that allows measurement of superheat and subcooling via your phone at distances of up to 100m. If you have a very large system you are able to, for example, put one probe 50m from another probe while you stand in the middle with your smartphone and select the probe you want to access the data from.
“You could also use these probes through a fridge door (subject to the door being able to accommodate a Bluetooth signal). Standing outside the fridge is obviously a more comfortable environment to position yourself while running the required diagnostics rather than the inside where it is cold,” says sales and market manager at Testo South Africa, Clement Steenkamp.
Manifold sets from Testo include settings for measurement of over 90 different refrigerants in systems. When new refrigerants are introduced into the market, these updates are generally available free of charge. In addition, these tools allow a technician to log his readings, write a report from his/her phone, reduce time spent on paperwork and spend far less time on-site fault finding than less effective methods.
HVAC tool kits are available from reputable suppliers that include all of the basics required for technicians. Image credit: Rothenberger
Steenkamp notes that purchasing decisions with tools and tooling for professionals also should take into account a company’s specialisation. “Testo, for example, is primarily a sensor technology specialist – so the sensor technology we produce has to be of an extremely high standard.”
Another major area of fault finding in HAVACR is leak detection, however trends show that the industry has lost faith in this tool because there are too many poor-quality products out in the market. A high-quality leak detector allows a technician to quickly find leaks in a system.
If you use a poor-quality product there is significant risk in it reporting that there are no leaks. Leaving a site when there is in fact a leak means the system would empty, which is not only going to cost time going back to site and the cost of gas replacement but creates an environmental issue by releasing whatever refrigerant is in the system into the air.
“If you look at the industry’s move over to natural refrigerants, one of the major areas of controversy are refrigerants and their environmental impact, but in reality one of the major issues is that that they are leaking into or being exposed to the atmosphere. Correct disposal is of course another major impact but using proper leak detectors offers a significant advantage by playing a part in the reduction of these harmful gases. Some technicians test with soap and water, but in today’s competitive climate, this will not cut it for much longer,” adds Steenkamp.
18V cordless and spark-free vacuum pumps
“With today’s prevalent power issues it is also a good idea to have cordless tools on hand such as a cordless vacuum pump to use for small A/C split installations, refrigeration repairs as well as small isolated pipe system repairs, where accessibility could be a challenge,” adds Philip Taylor, product information manager at Metraclark.
More and more technology is moving towards testing tool connectivity with devices such as smartphones, tablets and other devices enabled with Bluetooth. Image credit: Testo
Also, Metraclark’s 142l/m Spark-Free vacuum pump can be used with all HVAC and commercial refrigeration systems. With this in mind though, it is specifically designed to be used with hydrocarbon refrigerants such as R290 and R600a due to the spark-free motor incorporated within the unit.
Accurate sensing technology, robustness and local servicing availability at reduced costs are being demanded by the markets as we enter uncertain economic times.
In South Africa, Rothenberger reports that, statistically, the market activity indicates HVAC as a ‘summer product’. The company shows that historically the HVAC division takes a dive in winter months with purchases, so particular buying patterns are as expected with no major changes in demand for particular products at the moment.
With many suppliers the current environment in South Africa has been skewed as businesses have mostly been on lockdown and are only starting up again. Some suppliers on the other hand have indicated large demand for certain products directly related to coronavirus as customers take a proactive approach to management and maintenance of their equipment.
Cordless or battery-operated site-tools have been popular for some years already and searching for an electricity point or being limited by the restrictions cabled-tools have is generally a thing of the past. Tooling companies do continue to develop battery technology and battery systems that are compatible with a wide range of tools.
“Most tool manufacturers today focus their ranges towards making the user’s life easier and simpler with ergonomic and aesthetic adjustments, producing tools that are more compact, lighter and easier to handle. With specific tools like a flaring tool or a swaging tool, there is not much more that can be done to improve these types of tools. It becomes increasingly difficult to come up with more innovation on hand tooling, but with electric tooling such as pumps there is continual development in these areas. Any digitally-controlled product will naturally undergo many improvements as manufacturers come up with ways to increase efficiency,” says Adler Teubes, managing director at Rothenberger Tools South Africa.
Steenkamp also mentions that no technician wants to have to buy tools twice, so buying right the first time is important. “Various offerings in the digital arena are becoming available that connect to a phone, tablet or other instrument via Bluetooth. This allows wireless technology to be used where hoses and cables cannot easily be run. The assumption, at this point in time, is that these technologies drive up price, but in fact the opposite has been true with prices coming down significantly over the past few years. Remote-connected devices offer many obvious advantages when looking at tool trends.”
“Supply companies also needs to relook at their product ranges and take advantage of the various opportunities that present themselves as markets change. The outbreak of the coronavirus has created much more awareness of air quality and much more awareness of viruses and bacteria in general, and therefore a lot more effort in cleaning and sanitising will occur. People don’t want to fly now because of fear of picking up a germ through the air supply system, but it’s essentially the same scenario for office buildings, malls and schools. HVAC companies and technicians should expand their kits to include this sort of tooling too, as these new opportunities will undoubtedly arise and stick around for some time,” Teubes further advises.
A high-quality leak detector allows a technician to quickly find leaks in a system”. Image credit: Testo
The question of backup service
According to Teubes , for the experienced technician, having a quality tool with backup is typically much more important. “If we take a pipe cutter for example, the more experienced buyer will spend more on it knowing there is the assurance that spares or replacement parts are available, but more than this, the unit is a strong product that will last that much longer. Unfortunately, in every industry you have the fly-by-nights that affect the equation but through our experience, the more pride someone has in their tools, the better-quality tools they will use. Users nowadays are also far more savvy in their choices than in the past.”
Steenkamp adds that if equipment is under warranty, but no replacement parts are available locally, the warranty means very little as it may take extended periods to import the parts at a high cost to the purchaser. “For this reason, our company keeps a large stock holding of spare parts. Our local service centre has technicians trained in Germany to perform repairs as efficiently as possible, thereby keeping a technician’s tools up and running for more of the time. These are the types of advantages buyers also think about when choosing a tooling supplier.”
The future of tooling
While there is always an emphasis on price, especially when new technologies are released, many companies continue to invest in equipment that will reduce the time spent fault-finding, on installations or repair jobs. The costs involved for high-quality tools and adequate maintenance are negligible when calculating the cost of wasted time, breakdowns or call-backs.
It can therefore be expected that going forward there will be a change in mindset around the value placed on tools and tooling, and the addition of technology and new products catering to market needs as efficiency becomes a priority for companies now more than ever.
A good quality vacuum pump is an integral tool for complete A/C servicing. Image credit: Metraclark
The addition of ‘smart tools’ and the capability of various connectivity and reporting mechanisms will also show large developments in future, making what is possible with tools and tooling an ongoing race.
“The future of HVAC tooling definitely leans toward smart tools, designed to make accurate and quick calculations, collect data and provide reports, while being wirelessly connected to the user’s hand-held devices. The more value and features a technician can get out of their tools, combined with user-friendliness and ease of use, the faster the industry will move towards these new technologies,” concludes Taylor.