The last few years have caused uncertainty across so many aspects of our lives. What has remained consistent is the dedication and perseverance of the boiler industry and all those who take it from conception to completion and then into our homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and so much more — providing comfort and safety to so many.
As the world continues to grapple with constant changes and unforeseen roadblocks, those who make up the boiler industry — engineers, wholesalers and contractors — continue to innovate and push through any and all barriers, driving the industry to continued growth. According to Global Market Insights, the commercial boiler market value is projected to cross $12.5 billion by 2028, compared to $8.5 billion in 2020 (https://prn.to/3ujyFge), and the residential boiler market value is projected to reach $60 billion by 2027, compared to
$38 billion in 2020 (https://bit.ly/3wrfjGq).
What’s driving this growth and what are boiler manufacturers most focused on? Coming out of the 2022 AHR Expo, we uncovered the five major topics of conversation within the boiler industry circle around higher-efficiency/smaller footprint, bans on gas appliances, evolving technology, supply chain woes and adaptive training.
We reached out to industry manufacturers — Aerco, HTP Boiler (Ariston USA), IBC (Rheem), Laars Heating Systems, Lochinvar, Mestek, Navien, Noritz, NTI Boilers, Raypak, Thermal Solutions, Triangle Tube, U.S. Boiler Co., Velocity Boiler Works and Weil-McLain — and asked them to comment on all these topics. Here’s what they had to say:
Topic No. 1: Higher-Efficiency/Smaller Footprint
Last year, when the U.S. Department of Energy made effective its new minimum standard regulations for the boiler industry, most, if not all, manufacturers were prepared. All boilers manufactured in the United States need to meet minimum AFUE requirements and new maximum standby and off-mode electrical consumption standards of 84 percent for gas hot water boilers, 82 percent for gas steam boilers, 86 percent for oil hot water boilers, and 85 percent for oil steam boilers.
That’s the standard, but manufacturers are aware of consumer demand for more efficiency and a smaller footprint. In fact, according to Global Market Insights’ boiler trends report (https://bit.ly/3KYCPkA), “Growing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with rising deployment of strict environmental policies are few of the paramount factors fueling the industry growth.”
When we spoke to boiler manufacturers last year, many of them were seizing on the opportunity to make further improvements and upgrades to their products to meet customer demand for more efficiency and better technology, as well as to qualify for rebates and incentives offered to end-users on local and state levels (https://bit.ly/34XXbei). That seems to be the case again this year.
Christian Zapata, product solutions manager at Aerco, notes that although the company has led the way in boiler efficiency — introducing the first condensing boiler in the commercial market in 1990 — innovation is still necessary.
“We continue to innovate by adding features and design elements that further increase efficiency,” he says. “Our commitment to research has led to high-turndown designs that allow boilers to fire at lower rates to exactly match building load, as well as dual returns that leverage diverse load demands and return temperatures specific to a site, for a larger condensing zone that can improve boiler efficiency by as much as 7 percent. We have also integrated advanced communications technologies to improve operating efficiency.”
Rich Corcoran, senior vice president and general manager at Ariston USA, explains: “We believe a more sustainable world starts at home and our purpose is to provide sustainable comfort to everyone, in every corner of the world. All our boilers are modulating and condensing.”
Ariston acquired HTP Boiler, which pioneered the use of residential condensing boilers in the United States. The company now has a product line that leverages its global technology expertise to “deliver high efficiency, low emissions and great value from 85,000 to 2 million BTUs,” he adds. “Over the past decades, we have continuously introduced new boilers with one thing in common — high efficiency. High efficiency leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, energy savings.”
Savings is a key motivator all around. Today’s boilers are not only more efficient, making them less harmful to the environment, but they cost less money to operate and maintain. The investment is usually upfront, but the return on investment pays off in the long run.
“All IBC boilers have ultra-high-efficiency ratings up to 96.7 percent, which exceeds all government requirements,” says Wes Sisco, national training manager at IBC. “Many of our customers qualify for a rebate from participating gas utilities because of our efficiency ratings. However, boiler efficiency is only part of the story; we must also focus on system efficiency, which brings in proper boiler sizing and application.”
