Cool Refrigeration Technology

The future of refrigeration technology has been within our grasp for more than 80 years. Since the early 1920s and into the 1930s several prominent inventors, Albert Einstein being one of them, were developing green technologies capable of reducing green house gases long before green house emissions were part of the American psyche.

Aside from developing the theory of relativity and discovering the law of the photoelectric effect, and numerous other discoveries, Einstein, along with Hungarian physicist and former student Leo Szilard, collaborated on ways to improve home refrigeration technology. Their invention has been termed the “Einstein Refrigerator.”

The Einstein Refrigerator was a modified version of an absorption refrigerator invented by two students, Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters, of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden in 1922. It had no moving parts and produced “cold” from a heat source such as propane, electricity, or kerosene. Platen-Munters’ invention was put into production in 1923 by the Swedish company AB Arctic. Electrolux, the world’s second largest appliance company next to Whirlpool purchased AB Arctic in 1925, and began selling units worldwide. In that same year Servel, an American company, purchased the rights to manufacture gas refrigerators exclusively in the U.S.

I was fortunate to have serviced a Servel refrigerator in the late 60s. It was a single-pressure absorption refrigerator, had no moving parts, not even a circulating fan, did not require electricity to operate, was noiseless, had a small burner, similar to a gas hot water heater underneath the unit and a gas line connection.

In Einsteins refrigerator, there were four main parts, the boiler, condenser, evaporator, and absorber. The unit charge consisted of a quantity of ammonia, water, and butane. They obtained a patent for their invention on November 11, 1930.

The Einstein refrigerator was not immediately put into production, however, Einstein and Szilard’s patent was quickly bought up by the Swedish company AB Electrolux to protect its own absorption refrigeration technology. Despite the breakthroughs, Einstein and Szilard’s refrigerator was shelved in 1930 following the Great Depression in favor of a new technology, vapor/compression utilizing hydrocarbon (freon) refrigerants which became the standard of the industry. Presently, concerns over ozone-depletion and greenhouse gases warrants a new look at Einstein and Szilards invention.

Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer from Oxford, whose passion is green technology, is leading a project to revive Einsteins invention. He believes that by modifying the design and replacing the ammonia gas Einstein used, he will be able to obtain 4 times Einsteins efficiency. Thinking forward, McCulloch wants to insert a solar powered heat pump into the non-electric refrigerator. No moving parts is a real benefit because it can operate without maintenance. This could have real advantages in remote areas,he said.

Magnetic refrigeration is another example of green technology on the rise. It is a cooling system based on the magnetocaloric effect. This effect was first observed by French physicist Pierre-Ernest Weiss and Swiss physicist Auguste A. Piccard in 1917.  Weiss developed the domain theory of ferromagnetism in 1907, which is the mechanism by which certain materials (such as iron) form permanent magnets. The first working magnetic refrigerators were constructed by several groups beginning in 1933 and were developed for cooling below about 0.3K (-458.86F).

Instead of ozone-depleting refrigerants and energy-consuming compressors found in conventional vapor-cycle refrigerators, this style of refrigerator uses gadolinium metal that heats up when exposed to a magnetic field, then cools down when the magnetic field is removed.

At the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, researchers have successfully demonstrated the world’s first room-temperature, permanent-magnet, magnetic refrigerator. The refrigerator was developed by Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corporation of America as part of a cooperative research and development agreement with Ames Laboratory.

“We’re witnessing history in the making,” Ames Laboratory senior metallurgist Karl Gschneidner Jr. says of the revolutionary device. “Previous successful demonstration refrigerators used large superconducting magnets, but this is the first to use a permanent magnet and operate at room temperature.”

“Our fridge works, from a conceptual point of view, in a similar way (to freon fridges) but instead of using a gas we use a magnetic field and a special metal alloy. When the magnetic field is next to the alloy, it’s like compressing the gas, and when the magnetic field leaves, it’s like expanding the gas. This effect can be seen in rubber bands – when you stretch the band it gets hot, and when you let the band contract it gets cold.” said managing director Neil Wilson.

Initially tested in September 2004 at the Astronautics Corporation of America’s Technology Center in Madison, Wisconsin, magnetic refrigeration technology is undergoing further testing. The goal is to achieve larger temperature swings that will allow the technology to provide the cooling power required for specific markets, such as home refrigerators, air conditioning, electronics cooling, and fluid chilling.

Researchers working in GE labs have used a special magnetic material to achieve temperatures cold enough to freeze water. The breakthrough system, which is projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology, could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade.

The system is using a water-based fluid flowing through a series of magnets to transfer heat, rather than a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This significantly lowers any harm to the environment and makes the recycling of old refrigerators simpler. This technique, cooling without adding extra energy by using magnetism, can be used to attain extremely low temperatures, as well as the ranges used in common refrigerators. “This is a big deal,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, a leader of the research team. “We are on the cusp of the next refrigeration revolution.”

GE teams in the U.S. and in Germany decided to build a cascade from special magnetic materials, where each step could lower the temperature just slightly. “We are taking a chunk of heat and pushing it down the ladder, from the cold insides of the refrigerator to the warm room outside” Venkatakrishnan says.

It took them five years to achieve cooling of just 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Not much, but enough to show that the idea was working. “We started with a huge machine that didn’t do very much, but we’ve moved to a prototype that’s about the size of a shopping cart,” says Michael Benedict, design engineer at GE Appliances. “The goal is to get this thing down to a size where you can put it in the refrigerator.”

That goal got closer when the team’s materials scientists developed a new type of nickel-manganese alloy for magnets that could function at room temperatures. Design engineers arranged the magnets in a series of 50 cooling stages. Today they are capable of reducing temperature by 80 degrees. “We are focusing on magnetic refrigeration as a potential replacement for all the refrigeration technologies currently in use,” Benedict says.

The GE team has run demonstrations for experts from the Department of Energy, attended by staffers from the White House and the EPA. “Nobody in the world has done this type of multi-stage cooling,” Venkatakrishnan says. “We believe we are the first people who shrunk it enough so that it can be transported and shown. We were also the first to go below freezing with the stages.”

The team is now working to achieve a 100-degree drop in temperature at low power. “We’ve spent the last 100 years to make the current refrigeration technology more efficient,” Venkatakrishnan says. “Now we are working on technology for the next 100 years.”

