Not long ago, Warren Brader brought his 25 years of experience in HVAC service and maintenance to a major military contractor. His responsibility: maintaining the HVAC equipment at military bases around the world.
"It's much more than keeping the soldiers comfortable," Brader said. "The most important charge we have is to maintain the HVAC equipment that serves the computer operations. Those computers are critical to the military at every level, and they can't afford to have them go down because an air-conditioning unit malfunctioned."
Technicians at bases around the globe report to Brader directly or indirectly.
"The challenge ... is to make sure everyone is on the same sheet of music, using the same procedures, and having a way to check on them to make sure they aren’t taking shortcuts," Brader said. "It's an enormous challenge, with devastating results if they don’t all perform their maintenance in the same way every time and with the same degree of accuracy."
Brader was presented an opportunity to upgrade his technicians' tool kits.
"I would need a multimeter, a clamp meter, different ways of carbon-monoxide testing, something to analyze superheat with, and different manifold sets," Brader said.
After extensive research, Brader chose the HVAC Guide digital analyzer from Fieldpiece Instruments.
"It's a hand-held instrument that basically takes the tech by the hand and leads him through each step," Brader said. "More important, it records each test and its results so that we have a record of what was done. For instance, a technician needs to measure superheat. He enters the type of refrigerant into the HVAC Guide analyzer. It instructs him to take wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures and suction-line temperature and pressure. The technician uses dedicated modular accessory test heads from Fieldpiece that attach to the HVAC Guide analyzer and enter results directly into the meter. When all measurements have been taken, the HVAC Guide gives the technician the target and the actual superheat.
"... My technicians ... can send me the test results directly to my computer, and I can store the data on the share drive for every tech around the world to see what is being done to other units and use this data to track repeat problem areas and evaluate the quality of work," Brader continued. "Then, I can send that data upon request to each customer to back up our work requests and show the quality of the job."
According to HVAC Guide product manager Russell Harju: "The key to this instrument's capabilities is the firmware. It leads the technician step by step through superheat, subcooling, target evaporator exit temperature, and combustion analysis. It's very easy to use, and all the necessary tables are built right in, so the technician will not have to carry different tables and charts for each test. It stores up to 200 tests that can be downloaded to a PC. It saves all of the tests, enables the contractor to perform thorough customer tracking, and creates a work order that can be given back to the customer. The firmware is upgradable, so as new tests are developed, they can be uploaded from Fieldpiece’s Website."
This gives Brader what he had been seeking: meticulous control over maintenance procedures and field measurements.
Brader spoke of a firmware upgrade for the HVAC Guide analyzer that includes the CheckMe program.
"We were given an advance copy and uploaded it to four of our HVAC Guides," Brader said. "We can use it to certify both heating and A/C systems to assure they're up to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) specs. In heating, it works with both electric and gas units. It will tell you likely causes of problems. Test results can be saved, so you have records of everything. We check combustion analysis, carbon monoxide, test the pilot, and air quality. With an A/C unit, we can enter different parameters. We put in all factory specs, and the instrument will tell you if the system is operating optimally. We simply don't have callbacks because we don’t miss parameters, and we know when something is weak.
"It used to be that I constantly worried that my technicians might have developed bad habits and be doing things the way they used to instead of how I wanted them to," Brader concluded. "I speak to a lot of technicians over the phone regularly to help talk them through things, and with the HVAC Guide and other test instruments, I can easily talk them through it step by step. ... This instrument makes them build good habits, and when they stick to those habits, as the HVAC Guide makes them, they’re 100-percent accurate. ... Now, the defense contractors that maintain the gear for other military branches are using us as a model. ... They're telling their technicians to do what the guys at our bases are doing."
Jack Sine is a freelance writer specializing in the HVACR marketplace. He can be reached at [email protected] or 845-831-6578.