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PHC Pros Warm to New Diagnostic Technology
So, what does new gas measuring technology have to offer plumbing, heating and hydronic contractors? Plenty.
After learning about FloPro-MD for the first time, Keefer Rader, owner of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Outlaw Mechanical (specializing in complex hydronic, HVAC and air-to-water hear pump systems; www.outlawmechanical.com), his comments were:
“Wow! I wish I had this in my test instrument case a month ago. We had an issue with an airplane hangar where we’d just installed radiant tube heaters. The long and short of it was that I camped out there for 14 hours to prove the source of a gas supply problem. The utility provider’s main delivery [of natural gas] fluctuated, causing poor operation and shut-offs. With FloPro-MD, I could have set it and left the jobsite — while accomplishing plenty of other work — as the diagnostic tool did its job.”
According to Michael Paquette, Watts product manager for the Dormont FloPro-MD gas flow and pressure measurement system, installation and service pros have many good reasons to consider the merits of the latest technology.
“Whether installing, commissioning or servicing gas-burning equipment or appliances, testing and diagnostic measurements are important to optimal operation of equipment, including boilers, furnaces, commercial kitchen equipment or back-up generators,” he says.
Paquette explains that, during installation or commissioning of gas-burning equipment, technicians see the gas pressure while testing it at full-load conditions. The tool, offering Bluetooth-enabled wireless capability, provides instant viewing and access to the data via mobile phone, verifying exact flow to all appliances.
“We’ve found that one of the most common challenges installers face is the frustration of call-backs,” he adds. “Typically, there’s insufficient [natural gas or LP] flow — and when it affects a furnace or boiler, things become problematic quickly.
“In cases like this, the tool can be connected to the gas system upstream, between the main [or regulator] and the boiler so that a run-test can be conducted at maximum flow, or 100 percent consumption,” he continued. “If a boiler’s rated at 150 MBH, but is only getting 130 MBH in gas flow, that’s a problem.”
In such an instance as this, the technician’s variables include:
• Insufficient line size; does he need to replace the 1/2-inch line with a 3/4-inch feed?
• Is there a kink or restriction in the line or a leak?
• Is there irregular gas flow from the utility?
• Should he install a larger regulator?
• Is the existing regulator working properly?
• Insufficient gas flow to the appliance?
The old-school method for testing in such instances requires plenty of time, a gauge/manometer (measuring only pressure), and steadfast vigilance on the part of an experienced professional.
Paquette added that even with a single-functionality digital manometer — costing anywhere from $100 to $1,000 — the diagnostics are still limited to identifying gas pressure. In comparison, new diagnostic technology (providing flow meter, digital manometer and calculator, with detailed reporting) costs, on average, about $450 retail.
So armed, a tech can hook up the tool, allowing new technology to do the work while also providing far more insight than a single-functionality manometer.
One of the tool’s buyers in Calgary, Canada — Bob Rogers, with LDI Technical Services — uses the tool frequently in his work while installing and servicing commercial kitchen appliances.
One of LDI’s commercial kitchen clients, a restaurant specializing in burgers, had a griddle that kept shutting down. After repeated call-backs and attempts to diagnose the problem’s origin, Rogers returned to the kitchen with his new and as-of-yet untested FloPro-MD tool
On this trip, he installed the tool into the gas line, determined to check data that the tool had developed during its monitoring period. The data was revealing: Rogers soon found himself explaining to the restaurant’s managers that the griddle was functioning properly when it had sufficient gas pressure. But outside pressures were fluctuating erratically.
“There was no question the problem inside was coming from a problem outside,” he notes. “I provided them with the reports — which, in essence, became the smoking gun.”
He adds that when armed with diagnostic proof, the restaurant’s managers could substantiate their claim of irregular gas feed from the utility. Utility technicians were ordered to move swiftly to correct the problem.
“We’ve found that, very often, one call-back service can pay for the tool,” Paquette explains. “That’s all it takes. It’s amazing to me to see how quickly an investment can be rewarded.”