He adds: “First, it’s crucial to conduct a heat loss to ensure the appropriate size boiler is selected to meet the specified heat loss. Next comes the application, which means the proper distribution piping and components to deliver the required heat to all heat emitters efficiently. Approaching the installation in this manner will ensure that our boilers are optimally performing, which equals cost savings for our customers for years to come.”
“At Noritz,” says senior marketing manager Andrew Tran, “our most recent series of water heaters — EZ, NRCR and CDV series — all push the envelope of efficiency. Beyond just providing efficient products, we are working on developing products that support the overall efficiency of the home. While generation efficiency is important, taking a more holistic view to encompass delivering that generated heat/hot water is also
The manufacturer recently introduced a push-button switch integrated with its heater to only activate the hot water system with user input. “This reduces the amount of wasted energy in keeping water hot when a customer doesn’t need it, while still allowing customers to get hot water near-instantly at even the most remote fixtures in their home, combining both water and energy savings,” he adds.
The company is also looking at ways to make installations easier and simpler with commercial racking products, which pre-fabricate a complicated installation down to a single point of connection. “It reduces waste (i.e., trips to acquire more parts requiring time and energy to acquire) which also can serve to reduce overall GHG emissions,” Tran notes. “Fewer trips and less part waste (in addition to reduced labor cost) will ease supply chain issues along with all the GHGs that go into transportation and manufacturing all the unnecessary parts/trips.”
David Hansen, product manager for U.S. Boiler, says, “We excel in time-to-market attainment of DOE efficiency and green requirements with boiler platform and cast-iron heat exchanger enhancements as well as condensing control and combustion innovations. These opportunities have reduced consumer expenses and environmental impact, but they have also opened product designs so U.S. Boiler can add other value for contractors and consumers.”
While low emissions and high efficiency are at the forefront of boiler innovation, it is equally important that manufacturers reduce the footprint of the boilers they produce. Consumers and contractors/installers are looking for boilers that are compact in size as well as easier to install and maintain. Space is always at a premium, and we see the footprint of units becoming smaller while delivering more power.
“Our commercial product line offers vertical designs with minimal clearances so they can be installed close together,” says Chuck O’Donnell, director of marketing for Laars Heating Systems. “Residentially, the Laars FT Series condensing product line is offered as a space-saving, wall-hung design or a floor model with a tall, narrow, vertical design. The floor connections all come from the top of the unit and can be installed in close-coupled, multiple boiler systems to fit into small spaces. The floor units are also approved for closet or alcove installations.”
Robert Wiseman, Lochinvar hydronics product manager, notes: “One of the most important things Lochinvar does, and has always done, is providing customers with a plethora of options on how best to lay out their footprint to maximize efficiency. We offer wall-mount and floor-mount models in most of our residential and commercial product lines, such as our Knight boilers. Thanks to our Smart Touch and Smart System controls platform, we’re able to offer cascade options, so when a customer doesn’t have enough room to install a single large boiler, they can use a cascade setup of multiple smaller units connected intuitively.”
John Confrey, Navien vice president and general manager, says: “Our products have always minimized the amount of space needed to provide high-efficiency, high-output boiler performance. The NHB-150 condensing boiler only takes up a volume of 5,304 cubic inches and delivers 150,000 BTU/hour at 95 percent AFUE. With such small sizes and wall-hung installations, Navien products take up little space and deliver impressive performance.”
Tran notes that Noritz has always recognized that space is at a premium when it comes to HVAC equipment as well. “We manufacture among the smallest physical size products per BTU available on the marketplace, and with the units being wall-hung or rackable, this provides installers with tremendous flexibility to install the units in the tightest of spaces.”
In addition, the manufacturer has made “significant developments” to common-vent multiple products together, he says, allowing for even more units to fit into a wall space area.
“It is true that the size and footprint of boilers are getting smaller,” notes Dave Walsh, vice president of sales at NTI-USA. “However, NTI has always struck a balance with size and serviceability. We design our boilers with the installer and serviceperson in mind; contractors frequently comment about it.”
Lyndal Moore, national sales manager at Raypak, says: “From advanced computer modeling to shared design expertise across Rheem’s global divisions, Raypak has launched the Raypak KOR platform with a patented tube design that has allowed for us to put more BTUs in a smaller package. It allows us to shrink the footprint of our XVERS boilers up to 45 percent smaller than the leading competitor.”
It is not surprising that all the manufacturers we spoke to have made the shift to smaller footprints. It is what consumers demand and is the norm across the board.