In conclusion, the potential for a greener refrigeration technology is currently being developed in several laboratories around the world, the results look promising. To see a working model of a GE magnetic refrigerator in action go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlKKKMTA7XM. If I had to bet on which technology will revolutionize the industry, I’d go with magnetic; it’s cleaner, safer and more efficient. It’s time to take a new look at an old discovery.

Going Paperless

In my service business, I’m constantly looking for ways to increase my profit, while at the same time trying to reduce the time and effort it takes to make that profit.

More businesses today are seeking alternatives to paper-based processes which slows down operations and produces redundancy. Companies of all sizes are replacing photocopiers with iPads, reducing storage costs, and severely improving data collection time and accuracy with efficient solutions that automate and empower their local and mobile teams.

It’s been fifty years since the Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercially used fax machines in 1964, which has since altered the face of communications and  have contributed extensively to reducing the time and effort required for everyday operations. Technology revolutions come in measured, sometimes foot-dragging steps. While the fax machine became ubiquitous, it is now considered antiquated. New technologies for data transmission have flourished such as Email and text messaging. They now account for a considerable reduction in redundancy.  For the every day mundane requirements of running a business, the technological trend now is in automation. If “a penny saved is a penny earned” then a minute saved in unnecessary data processing is another minute I can relish in what I enjoy. Here is a partial list of new technologies that may be used with electronic forms automation:

Portable Document Format (PDF) – to create, display and interact with electronic documents and forms

E-Form (electronic form) – management software to create, integrate and route forms and form data with processing systems

Databases – to capture data for pre filling and processing documents

Workflow platforms – to route information, documents and direct process flow

Digital Signature Solutions – to digitally sign documents

Web Servers – to host the process and manage documents rights

One of the main issues that has kept companies, including mine, from adopting paperwork automation is difficulty capturing digital signatures in a cost-effective and compliant manner. The E-Sign Act of 2000 in the United States provided that a document cannot be rejected on the bases of an electronic signature and required all companies to accept digital signatures on documents. This has been a boom to a paperless work environment. While database management software may seem like overkill for a small company, the benefits of adapting to these new formats are showing considerable promise. Neglecting these opportunities could put you in jeopardy as your competitors adapt and shift into the fast lane and leave you in the dust.

As an example of how this new technology can work, when I perform a service call I write up a receipt for the customer and record the necessary information on a paper invoice. Invoices typically record customer info, part numbers, charges, etc. If the customer pays by credit-card, I have to do a separate process and call in for an approval number, and then enter it on the invoice. This is redundant. At the end of the day or sometimes at the end of the week, I have to input all that data from the invoice into my desktop computer so I can use it to calculate payroll and taxes, monitor inventory, and so on.

With a simple app on your smartphone or tablet all your data is uploaded into a cloud-based storage system, also called a host server, while at the same time processing credit-cards on the fly with the option of sending a receipt to the customer via email, and you have access to it, in real time, on any device; there’s no need to input data twice.

What’s so attractive about this process is that I don’t have to re-enter or calculate anything. It’s all done for me according to the way I design the program. There’s no need to call in for a credit-card approval, the software does everything for you. At any given time of the day, I know how many service calls my techs performed, who did them, how much inventory was used. what the costs were. This technology isn’t new, it’s just now coming into the mainstream for companies like ours. Besides saving time, it’s more efficient, and it can reduce the cost for paper related products and as a bonus build a database of customer’s email addresses for future marketing; the possibilities for streamlining operations seem endless.

Aside from all the benefits of reducing paper consumption and storage by streamlining the workflow, paper product manufacturing contributes significantly to deforestation and man-made climate change, and produces greenhouse gases. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, paper manufacturing is the third largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. Paper production also leads to air pollution. Printing inks and toners use environment-damaging volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and non-renewable oils. So it stands to reason that weaning our way off paper receipts and documents would have a positive benefit on our environment.

One of the more popular software programs gaining considerable attention for small business is called Filemaker. Filemaker is a subsidiary of Apple Computer, but the software works well on all devices. It’s simple to use and set up and the cost is low compared to the return. There’s no need for extensive software training, it works out of the box. I watched a webinar today on my home computer about the new Filemaker Software developed specifically to eliminate paper documents and guaranteed to speed up your day-to-day transactions. Filemaker is a subsidiary of Apple Computer. It’s new software is compatible with both Windows and Mac.

Leadership 101

How many companies can you name off the top of your head that were established more than 100 years ago?  I can think of a handful: Ford, GE, Electrolux, Whirlpool, IBM. Today, there are more than 500 companies worldwide that have lasted longer than a century; overcoming extreme hardships and adversity from regressive economic cycles. That’s a long run! I believe the key component to these extended periods of longevity can only be defined by one attribute, leadership.  Without leadership a company is rudderless, drifting with no sense of direction. For that reason, the quality of leadership is vital to lasting success.

At the heart of great leadership is the desire to serve others, to empower them and foster their success. As a leader, it’s not enough that you are the best at what YOU do. Rather, your success is often judged, in large part, on how those whom you have directed, developed and mentored have made their own mark.

Excellent leadership is defined by excellent thinking. It makes no difference if you’re a leader of a division, branch or department, the quality of leadership remains the same. Companies like GE and Whirlpool, two major players in the appliance industry, are still front-runners because of outstanding leadership and the vision they share with their followers, both consumers and employees. We are still living in a world they envisioned over 100 years ago.

A leader is someone who takes charge and expresses his or her will. The American Heritage Dictionary defines will as the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action. We all have a will and we use or express that will in every waking moment. One aspect of will is action. Action can be described as doing and therefore is key to accomplishment.

A major deterrent to action is procrastination. Millions of people throughout the world are fully acquainted with the rules, principles, and philosophies of successful leadership, but many are not successful. Why? Because, to put it simply, although they have the right thoughts, they procrastinate and do not put their thoughts into action. Procrastination, therefore, is one of the greatest deterrents to achievement.

You don’t have to have followers to be a leader. The days you force yourself to go to the gym when you could be having fun with friends is a form of leadership. You’re putting your goals first. You’re prioritizing your actions by using your will to direct your life.  That’s what leaders do.

