Making the Case for Advanced Portable Diagnostics

by Ron Rajecki, senior editor

What would commercial contractors think about a diagnostic tool that transforms them in their customers’ eyes from an expense into a profit center? How about if the same tool also helped commercial and residential contractors find more work, differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and ensure the quality of the work that their field service personnel were performing?

Based on the reaction to a presentation at the 2003 Design/Build Seminar, savvy contractors would be most interested in learning more about such a tool, which is available now.

The name of the tool is the Honeywell HVAC Service Assistant, and the presentation was made by its co-creator, Dale Rossi, president of DTRossi, Inc., Trappe, PA. The tool uses a modified service manifold linked to a palm-device user interface. Boiled down to its essence, the tool allows contractors to quantify and document the financial impact of HVAC service and maintenance. The benefits to contractors in the real world, however, extend far beyond that simple assessment.

“An advanced portable diagnostic tool such as this leads to creative and compelling telling and selling,” says Rossi. “It documents the maintenance inspection, it verifies the need for service, it proves the successful completion of that service, and it provides an objective level of quality that customers can see in black and white,”

As partners in a company called Field Diagnostic Services, Rossi and his brother, Todd, developed and manufacture the Service Assistant, which is marketed and sold by Honeywell. The idea for a cutting-edge diagnostic tool grew out of Todd Rossi’s Ph.D. research at Purdue University and Dale’s 25 years in the commercial HVAC service industry. They field tested and refined the Service Assistant technology over the course of six years. It is, they say, the only tool of its kind on the market.

“The Service Assistant can provide startling returns in energy savings from investment in targeted maintenance of commercial HVAC equipment,” says Dale Rossi. “I have been motivating contractors to differentiate themselves by documenting the value they deliver, as well as training them to find opportunities for significant energy cost savings and how to achieve and verify those savings.”

How It Works

At the heart of the Service Assistant is a standard service manifold. However, the mechanical gauges are removed, and replaced with aerospace-quality pressure transducers. Temperature sensors are added and attached directly to the hoses.

According to Rossi, five measurements are necessary to perform effective diagnostics on a refrigeration system. The Service Assistant reads and displays the suction pressure, suction temperature, liquid pressure, liquid temperature, and ambient temperature.

It then calculates the evaporating temperature and condensing temperature (based on the refrigerant manufacturer’s pressure/temperature chart), superheat, subcooling, and the condensing temperature over ambient. This provides objective readings to help technicians detect any problem with the unit’s refrigeration cycle.

“Some technicians don’t use temperatures. They might measure the pressures, and then compare the pressures to some model that, based on their experience, is what the pressures should be. Then they often just put their hand on the suction line to see if it’s cold. If it’s not cold, they want to add refrigerant until either the suction line gets cold or the high side pressure gets too high.

“One of key issues this tool addresses is to remove this ‘seat of the pants’ approach to refrigeration cycle service, and standardize it based on real science,” Rossi says.

“Another advantage of this tool is the documentation it creates,” he adds. “It’s objective documentation. Even if the technician is trying to be as objective as possible, having this third-party verification is valuable.”

Energy Savings for Customers

One of the goals of using the Service Assistant might be to identify which pieces of a customer’s equipment are running at a high level of efficiency, versus those that could benefit from a maintenance tune-up. Targeting the inefficient equipment and improving its level of performance through cleaning the coils, correcting the refrigerant charge and adjusting the airflow through the evaporator can lead to significant improvements in reliability and cost-savings for customers.

“When your salespeople can tell the customer that your company can produce more dollars in energy savings than what it costs for the service and maintenance your company delivers, it really hits home” Rossi says. “It’s more expensive for your customers not to use you than to use you.

“Of all the money that my customers spend on air conditioning, about 85% is spent on electricity,” Rossi adds. “Service and maintenance only represents around 15%. I have more than 40,000 data records that I’ve collected over the years, and the
average air conditioning unit I encounter is running at about 75% efficiency. So, by increasing that average efficiency, you can save your customers a tremendous amount of money.”

To most effectively communicate that to customers, Rossi recommends putting it in the terms used in their market. “For instance, we were trying to show a chain of hot dog stands how we could save them $1,500 per month in energy savings. And $1,500 per month didn’t really excite them. But when we showed them how many additional hot dogs they would have to sell to make that additional $1,500 per month, all of a sudden, they got it.

“You have to convert your energy savings estimate into the terms your customers use to judge success.”

Benefits for Contractors

Beyond the energy savings for customers, the Service Assistant also offers numerous benefits for the commercial HVAC contractors who use it.

First of all, it allows contractors to deliver more value to their customers. “Delivering more value leads to making more money,” says Rossi. “Delivering more value and making more money attracts better customers and better employees.”

Being able to use a leading-edge portable diagnostic tool improves the technician self image. The clear, verifiable results and reports that the tool generates sets a company apart in customers’ eyes, and allows your company to be viewed as the opposite of the publicized “contractor thieves” that find their way onto network television “sting” shows. It also helps to create a barrier to entry into the industry for lesser-equipped (or less scrupulous) contractors.

Rossi says his customers responded favorably to the real value of his company’s work, especially the financial benefits to them in tangible dollars and cents. Using the Service Assistant has enabled his company to generate addition revenue and better manage costs.

“It prompted our technicians to report sales opportunities with maintenance reports,” he says. “It also enables us to finally manage the quality of our technical product. It made both us and our customers more aware of the equipment’s needs attention issues.”

In addition, the technology helped Rossi’s company attract and retain high-performance technicians.

Take It to Your Salespeople

Rossi does offer a caveat about the Service Assistant. To use it properly in your business requires training, and not just training of the field personnel.

“You can’t just train your technical people. In fact, you can’t even solely count on your technical people to properly evaluate this tool. Because, while this is a technical tool, the primary benefit you’ll receive from it immediately is as a sales and marketing tool to create differentiation for your company. So
if you’re going to ask anyone if this tool would be good for your company, ask your sales department. Those are the people at your company who will really see the benefits of this.”

Dale Rossi is president of DT Rossi, Inc., a commercial contracting firm in Trappe, PA. He has more than 25 years experience in the commercial air conditioning service industry. He offers in-house education and training to contractors interested in implementing the Service Assistant in their businesses. He can be reached at 866/387-6774, or via e-mail at [email protected] or visit www.dtrossi.com. For more information about the Service Assistant, call Field Diagnostics Services at 215/741-4959 or visit www.fielddiagnostics.com.

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