“Size is an essential consideration in all development projects we perform,” says Matt Kleszczynski, director of marketing at Mestek Distributor Products Group. “While sectional cast-iron boilers still have a place in the marketplace, the desire for more usable space in buildings is the main concern with all building owners and architects in both new and retrofit applications. All our modern products fit through 36-inch doors and feature not only incredible outputs but also ultra-high efficiencies relative to large footprint boilers. We like to say, ‘We can put 10 million BTU/hour in a phone booth,’ for those of us who actually remember what a phone booth looks like!”
Jim Schnorr, vice president of sales at Thermal Solutions, notes that his company sees a shift in the high-efficiency market to move to water-tube platforms with smaller footprints from larger, taller, older vertical fire-tube condensing platforms. “We also have products that can be built on-site that vertical fire-tube platforms cannot,” he says.
Triangle Tube offers two lines of fully condensing, high-efficiency, wall-hung boilers in heating-only and combi models. “These boilers are not only highly efficient but also significantly reduce the space required when compared to the cast-iron boilers they often replace,” says Craig Sobin, senior mechanical engineer. “Additionally, the combi units allow for infinite hot water, eliminating the need for a separate water heater.”
“We have tried to keep serviceability in mind while also minimizing the equipment’s footprint,” says Lee Ensminger, national sales manager at Velocity Boiler Works. “We do this by keeping the controls to the front of the boiler whenever possible and incorporating removable side jacket panels in our newer condensing boilers that allow for easier access to the internal components.”
Dave DeVries, director of product management for Weil-McLain, explains: “Compact footprint and boiler system efficiency are heavy drivers when exploring for boiler solutions. However, the drive for a smaller footprint may make some other boilers difficult to service, but at Weil-McLain, we carefully design to ensure that does not happen. Our products are thoughtfully designed with critical components strategically positioned for fast and easy service. There is no need to remove a part to get access to another one behind it.
“For residential applications, there has been a need to design products for confined spaces, in retrofits and new buildings where space is at a premium. Weil-McLain’s line of ECO Tec and AquaBalance combi boilers were developed as a direct result.”
Each year, consumers become more and more environmentally conscious — for a number of reasons — and manufacturers are working smarter and more aggressively at meeting those consumer needs. But not all regulations are met with such enthusiasm. Take, for example, the newest one coming out of New York City on gas appliances.
Topic No. 2:
More Regulations — Bans on Gas Appliances
Late last year, New York City became the largest municipality in the country to propose and approve a ban on natural gas appliances in new buildings. This ban will take effect in December 2023 for buildings under seven stories and December 2027 for taller buildings. This ban is not only being proposed in other municipalities, but it gives way for future government mandates that may eliminate fossil fuels as well.
We asked the manufacturers their thoughts on the NYC ban and how — if at all — their companies responded. There was a mixed bag of responses.
Tran notes that the recent movement coming out of NYC is quite concerning to Noritz as a manufacturer of gas equipment. “We are for the greater goal of reducing GHG emissions; however, there are major considerations that we feel the local governments are not fully heeding,” he says, adding, “Once enacted, it would be very difficult to backtrack. We are currently working with several organizations on both a local and national level to share our concerns about the limiting/elimination of market choice for consumers.
“Noritz feels there is definitely a wide array of concerns from a technological standpoint: efficiency and reliability of heat pump technology in exceptionally cold conditions; supply chain, installer and servicer availability and ability; infrastructure (grid ability to handle the increased load); and cost (for low-income families especially).”
Other manufacturers have already begun making changes and are ready to meet the new demands of the NYC ban.
“This new mandate provides us the opportunity to continue to provide solutions focusing on clean energy,” Zapata explains. “As a member of Watts Water Technologies, Aerco can leverage technologies used by affiliated brands to introduce boilers that address the market need to reduce the carbon footprint of HVAC systems and meet local, state and federal regulations.”
Laars Heating Systems has a full line of commercial electric boilers to meet space and water heating needs in NYC. “In addition,” O’Donnell notes, “Laars continues to develop new products on a regular basis to comply with the latest regulatory requirements while satisfying the end-users’ needs.”