There are many styles of leadership. Steve Jobs was a prolific leader in the sense that he led the world of innovation, and we’re all the better for it. Leaders are people who take charge and can be anal about their objectives, due in large part because they’re so focused on their goals. They see beyond obstacles that impede, and instead concentrate on breaking down barriers. They often lead by example, and when a leader’s examples are rooted in excellence, followers come in droves.

You can be a leader in business even if you’re a one-man-show. When I began my refrigeration business back in the 1960s there were no companies offering after-hour or weekend service. I saw that as an opportunity. Although there were plenty of commercial service firms with extended service hours for the restaurant trade, there were no service companies to be found anywhere that catered to residential consumers; homeowners were at the mercy of the 9-5, five day work-week mindset.

As a result of this vacuum, I initiated seven day 24 hour repair service to meet the needs of the working public. I did jobs after hours and on weekends and occasionally worked on Sundays and holidays. Business took off and within a year I had tripled the volume of calls and was the leading service company in the area I served. Within 3 years I was one of the largest residential refrigeration service companies in New Jersey. That experience is rooted in an age old axiom, “Find a need and fill it”. It didn’t take long for the competition to follow suit, they copied my format and within no time the telephone directories were inundated with ads offering 24/7 service.

So what does it take to be a leader in this day and age of rapid change, and what are the qualities of leadership? Generally speaking, a leader is one who has worked his or her way through a plethora of challenges and sacrifices to accomplish a goal, to get to the top, to carve a new path, to find a niche, to make a stand, to build a better mouse trap.

In his best selling book, “Think and Grow Rich,” Dr. Napoleon Hill listed eleven qualities of leadership which I feel we should strive to put into practice daily. They are as follows:

(1) Unwavering Courage

(2) Self-Control

(3) A keen Sense of Justice

(4) Definiteness of Plans

(5) Definiteness of Decision

(6) The Habit of Doing More Than You’re Paid For

(7) A pleasing Personality

(8) Sympathy and Understanding

(9) Mastery of Detail

(10) Willingness to Assume full responsibility

(11) Co-operation

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these leadership qualities.

1: UNWAVERING COURAGE

Do you have this? Do you have guts? Are you willing to risk failure in the interest of achievement or would you rather play it safe and be a follower? You’ll never know how far you can go if you don’t take risks.

2: SELF-CONTROL

Do you control your emotions or do you let them control you and your destiny? Do you practice self-discipline? Controlling your impulses affects your behavior.

3: A KEEN SENSE OF JUSTICE

Are you sensitive when dealing with those who have done wrong or are you self-righteous? Do you lack understanding for other peoples’ problems? Do you have a sense of fair play? Justice is strength.

4: DEFINITENESS OF PLANS

Do you have definite or specific plans for your journey on the road to success? Do you have a mission statement? This is essential for the leader. How can you lead if you don’t know where you’re going?

5: DEFINITENESS OF DECISION

Are you able to make decisions and then having made them, abide by them, in spite of opposition to your view point? If you have difficulty in making decisions you should work on improving that quality. Remember, procrastination is another word for indecision.

6: THE HABIT OF DOING MORE THAN YOU’RE PAID FOR

Do you understand fully the law of cause and effect, that you reap what you sow? Are you prepared to stay with the task until completed even if it requires more than you anticipated? Are you prepared to go the extra mile?

7: A PLEASING PERSONALITY

Do you have an inviting personality, not just a temporary locked-on smile? How is your attitude? Are you happy on the inside, because it shows on the outside! Are you sincere? True sincerity is vital to success. A negative attitude will sour your personality.

8: SYMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING

Do you try to understand others’ faults and failures or are you too quick to condemn without querying the circumstances? Do you have empathy? Good leaders are good listeners.

9: MASTERY OF DETAIL

Do you pay attention to all of the small and unimportant details in any plan of action? Every minute part of a leader’s plan is important.

10: WILLINGNESS TO ASSUME FULL RESPONSIBILITY

Are you prepared to accept the responsibilities that go with authority? These can and will be enormous. Success requires responsibility.

11: CO-OPERATION

Do you make a genuine and sincere effort to get along with people on a daily bases; to communicate, to assist and be assisted? Are you inter-dependent? We all do better when we work together.

I believe that one of the best ways we can all be leaders is to practice these qualities from Dr. Hill to our fullest potential, and by giving good examples so that others will endeavor to emulate us and our success. This indeed is true leadership.

There’s one more quality I would like to add to Dr. Hill’s list to make it an even dozen.  It is Reciprocation. It may be considered a culmination of all the qualities put together. When you finally reach a station of achievement in life, when you’re in a leadership position, when you’ve climbed as far as you can go, when you’ve reached your destiny, what better way to prolong your well earned and well deserved accomplishments then to channel all that you’ve learned to those toiling up the mountain, to those who want to walk in your shoes. It’s the right thing to do.

Perseverance

A job worth doing is a job worth completing.

One of the fundamental character traits common to all the successful individuals I have met or read about believe in a higher power, a higher purpose. And they are driven by this power, this sense of purpose. These individuals have faith in their convictions and commitments. That faith has been the anchor that has allowed them to manipulate the winds of change without breaking their spirit. Their ability to bend and twist fate is demonstrated in their unusual persistence in going the extra distance during periods of challenge. They focus on the end result in the most difficult of situations. That may be why success eludes many of us.

One character trait that stands out among accomplished individuals is perseverance. Perseverance is a quality of stick-to-itiveness. Its close allies are patience, strength of purpose, stubbornness and resolve. Perseverance is a force rooted in purpose, it enables one to finish a project or assignment from start to finish. This quality, also called persistence, opens the floodgates to creative imagination.

The goal of any technician should be the attainment of a workable skill-set that fulfills his/her expectations of accomplishment. Any individual who gives up a challenge prematurely and side-steps efforts to learn and expand his skills is the real loser. The need to get to the bottom of things, to find a workable solution, stems from the quality of always being inquisitive, of being hungry for wisdom and always wanting more. It’s a feeling of not being satisfied. In certain circles it equates to being “green”, immature, not yet ripe.

Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds and author of “Grinding It Out”  was famous for saying, “When you’re green you’re growing, as soon as you’re ripe, you rot.” Kroc is a classic example of an individual who persevered and never gave up. He really didn’t hit his stride until he was 52. He kept at his vision and stayed green. The rest, as you know, is history.

It’s a long climb to the top of the mountain if that’s where you’re headed. No one ever gets there by climbing straight up. There’s always an obstacle, an intrusion or setback to deter you. Some of those diversions are engineered to test us, to test the principles we’ve learned and adhere to. To the person that perseveres, they create opportunities for growth. If you’re that type of person, consider yourself fortunate. If you’re not, you can develop this quality by adhering to some simple principles well established in the mindset of many high-achievers, some of which I will list forthwith. I need not mention the rewards of reaching the top of your game, because that experience is different for all of us.

The barometer of success, whether it’s a successful task or a successful career, cannot be assessed in one simple act, but by many acts. The measure of a technician is not by how many jobs he performs, but by how many jobs he completes, and by completion I mean from start to finish. Knowing you completed a job to the best of your ability brings a sense of fulfillment, a feeling of accomplishment, and that enhances your skill level; this is the reward of perseverance.  Leaving a job undone because you haven’t the interest or technical capability closes the door to growth and opens the door to stagnation.

In my career, I have performed over 60k service calls. That’s an average of 1200 calls per year for 50 years. One of the supporting attributes during that 50 year span was an innate desire to complete every job I started. Some of the most difficult jobs I encountered were usually the ones where I learned the most, they left an unfading impression on me, enough to last a lifetime. And that’s precisely my point. If we give up and call it quits, throw in the towel, what can we learn from that? If you want to be recognized as an accomplished technician, you have to learn to finish what you start. Accomplishment is all about overcoming obstacles, and victory is its reward.

How many times have we abandoned a job, especially a troublesome job, only to have created additional turmoil in the process. Can we find a reason not to persevere?

Listed below are a few suggestions to help create an environment to foster achievement:

1. Once you have gained a general knowledge in your field or subject, concentrate on learning one aspect of it at a time before diversifying into other areas or products. This will build your confidence and establish a strong foundation to work from.

2. Approach problems with logic and tenacity. Don’t sidestep a challenge, face it head-on. Tell yourself, I can do this. If you’re at a dead end with a problem, try relaxing and reflecting on your successes. Talk it out with your inner self.

3. If you’re stuck on a job and have exhausted all your resources, swallow your pride, seek out help from a coworker or an expert. Remember, you won’t learn anything if you abandon the job. Your priority is to complete the task, learn something new; there is always someone who knows the answer.

4. Always expect to be challenged – and welcome it. After 50 years of doing service calls I’m still stymied on occasion by new products and service procedures. Read, read, read everything you can about your field and the products you work on. Knowledge is your best friend.

If you find yourself challenged, organize all your forces around it. This means that, as far as you can, you should check all your impulses which do not support your ability to overcome the challenge. Success, as postulated by author Malcolm Gladwell, in (“Outliers”), “is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard.”

In closing, try to do more than you’re asked to do. Go the extra mile to help someone out if you can. Be a problem solver. It will make you stronger. Also, complete all your tasks with conviction, don’t allow yourself to get discouraged, persevere. Success comes incrementally, step-by-step, and each success, each step, draws you closer to the top.

Habit of Excellence

Habits are powerful factors in our lives. They can make us or break us. They can be beneficial or detrimental. Most of the time we’re not aware that we have them. And because we are continually repeating the same habits over and over again, often unconsciously, they define who we are; they express our character, for better or worse.

Psychology holds that in order to get rid of a bad habit, you replace it with a good one. That may sound easier said than done. Some habits are inherited, some acquired through frequent repetition. Some are life-threatening, some are springboards for excellence.

American inventor and politician Benjamin Franklin said, “Your net worth is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” And Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

The science of breaking a habit is predicated on three basic principles: Knowledge, Skill, and Desire, with desire being the most predominant. Knowledge represents the “what” to do and the “why.” In other words, what is the habit and why do I own it. Skill represents the “how” to do. How do I change it? And desire is the motivation factor, the “want” to change. In order to break a bad habit, you have to have all three principles, and consequently, you’ll need all three principles to develop good habits.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the negative aspects of habits, the bad ones. Do you have any that are harming your work career, your standing in the community? Maybe you check your email while driving or while in a meeting. Are you constantly late for service appointments? Are you watching too much television or perusing the Internet while you could be learning new skills.

Bad habits like these can not only jeopardize your outlook on life, they can damage it and limit the possibilities of living more productively; living a life rooted in excellence. It’s important that we learn how to deal with bad habits, so we can reconstruct them into habits that lead us to prosperity and growth.

Let’s look at what constitutes a habit and explore why certain behaviors become habits in the first place.

What is a habit? A habit is an acquired behavior or thought pattern that has been repeated so many times that it becomes an unconscious act. As you may well know, habits can be both harmful, like smoking or over-eating, or helpful, like checking the quality of your work before finishing a job or thanking each customer for choosing you over your competitors.

Habits are automatic. We engage them without thinking, which frees our brains to focus on other things. When we have good habits, like rising every morning on time or calling our customers beforehand, we create a productive atmosphere, which drives us towards accomplishment. This allows us to use our energy to focus on the things that need special attention.

However, the same automatic function can be said about bad habits.  We engage in these behaviors without much thought, and they can disrupt our personal lives and careers without us ever being aware of them.

Here are just a few generally accepted examples of negative habits:

Being late

Thinking negatively

Resisting change

Making rash decisions

Procrastinating

This is a short list just to make a point. There are more damaging habits than these that can affect our health and well-being.

Habits are subjective, a bad habit for you can be a good habit for someone else, it depends on the context. For example, over analyzing can be a good habit in jobs where safety is important, but not so helpful when it comes to decision making.

The reason why bad habits are so hard to break is due to “cognitive script”. These are the unconscious, automatic thoughts that arise when we encounter a situation. These unconscious thoughts are rooted in previous experiences. So if the situation is one that we’ve encountered before, on a repetitive bases, we engage in “ingrained behaviors” without thinking about what we’re doing. Our actions have become habitual.