Lochinvar also already has a variety of offerings that can satisfy decarbonization needs. Wiseman says these range from an electric boiler to a micro-combined heat and power system to a commercial heat-pump water heater line. “Lochinvar is always looking to the future,” he notes. “At the end of the day, we’re a water heating company, and we strive to provide our customers with the best water heating solution possible. We’re constantly assessing the evolving government regulations as we develop new technology and solutions for our customers.”
Navien’s Confrey explains that although the NYC ban isn’t expected to have a large impact on his company, “we are definitely developing next-generation technologies in reaction to this movement.” He adds, “By pushing efficiency to its upper limit, exploring other types of combustion and developing technologies to capture heat from more renewable sources, we will be ready for the energy challenges of the future.”
Moore says that Raypak has been monitoring the decarbonization movement for a while now. “NYC is one of a couple of markets that are leading the way,” he explains. “For that reason, Raypak has been involved with a variety of technologies to meet the needs of these progressive markets. We have recently launched a proven commercial heat-pump water heating technology from one of our sister companies to aid in this exciting
Kleszczynski adds to the chorus by touting Mestek’s air-to-water heat pumps: “What began as a residential/light commercial application has morphed into large commercial equipment offering air-to-water heat pumps up to 300,000 BTU/hour (heating) with multi-unit cascade capabilities. We also recently acquired Transom — a manufacturer of commercial air-to-water and water-to-water heat pumps, chillers and makeup air units — and it positions us perfectly to meet the ever-changing dynamic of the electrification mandates seen in New York City and the Pacific Northwest regions of the country.”
Many of the manufacturers we spoke with are preparing — or have been preparing — for the NYC ban and others like it but insist there is still room for gas-powered appliances.
Weil-McLain’s DeVries explains: “We understand these mandates and we view this challenge in the broader context of decarbonization. This view recognizes that it will likely take all available technologies to solve our climate problem, including renewable electrification, renewable fuels, carbon capture, reduced demand from building efficiency improvements and upgrades to higher-efficiency appliances. We are actively evaluating technologies with coefficient of performance efficiencies greater than 1, including heat pump technologies, and will bring these to market when they are technically and economically feasible for the hydronic applications in our markets.”
He adds: “Homeowners, facility owners/managers and municipalities can make significant carbon reductions simply by replacing older appliances, including gas boilers, with new boilers of the highest efficiency that fit their application. Most of the boilers that go into residential and commercial buildings are replacement applications, and contractors must consider the needs and limits for each application. Upgrading older boilers to the latest options can generate significant carbon reduction and cost savings.”
The Ariston Group has been engaged globally in the movement toward electrification because of its European market presence, but Corcoran echoes some of the previous sentiments, stating: “Locally, we are monitoring electrification and decarbonization initiatives carefully. We feel that clean-burning, high-efficiency, gas-fired boilers and water heaters will play a significant role for many years to come. Existing building stock will not be electrified overnight, and significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions can still be achieved by replacing older low-efficiency gas appliances with new high-efficiency ones.”
Another Ariston Group company — NTI Boilers — is also working to develop products to meet future demands. “NTI and the Ariston Group have placed energy efficiency and technologies using energies from renewable sources at the heart of our sustainable growth strategy,” Walsh explains. “Sustainable and efficient products, solutions and processes can make a decisive contribution to reducing energy consumption and environmental impact without sacrificing comfort. Our product development plan will deliver products in the future that will address this trend and expand the large breadth of products that NTI offers.”
IBC’s Sisco shares: “We pride ourselves on looking forward to new and innovative ways to improve our products for our customers. We will continue to offer fossil-fuel equipment for existing systems and provide an electrical alternative to meet future government
Schnorr of Thermal Solutions agrees and points to expanded research into electric solutions: “We will propose common sense in applying, banning and adapting different technologies.” And Josh Garrett, director of engineering at Triangle Tube, notes that the manufacturing company also is researching future technologies.
Change is difficult no matter how well-intended the outcome is. It will be interesting to see how many other states, cities and municipalities adopt this new regulation and how that will affect boiler manufacturing in the future. We will need to keep an eye out for it.
A different kind of change, however, that almost everyone is on board with is evolving technology.
Topic No. 3: Connectivity
We’ve been talking about technology as a driving force in the boiler industry for a while now — everything from smart thermostats to integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) with boilers and building automation systems (BAS). This kind of connectivity has found its way into all aspects of running a home, business, buildings, etc., as it not only leads to more efficiency but convenience as well — for consumers, installers and technicians, and even manufacturers.
We asked manufacturers about the new technologies implemented to connect products and their benefits — all are universally recognized.
“Our onAER monitoring system allows customers to optimize system performance as it provides deep insight into overall operations to identify potential issues before they become costly failures,” says Aerco’s Zapata. “Intelligent algorithms allow the system to analyze acquired data, such as boiler efficiency, oxygen and cycling, and provide valuable recommendations. As a result, it provides steps to resolve an issue, preventative measures to avert downtime and methods to improve performance/efficiency. As part of its in-depth analysis capability, onAER maintains a history of past heartbeats to compare trends over time.”
Corcoran notes: “We connect contractors with boilers in the field through HTPlink, which we introduced five years ago. At Ariston, we have been able to further enhance our connected offering to include all residential and commercial boilers. This technology allows contractors to view appliance parameters and status to ensure proper operation and maximum efficiency, receive text and email notifications to alert of possible system issues, and access appliance operation and troubleshoot issues without having to be on-site.”
In addition, the manufacturer has a mobile app that allows users to access installation instructions, parts blowouts and warranty information.
IBC’s V-10 control-equipped boilers can be connected to the internet, allowing access to the boiler system parameters and settings. “Users can monitor real-time data,” Sisco says. “If there are any anomalies detected, the V-10 control can send an email alert to any specified user. This can facilitate a quick response from the contractor and reduce boiler downtime.”
Lochinvar has used connectivity software for many years.
“Now, many of our products come with, or are optional for, the CON•X•US Remote connectivity platform,” Wiseman notes. “This allows customers to control equipment in the palm of their hand with most any Wi-Fi-capable device. With this type of connectivity, our boilers have become even more user-friendly. The technology helps to ensure that units are functioning properly by sending notifications to customers’ phones if an issue arises. This decreases emergency maintenance needs and can also make service calls more efficient for technicians. They can better understand the problem before going into a service call, so they can come fully prepared to address it.”
Technology makes it possible for consumers, installers and manufacturers to glean meaningful insights and to take action where and when it is appropriate — whether it is to monitor or control the equipment, diagnose and repair it, or to improve on its performance and efficiency.
“Navien products are capable of using NaviLink remote control,” Confrey says. “It is an accessory that allows users to communicate with their Navien unit via Wi-Fi or cellular data to turn units on and off, set space-heating system temperatures, monitor gas usage, and more. Our commercial NFB-C units are also compatible with ModBus/BACnet or LonWorks connections.”
Tran shares: “Noritz believes in having IoT being a supplemental convenience for homeowners, business owners or commercial properties. Whether it’s homeowners able to schedule operation of their recirculation pump or commercial servicers able to identify issues without being on-site, we think it’s all a great way to embrace the new technology.”
“NTI has incorporated the Ariston Wi-Fi control platform, NTInet, into our TRX and FTVN models,” Walsh says. “We will soon incorporate NTInet throughout the entire line; the next product to get NTInet will be our popular TFT boiler. Having a boiler connected via Wi-Fi allows the contractor to remotely monitor, adjust and troubleshoot the unit. The contractor can also know about and fix a problem before the homeowner even knows there’s an issue. Our tech support can also ‘see’ the boiler and can provide setup and troubleshooting information or even make the adjustments right from our factory in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.”
Raypak’s Moore says: “IoT has been a fundamental part of our vision for several years. The Raymote system not only allows a customer to monitor and receive alerts, but it allows us to support our customers’ systems from a distance. Our customers can monitor problematic installs and if they need help, we are there to assist. We can all see the same system data, and it makes troubleshooting more efficient and less time-consuming.”
All of Mestek’s high-efficiency equipment has the HeatNet 3.0 “boiler” management system.
“Built into HeatNet 3.0 is our HeatNet Online remote monitoring program,” Kleszczynski explains. “A secure web-based remote monitoring control platform, it is the perfect alternative to building management systems for smaller-scale applications. HeatNet Online continuously monitors, records and graphs input and output trending data for quick visualization of overall boiler system performance to ensure peak efficiency while preventing costly failures by allowing proactive responses to systems potentially operating in unsafe conditions.”