Some bad habits are hard to break because we enjoy them, and when we do pleasurable things, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that activates the brain’s reward center. This encourages us to repeat these acts again, and the activity becomes a habit. Sitting in front of a television while watching a program when we should be mowing the lawn is an example.

You can break bad habits by first admitting that you have ones to begin with. This is the knowledge factor of the three principles mentioned before. You should then replace it with positive actions that erase the negative behaviors (the “skill” factor),. This requires effort and tenacity. Then you have to get into the habit of breaking your habit, that’s the “desire” factor. Research shows that breaking a habit could take some time; on average three weeks to seven months, depending on the behavior and the person. This can seem overwhelming at first, but stop to think about the last time you kicked a bad habit for good. It felt rewarding, didn’t it?

Overcoming bad habits starts with having a conscious plan. You can’t just tell yourself to stop procrastinating or oversleeping and expect to succeed. You have to have a (plan), a road map. A great way to start, as I said before, is by getting into a habit-breaking mode. Start first with an easy habit that you’re confident you can change, and then, after building up some confidence, move on to the more difficult ones. Each little bad habit that you break builds confidence in tackling the more difficult ones.

Once you come up with a plan, keep track of your progress as a reminder of what you want to achieve. Studies have shown that constant self-vigilance is necessary to break a bad habit. This means being cognizant of slip-ups and reminding yourself of why you want to break the habit in the first place.

Some people find it more effective to quit a negative behavior “cold turkey”, while others have more success easing-off slowly. That’s why it’s important to choose the right approach. You can try placing obstacles to impede yourself from carrying out negative behaviors says Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor, author of the “The Happiness Advantage.” Let’s say you have a habit of stopping at a certain coffee shop every morning where you engage in heated conversations about the latest sports event and wind up being late for your first appointment. One possible way to avoid this is by changing your route, or getting a coffee to go.

When you do break a bad habit, reward yourself. By engaging in positive behavior, you’ll get that all important surge of dopamine. Over time, your brain will associate this new behavior with a positive experience, and the dopamine will start to flow. How you reward yourself is up to you, but make sure it’s something you truly enjoy. Rewards will be the most beneficial when you give yourself a reward instantly at the time you demonstrate the good behavior. Once you establish the new pattern of positive behavior, you won’t need to reward yourself so often.

You are more likely to achieve worthwhile goals in life when you have good habits. Begin with identifying what you want to achieve. Write down your personal and professional goals. It’s important that you’re clear about what they are. Choose one goal and think about the habits that you’ll need to incorporate into your schedule to reach it. What do you need to start doing every day to make this vision a reality?

  1. Find ways to build your new habit into your routine. Block out a regular time for it in your schedule, so you can give your positive habit your full attention. When you decide to establish new habits in your life, focus on one at a time. Each victory strengthens your resolve. If you try too much too fast, you’ll likely get overwhelmed and quickly revert to old behaviors.
  2. Reflect on your habit. As you progress with your new habit, reflect on how it’s working for you. If you’re struggling to stick to it, think about why this is. Were you too ambitious? If so, consider setting a more manageable short-term goal to build confidence. Or, if your new habit isn’t delivering the change you expected, reflect on what’s gone wrong. You may need to tweak your habit to make sure that it’s delivering real change.
  3. Develop self-discipline. One way to do this is by creating a visual representation of what you want to achieve. Paste a photo of it on your dresser mirror. Visualization is a very powerful tool, it can be extremely useful in your effort to change a habit. This will act as a reminder of why your new positive habit is so important to you. This can be just what you need to get motivated on days when your enthusiasm is waning.
  4. Get support. It can be difficult to stick to a new habit when you’re on your own. So share your goals with co-workers, family and friends and ask them for support by reminding you if you slip back into your old ways.
  5. Get the Stickk App. The Stickk App was designed by Yale economists to support people trying to develop new habits. It allows you to log a goal, and to appoint a mentor to monitor your progress. A quick search online will reveal similar tools.

Let’s review what we’ve just said: A habit is an established custom, a behavior or thought pattern that is repeated so often that it becomes automatic.

Some habits are positive and can help us achieve success in our lives and careers. Bad habits inhibit growth and success and sometimes create unfavorable conditions that effect not only our professional life, but our way of life.

Again, to break a bad habit, commit to replacing it with a positive behavior. This requires a plan to develop self-discipline and self-awareness so you can stay on track.

Choose the right approach, this requires contemplation. Contemplation is a form of meditation. The more you put into it, the more chance you’ll have in conquering it. And don’t forget to reward yourself and involve others in your quest.

Finally, habits are powerful forces. Forces can be directed. A good approach to ensure that these changes become part of your life is to incorporate them into your everyday routine and never lose sight of the end goal, which of course is Excellence.

Troubleshooting Strategy

The path of a technician’s journey is often fraught with obstacles and anomalies, which can oftentimes lead to frustration, loss of consumer confidence, loss of revenue.  Developing an appropriate mindset of how to analyze problems and find solutions is an asset worth investing in.

 

Every problem has a solution and finding solutions to problems is the trademark of a troubleshooter. Usually troubleshooting is applied to something that has suddenly stopped working, so the initial focus is often on recent changes in the system or to the environment in which it exists. It requires identification of a malfunction or symptom within a system and a method of validation to reassure that the system has been restored to normal. It is the logical systematic approach to finding the source of a problem. Good troubleshooting skills are mandatory for survival in any technical field, not just appliance repair. Finding solutions to these complex problems is the quest of every serious minded technician.

Troubleshooting is an art form and like all forms of art, requires unflagging commitment for improvement. And just like an artist who flicks his brush, or who strums a note, you need a technique, a method, for increasing your troubleshooting abilities, whether that method means classroom training, hands-on training, or any other conditioning. As an employer, one of the most sought-after qualities I look for in a technician is the ability to troubleshoot.

In the appliance repair field troubleshooting is not restricted to mechanical operations, but also to the logical processes of complex electronic components. Skills are needed to develop and maintain these complex electrical and mechanical systems, systems that can have an array of malfunctions; systems which are sure to get more complicated as the industry evolves.