Thermal Solutions’ Schnorr explains: “We have standardized on a single control platform and interface from light commercial to industrial offerings. Once you learn on one, you can do any. Increased presence for remote access through apps versus traditional building management systems is an interesting paradigm for our industry.”
Triangle Tube’s Tsync Module 1.0 offers an easy and efficient way to access a boiler remotely right from a smartphone or computer. “You can see the current boiler status, allowing you to check if it is operating normally,” Sobin says. “Along with that, you are alerted to any faults with telemetry data to help diagnose the cause of the fault and receive annual service reminders.”
U.S. Boiler’s Hansen notes that the manufacturer will introduce its newest commitment to on-site and remote boiler connectivity in 2022 to increase the usability and functionality of residential and commercial controls.
“Velocity Boiler Works is introducing a service app for our Phantom II line of heat-only and combi boilers that will allow the contractor to connect to the boiler using a smartphone,” Ensminger notes. “This app will assist the contractor in setting up a new installation or troubleshooting an existing installation.”
DeVries says: “Weil-McLain is incorporating Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities into our newest control platforms (residential units) that enable contractors and technicians to use our Weil-McLain ProTools app to interact with the boiler to quickly diagnose issues and share information. We will be adding in connected features in Q2 that help contractors diagnose and fix issues while they are on location at the boiler, or to easily share boiler data with our technical support team to help with higher-level diagnosis and resolution.
He adds that for the company’s commercial high-efficiency boilers, the new control platform is enabling additional desired connected and remote monitoring capabilities.
Technology is a fast-moving phenomenon, but one thing’s for sure: it has helped in making things run more smoothly, more efficiently, and more effectively for everyone in the boiler industry.
The supply chain, however, has not been as fast-moving as we would have liked it to be.
Topic No. 4:
Supply Chain, Supply Chain, Supply Chain
In a recent article in The Wholesaler, we discussed the “State of the Supply Chain Today,” noting this is a problem across industries and across borders (https://bit.ly/3wDwB5U). The boiler industry is no exception. Product availability or lack thereof is a real problem, and most everyone is feeling the pain from it one way or another.
We asked manufacturers how their companies are helping customers navigate the shortage and how they’re preparing for the current year.
“For all the data and spreadsheets in our industry, it’s still an old-school business in many ways,” O’Donnell shares. “Because of Laars’ relationships in the industry, as well as our inventory position and other planning, we have been able to maintain the supply of materials at our manufacturing facilities. It pays for manufacturers to remain flexible and always informed in order to respond efficiently to unforeseen circumstances.
“With multiple suppliers, material has continued to be available even during shortages. Strategic inventories designed to withstand unexpected disruptions continue to be a foundation of our supply approach. Standardizing products and processes, strengthening local and regional connections, and building or bolstering relationships across the industry will also be key for success at Laars in the post-pandemic climate.”
Confrey says that Navien also hasn’t had many challenges with the supply chain. “Our in-house production of most of our product components and aggressive materials-sourcing plan has meant product availability has been less of a challenge for us as for others. We have become a great source of solutions for customers that are experiencing supply issues from other vendors.”
Kleszczynski echoes that sentiment, stating: “Fortunately, our lead times at Mestek have not changed much over the last two years. We anticipated potential areas for shortfalls and scaled our purchasing habits accordingly. We have seen a lot of industry lead times negatively affected by vendor issues and have avoided any catastrophic delays with our standard production materials. We are constantly evaluating and anticipating areas of concern and are adjusting where necessary. We hope to stay ahead of the curve until things smooth out across both vendor production and transportation concerns.”
Garrett notes, “Triangle Tube has worked with our parent company (Groupe-Atlantic) to leverage its purchasing and manufacturing scale to ensure we have inventory to meet our customers’ needs, even during these challenging times.”
“COVID-19 affected all manufacturers with delays in our supply chains, and that has influenced the pace of production of some of our manufacturing lines at times,” Weil-McLain’s DeVries notes. “However, despite this, we have been able to maintain production with only modest delays in some lines during the past year. We continue to do everything we can to meet demand as we receive orders, and we expect continuing improvement in these supply-chain factors throughout 2022.”
Other manufacturers we spoke with experienced supply chain woes a little differently, but still managed to come out on the other end by being innovative and ready to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
“Our in-house operations and manufacturing capabilities have been instrumental in helping us mitigate supply-chain factors,” Zapata says. “Aerco has used every resource available to provide customers with solutions as quickly as possible to help them stay within project timelines whenever possible.”
Corcoran notes: “The supply chain is currently one of the most challenging parts of our business to manage. We are working very hard to minimize the impact seen and felt by our customers. We are fully integrated into the Ariston Group global supply-chain team and can work through issues and opportunities 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a result.”
“Before the global pandemic, sales forecasting was gleaned from our customers’ buying habits and market trends,” Sisco explains. “Now, we must consider these factors alongside parts availability to build our units. At IBC, we continue to work closely with our customers to ensure we keep all involved aware of any changes to our product delivery schedule.”
Wiseman notes: “Customer communication has remained our No. 1 priority at Lochinvar as we continue to navigate the supply-chain challenges. We value our customer relationships, and we strive to provide our customers with the solutions they need to do their job. We’ve had to adapt as we work to find innovative solutions so we can continue to provide our customers with products. This sometimes means substituting compatible parts or making small tweaks in our design.”
To ensure it doesn’t lose its high standards of quality, Lochinvar increased its engineering, manufacturing and procurement sourcing teams to look at ways to keep production going and get units to customers.
Tran says that Noritz is working with its parent company in Japan to resolve customer pain points this year.
“Thanks to our inventory levels and our procurement team, we weathered the storm pretty well for most of 2021,” NTI’s Walsh shares. “The last quarter, however, presented some significant challenges. We seem to be getting beyond most of our supply-chain interruptions, but 2021 was just about as bad as I have seen in my more than 35 years in this industry. Our customers have been great; they maintained good inventory levels and were understanding of the situation. Communication is key.”
The company made a concerted effort to keep its distribution partners informed of supply-chain issues. “We hope our newly updated manufacturing processes and robust inventory commitment will help us weather the next storm,” he adds.
Moore notes: “We all learned a lesson during this crisis: just in time doesn’t work all the time. The market doesn’t care about transportation or supply-chain challenges, and it looks to Raypak to provide an accessible, consistent stream of products to meet its needs when needed. For that reason, in 2022, we are opening five regional warehouses around the country to help insulate the market from post-pandemic manufacturing issues, providing immediate access to a wide variety of commercial boilers and water heaters.”
Schnorr notes that Thermal Solutions will look to increase stock and give vendors more clarity into windows of needs.
Everyone is eager for the supply-chain issues to subside, but it will take some time and will require all-hands -on-deck to get things moving again.
Speaking of all hands on deck — training, training, training is up next.
Topic No. 5: Training
Training is always critical, but even more so during an ongoing pandemic. With all these moving parts to the boiler industry, training should be at the forefront for every manufacturer.
We asked manufacturers what changes or new methods their company has implemented when it comes to training (i.e., mobile truck training, Zoom lunch and learns, etc.).
“Aerco training programs have evolved over the past two years with an emphasis on online training and certification, virtual lunch and learns, and 15-minute HVAC virtual coffee breaks,” Zapata says. “When the weather allowed, we conducted outdoor events that followed pandemic best practices, such as social distancing. We are using the knowledge gained from these methods to enhance our in-person training tools, which we are happy to say are being rolled out again.”
Ariston and HTP “love welcoming contractors to our modern, live-fire training center, but due to COVID-19, we had to pivot to conducting more new product introductions virtually,” Corcoran notes. “New and improved virtual meeting tools have greatly facilitated effective virtual meetings. Ariston USA continues to enhance investment in in-person and virtual training. Our sales and training teams are once again engaging with our customers in face-to-face settings out in the field and in our facility. However, I firmly believe that virtual meetings will continue to be a tool that broadens our support capabilities.”
“IBC always used a three-prong customer training approach, using our mobile training trucks, instructor-led classroom courses and virtual training events,” Sisco notes. “The global pandemic only validated that we were using the best methods to conduct our customer training events.”
Laars Heating Systems has multiple mobile training trailers equipped with boilers, ideal for outdoor training sessions at customer locations.
“We built a new trailer last year that debuted in August,” O’Donnell says. “We also launched Laars Academy Live in response to the pandemic and, due to popular demand, have continued to develop curriculum that is conducted as live training and as recorded sessions that can be viewed later. However, nothing can take the place of in-person, hands-on training. We look forward to resuming more in-person activities as appropriate.”