I’ve had a long career in the appliance service business. I’ve met and employed a fair amount of technicians through the years, and I’m reluctant to say I’ve not met many good troubleshooters, most use a hit or miss strategy. Some go so far as to condemn an appliance because they lacked sufficient troubleshooting skills. This is not only the easy way out, it’s dishonest.

Here’s an example of insufficient troubleshooting skills and how it can become costly: On a service call this past week, I responded to a request from a customer to purchase a preowned refrigerator I had posted for sale on my website. I stopped at her apartment in New York City to survey the delivery options, measure the service elevator, etc. I looked at her twenty something built-in refrigerator, which was in excellent condition, and asked her why she wanted to replace it. First, she told me she loved her refrigerator, and then she said the technician from the authorized factory service said that it couldn’t be fixed. Strange I thought, so I asked her if she had a copy of the invoice the technician left behind describing his prognosis. She did and sure enough it said “needs new fridge”. After inspecting her refrigerator, I told her I could fix it for a lot less than purchasing another one. Needless to say, she was elated that she found me. This is a classic example of a technician with insufficient troubleshooting skills. It cost his company a customer.

Good troubleshooters have an analytical mind. They are focused and can concentrate with penetrating force. Many well known investigators have this fundamental trait. The fictional character Sherlock Holmes comes to mind. However, you don’t have to be a Sherlock to be good at troubleshooting. If you can analyze a problem and make an accurate diagnosis, you can be a good troubleshooter. You can develop good troubleshooting skills by focusing on your attitude in the same way you focus on developing skills in sports; you listen to someone who knows more than you, you watch, you learn, you practice.

As an example, early in my career when I started my first business, I often sat around waiting for the phone to ring. To bide my time, I would disassemble and reassemble motors, practice soldering aluminum, and a host of other things. On one occasion I bought a tool that allowed me to check the cut-in and cut-out temperatures of a refrigerator thermostat. This was back in the 70s before electronic instruments were available. It was an aluminum tube, about the size of a fat cigar, and had a 1/4” flare port on the side for a charging hose and a reservoir for holding the thermostat feeler bulb and the stem of my thermometer.

The particular thermostat control I was checking had a cut-out temperature of -4 degrees F. When I placed the feeler bulb of the thermostat into the aluminum tube with the stem of my thermometer and opened the valve on my inverted freon tank, I watched the temperature drop on my thermometer and when it reached -4 degrees F the bellows of the thermostat control contracted and opened the electrical circuit. In a normal situation, this would turn the compressor off. Watching the bellows contract was a revelation to me because it enabled me to see the action of how a thermostat worked. That was a boon for developing my troubleshooting skills and subsequently the way I approached my understanding of how things worked.

Knowledge is the ammunition a troubleshooter uses to breakdown the most complex problems. The majority of the time you use your experience to troubleshoot, but when you come across an anomaly, you have to put your thinking cap on.

Knowledge, from a technician’s perspective, is understanding the product you’re working on as well as the principles of electricity and physics. It is without question that you understand how temperature and pressure are related if you’re working on refrigeration systems, and absolutely essential to be able to read schematic diagrams to pinpoint electrical anomalies. Would you go on a road trip without a map?

If you want to be a crackerjack troubleshooter, you have to have the tenacity and passion of a lion. Have you ever watched a lion mark its prey, have you noticed the intense concentration and focus in its eyes, totally fixated on its course of action; its next meal. You cannot be a good troubleshooter without keen perception, without the ability to concentrate on what your doing. Focus and concentration are the attributes of mastery, attributes worth developing if you plan to excel at troubleshooting. Some of the best troubleshooters I’ve ever met or hired were always able to analyze a problem and find the solution to the most perplexing problems. This is what is means to troubleshoot.

Who do you turn to in your organization when you’re stuck and can’t find a solution? Usually it’s the boss or the service manager, or someone with more experience than you. The easy way to solve a problem is to ask them. A better way, and one with more rewards, is to solve it yourself. But it takes effort and practice.

Here’s a typical example of how I troubleshoot a problem: A customer calls and complains that her ice maker isn’t working. After asking some preliminary questions such as, did anyone work on the plumbing system, is the water turned on, is the freezer maintaining a sufficient temperature? These questions are primers in eliminating some possible causes and will make it easier to troubleshoot the problem when I get there. While on route to the job, I think about the possible remedies. The first thing I do is a visual check. Is there an ice cube stuck in the mold? Is the ice maker getting power? Is there a disruption in the water supply? If nothing is obvious, I’ll check the temperature in the freezer, since ice makers work off temperature. Soft ice cream is a good indicator that the freezer is not cold enough to initiate a harvest cycle.

These techniques are part and partial to my routine troubleshooting method developed over many years of experience. You may have your own style of solving problems. What’s important is that you have a method, a technique. Determining the most likely cause of a problem is simply a process of elimination. Use your senses and begin at the most obvious place according to the malfunction. Look with your eyes, smell with your nose, touch with your hands.

Let’s recap some of the most common attributes you need to be a good troubleshooter. Focus and concentration are key. Fixity of purpose is another. Keeping up with new technologies is paramount. Determination is like rocket fuel. If you possess any of these qualities, you can be a crackerjack troubleshooter in your chosen field of interest.

In closing let me say that one of the most sought-after qualities employers look for in a technician is the ability to troubleshoot. If you’re self-employed, what better way is there to build your company reputation then by being proficient, by being honest, by being a good troubleshooter.

Get a Hardcopy

Aaron Beth

Do you ever wonder what would happen to your business (or your life for that matter) if all of a sudden the internet and all its records were wiped out by some mysterious force or virus? Do you remember the fear surrounding the Y2K phenomenon at the dawn of the new millennium, how everyone was preparing for an apocalyptic outcome?  I remember it well. And I also remember the widespread panic that ensued until it was finally over.  It’s scary to think about what could happen if such an event ever manifested. And while it’s highly implausible, it’s certainly not impossible.

“The best way to prevent a calamity is to prepare for it.” Those were the immortal words of my late grandfather, who spoke very little, but when he did, it was profound wisdom. Think about it. What’s the best way to protect yourself from the fallout of a digital breakdown?  I can only come up with one viable answer: make a hard-copy of every document crucial to your financial welfare and store them where they will never be compromised. I’m constantly reflecting on ways to protect myself from unexpected mishaps from banks, credit-card companies, cloud-based storage systems, and yes, even terrorist organizations. And you should too.