Wiseman notes: “Lochinvar University has used virtual training for a long time, but we’ve amplified and expanded our offerings in recent years. There is incredible technology available to us, and we’re taking advantage of this by providing even more virtual training opportunities to our customers. We offer a variety of product training courses to ensure that contractors and technicians are fully prepared when they’re in the field and working with our products — including our mobile training truck.”
He adds that last May the company hosted the 2021 Lochinvar Reveal Event, a virtual experience that showcased its newest product releases and gave attendees an inside look at its sustainability initiatives. More than 1,000 people attended the live show and more than 1,800 have since viewed the video on the manufacturer’s YouTube channel.
Navien launched an e-learning platform and shifted a large percentage of its training to a webinar format. “When customers are ready, we are excited to get back into person-to-person training, but we have been able to leverage the efficiencies of online programs to aggressively increase our training output over the last two years,” Confrey says.
NTI put its first live-fire demo van on the road in 2018; it proved to be a valuable tool when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in this country. “We added additional vans over the past couple of years so we could deliver safe and effective training to our contractors,” Walsh explains. “Soon, we will have six vans on the road. We continue to provide many online training sessions as online training is here to stay. We also started an online event called ‘Thirsty Thursdays,’ a fun and informative session held the third Thursday of every month. We cover technical topics and have industry guests join in.”
Raypak’s interaction with its key partners has changed, yet the need for knowledge transformation is greater than ever. “Raypak’s training is continuing to evolve,” Moore says, “from in-person, live-fire training in our Innovation Learning Center to live webinars to changing our literature and training materials to an advanced digital format to aid in new-age learning. Our teams are using 3D models of our products to give our digital material some depth and bridge the gap from using actual equipment in the field. We are fully invested in knowledge transfer; it is the most important product we have.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mestek eliminated in-person training and shifted to Zoom lunch and learns for its factory-direct salesforce, and GoTo webinar training for both engineers and technicians.
“We had tremendous success and will continue to do so to meet the needs of all of our customers,” Kleszczynski says. “However, due to the nature of our product offerings and the importance of in-person training/interaction, when feasible, we have continued with our in-person training as much as possible. We have followed all CDC protocols for safety, and we have also installed high-quality air-filtration systems in our training facilities to further protect our employees and customers.
“We have been able to meet the needs of our customers during these trying times in various capacities. Our flexibility has enabled us to stay in front of our customers at all times in any capacity they desire.”
Thermal Solutions has turned to virtual meetings, traveling roadshows and mini-events held outside in spring and summer.
Sobin notes: “Our regional field techs have been partnering with our reps to do mobile training on-site for contractors and distributors with our mobile trailers. We have also hosted webinar training for contractors and distributors focused on our product portfolio. Further, we have technical videos on our website and YouTube to teach contractors on servicing our products.”
Mike Hook, marketing communications manager for U.S. Boiler, explains: “We had our condensing display van program in place prior to the pandemic, so it was a relatively simple pivot to doing the kind of one-to-one training that was required. Since then, we’ve added more of these vehicles to our fleet, and they continue to be very busy.”
He adds that in lieu of regular training sessions, the company developed an online program called USB University. The program featured a combination of live and video training sessions, which are viewable on its website.
“Our training vans are outfitted with our latest equipment so that we can meet contractors wherever it is most convenient for them to train on our products,” Ensminger notes. “Velocity Boiler Works also offers online training whenever requested.”
Weil-McLain continuously works closely with channel partners by providing education to improve the technical skills needed to install and maintain equipment, as well as application knowledge to ensure the correct type of product selection.
“On the product side,” DeVries explains, “we continue to develop equipment that is more ‘plug-and-play’ capable and easier to install and troubleshoot, resulting in higher field productivity and reliability. We also host regular educational sessions hosted by the technical training team that covered our high-efficiency residential and commercial boilers. Our live-stream training programs cover a broad range of relevant topics, including technology, features and benefits, maintenance, troubleshooting, installation, controls and setup.”
All the manufacturers we spoke with have an emphasis on getting out in front of their customers and helping them the best way they can — meeting them where they’re at — with safety in mind.
The boiler industry is alive and well; it’s moving through all the obstacles that arise and coming out the other side ready to heat things up. Thank you to all the manufacturers that spoke to us for this report — we appreciate all that you do!