Let’s face it. We are living in a digital age. And we’re constantly being bombarded by requests from our banks and financial institutions to go paperless because it saves on the cost of producing and mailing statements. That may be true and beneficial to them, but it’s risky for you, especially if you don’t discipline yourself and follow up with a hardcopy.

Be careful about falling into the trap of complacency by relying or depending on someone else to look after you and your money. I say no way. No way am I going to put my trust into a system that has proven to be corrupt and that has basically wiped out a good portion of our wealth seemingly overnight (as in 2008) by unscrupulous bankers and greedy businessmen who gamble with our life savings and retirement assets. I harken back to the days when my astute grandfather laid down some simple attributes of good business that have instilled common sense in all my decisions. I don’t mean to sound so dire, and I’m not saying we should hunker down, bolt the latches and prepare for Armageddon. What I am trying to get across to you is to just be aware. Be aware of the possibility that something could go wrong.  Electronic fraud, deceptions, and mishaps are running rampant on the web and are showing no signs of slowing  down or stabilizing.

As an example of how things can sometimes go wrong unexpectedly and without any fraud in the equation: I used to keep all my financial information in a program called Quicken. Quicken is a software program that tracks and records all your financial information, such as bank deposits, check numbers, dates of transactions, etc. I’ve used this accounting software for many years dating back to the early 90s. In a surprise moment when I needed to access my records for tax purposes, I did not know that my new and updated computer operated with a processor that made my old files unreadable.  I was in a quandary.  But fortunately, because I heeded the advice from my guru grandfather, I had made  hardcopies of all my files. You too can, and should, protect yourself and your assets by making copies of all your important documents.

Here is a partial list of ways to protect yourself:

Make hardcopies of all your bank statements received via electronic format, including personal and business every month.

Don’t rely on electronic documents.  Make copies of all your invoices paid out to your suppliers and employees as well as all your tax receipts.

Keep a hardcopy of all your account numbers, serial and license numbers, and contact numbers for the institutions you do business with. The IRS will not feel sorry for you if you are ever audited and you cannot prove your numbers.

In the event of a mishap, like a flood or fire or some other catastrophe, take pictures of the damaged files or any electronic equipment, such as a hard-drive, storing such files. Take notes, mark dates, and get police and fire reports if possible.

In the aftermath of hurricane Floyd in September of 1999, all my financial documents, which were stored in the basement of my office building, were destroyed beyond recognition.  Everything was lost. At the advice of  my accountant, I took pictures of the damaged files and backed it up with a police report. In addition to making hard-copies of your documents, be sure you have a fireproof storage cabinet, and store your files in a location far above the water line.

If you prefer electronic (paperless) storage, there are several apps available that offer added protection and security by storing your files in a cloud-based storage system. Just type CLOUD STORAGE in your search engine. Cloud storage services may be accessed through a web service application programing interface (API) or by applications that utilize the API, such as cloud desktop storage (Dropbox.com), a cloud storage gateway or web-based content management systems (Redhat.com).

On a negative note, by sharing storage and networks over the internet, it is possible for other’s to access your data because of erroneous actions, faulty equipment, a bug and sometimes because of criminal intent. This risk applies to all types of file storage and not just cloud storage.

In closing, I will say this: I prefer to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that if such an event ever happened, I’m in control. Remember, it’s your business, and only you can protect it.

Sealed System Repairs (part 2)

In the first part of this series (part 1), I talked about the basic equipment needed to perform sealed system repairs. Now that we have an idea on what we need, in terms of tools, let’s talk about the most important aspect of the work; safety.

If you’re not experienced using a torch or some other form of brazing or soldering equipment, it would be advisable to take a course at a local trade school and practice swagging and joining tubing before attempting to make repairs in a customer’s home. Skills have to be acquired through repetition. Applying just the right amount of heat from your torch to a joint will determine the flow of the solder and the integrity of the connection.  You should also make sure you are properly compliant with the EPA. Your local supplier can usually provide information on where to get certified and under no circumstances should you ever vent freon into the open air. It is illegal to do so. Aside from being destructive to the environment, there are heavy fines from the EPA if you’re caught. Penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation can be levied and prison terms can be given to anyone who knowingly vents CFC-12 or HCFCs into the atmosphere. Regulations also require that these hydrocarbons be recycled. However, it is not illegal to use recycled, or remanufactured stocks of these chemicals.

Let’s get started. First and foremost, carry a small fire extinguisher in your tool box. The best way to prevent a catastrophe is to prepare for it.  I use a 16oz. Kidde bottle purchased from a home improvement center as it is small enough to fit in most tool bags or tool boxes. Remember, you’re working with fire, and refrigerant oil is flammable. In addition, be absolutely sure that any sealed-system you’re working on has been de-pressurized and evacuated of all traces of residual refrigerant. Just a warning, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Dichlorodifluoromethane decomposes into phosgene gas–a highly toxic and deadly nerve agent–at temperatures above 1000º F.

Let’s go through the process of replacing a compressor.

The first step in sealed-system repair would be to determine the correct diagnosis. Make no haste in this procedure; exhaust yourself in the diagnostic process. You don’t want to open a system if it’s not necessary; sealing everything back up is a tedious process. When you’re sure your diagnosis is correct proceed with the following:

  1. Shut the system off by removing the plug from the wall outlet or flipping the circuit breaker switch to off; check with a voltage meter if you’re not sure.
  2. If not equipped, install an access valve on the suction line, low pressure side of the system such as a bullet piercing valve.
  3. Connect your manifold, gauge and refrigerant hoses between the access port on the compressor and the inlet port on your recovery machine. Connect the discharge port from the recovery machine to a recovery tank or a charging column. You can re-use the recovered refrigerant as long as it is not contaminated. Charging columns allow you to visually see the condition of the refrigerant. If it’s discolored or if you’re replacing a compressor due to a burnout, you’ll need to filter the refrigerant by running it through a clean-up filter-drier before recharging the system to remove any acid or sediment.
  4. When the sealed-system is completely evacuated, close off the ports on your recovery machine and the recovery tank.
  5. Remove the filter-drier by cutting it out of the system. It is highly recommended that you replace the drier whenever replacing any component or opening up any sealed system.
  6. Disconnect all electrical wiring from the compressor and make a mental note of where everything goes, write it down if necessary or take a picture with your smartphone. Un-sweat all the connecting tubing or cut it with a tubing cutter. Remove the old compressor and seal all open lines by soldering them shut to prevent leakage.
  7. Remove the new compressor from the box and the protective plugs from the suction, process, and discharge ports and clean thoroughly with wire brushes and sand cloth. If the refrigerant lines on the compressor are not the same size as the existing tubing, you can use reducer couplings or swag out the line with a swag tool. Do not use a reducer if doing so would restrict the flow of refrigerant. When all the lines are fitted, coat them with the proper flux and solder the joints. Install a new drier equipped with an access port. I use Harris Safety-Silv 56, 1/16” diameter for all my soldering. It has a melting point of 1200ºF. CAUTION: Keep your eye on the torch at all times and be cognizant of how much heat it produces because it can burn and melt the majority of the plastics used on refrigerators today. When you’re finished soldering shut the torch off and place it down on a fireproof surface, not the customer’s floor. I carry a few pieces of 8”x8” aluminum plate in my tool box as a protective heat shield.
  8. Re-attach all the electrical wiring and compressor mounting bolts. Pressurize the system with an air compressor or nitrogen to at least 125psi, check for leaks. Use soap bubbles as a visual check. When you’re sure there are no leaks, open the access valve on the drier and allow all the air to escape. Reconnect the power, turn on the compressor and do a sweep-charge. A sweep-charge is a term coined by the Whirlpool Corporation and uses the compressor to evacuate all remaining air and moisture. Close the access port on the drier when the system is empty.
  9. While the compressor is running, weigh the proper amount of refrigerant into the charging column and charge the system through the low-side, suction side of the system with vapor. Do not charge the system with liquid or you will smash the reed valves and ruin the new compressor. If necessary, you can heat the charging column with a hair dryer to raise the pressure and facilitate the transfer of the freon. When the charging column is empty, close all the valves and allow the pressure to stabilize. If you weighed in the proper amount gas and have no leaks you should be okay. If your gauge is in a deep vacuum you probably have a restriction and you’ll need to check all you joints to make sure they’re not soldered shut.

That’s it in a nutshell. Each job will be different and you can use the same techniques to replace an evaporator and an heat exchanger, or if you find a leak in a sealed-system, such as a leaky evaporator or corroded tubing, you can usually repair it with solder.  Soldering aluminum is tricky but it can be done. I’ve repaired many punctured aluminum evaporators with a soldering technique I learned at a trade show from the Harris company using silver bearing solder and a special flux they manufacture. Check with your local supplier for special products manufactured by the Harris company for soldering aluminum. As mentioned above, be sure to practice until you acquire the skill.

There’s a lot more to sealed-system repairs than outlined here, but we’ve covered the basics. The secret to becoming a pro is to take your time and apply patience. Don’t rush through your jobs and be careful and aware of the customer’s property. Try to learn something new on each job and don’t throw down a challenge as these are the jobs you learn the most from. In time, you’ll become an expert, and experts demand higher salaries.

Sealed System Repairs (part 1)

Sealed system repairs have become increasing sophisticated since the days when I first picked up a pair of gauges. When I attended refrigeration school back in the early 70s we had no recovery machines, no charging cylinders. Charging a refrigeration system with a bathroom scale was considered high tech. Back then you could vent refrigerant into the corporal air without guilt, and because refrigerant was so inexpensive, we used it to blow out drains and condenser coils. Times have changed, but the skills necessary to make proper repairs haven’t. What’s changed are the rules and the equipment.

In this two part series, I will first cover the basic equipment recommended for servicing sealed systems and in part 2 we will address the technique and procedures.

The common types of failures that would make it necessary for you to enter into the sealed refrigerant system are:

Undercharge/overcharge of refrigerant

Restriction in the flow of refrigerant

Failed compressor

You should be familiar with the correct diagnostic procedures that will pinpoint one of these problems. Always remember that there are many factors that can baffle your diagnosis of system failure. Some include:

Customer usage problems

Electrical and mechanical problems

Environmental problems.

KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL SEALED SYSTEM REPAIRS

Make a proper diagnosis of the problem

Use correct equipment that is properly maintained in the approved manner

Observe all safety precautions

Follow recommended procedures during the repair.

CORRECT EQUIPMENT

It is not only important that you have the correct equipment, but also that your equipment is in good working condition. Much of your sealed system tools will require periodic upkeep and maintenance.

RECOVERY MACHINE

The fastest and most thorough way to evacuate a sealed system is with a refrigerant recovery machine. The EPA has strict rules for removing and handling refrigerant. Help protect our environment. Do not release freon into the atmosphere. These machines are designed to draw out the refrigerant vapor and transfer it to a holding tank, and if the refrigerant is not contaminated, you can reuse it. Recovery machines come in many sizes, but for household refrigerators a compact unit will suffice. You cannot perform any sealed system repairs without first removing the refrigerant.

RECOVERY TANK

You’ll also need a recovery tank to store the recovered refrigerant. Recovery tanks come in various sizes. For household refrigerators you can get by with a small 2lb tank if you can find one. GE manufactured a small refrigerant tank that came with their refrigerant recovery machines years ago, but I haven’t been able to find one on the open market since, you may have to settle for a 30 lb tank. I still use the 2 lb tanks manufactured by GE because they take up less space and I can carry them in my tool bag. If you’re sure your sealed system isn’t contaminated, you can use your charging cylinder to hold the contents until it’s time for a recharge.

CHARGING CYLINDERS

Domestic refrigerators are critically charged. That means they require an exact amount of refrigerant. Many years ago, before charging cylinders were available I used a bathroom scale, but it was a tedious process and took more time. Other methods, such as the frost-back method sufficed, but it could take hours before the system balanced out. Back then, if needed, you could vent an over-charged system into the corporal air. Times have changed, and they changed for the better because there’s no need to wait around anymore for pressures and temperatures to balance out. Now, we weigh the correct amount of refrigerant into the cylinder, transfer it into the system and presto, you’re done. No need to wait wondering if the unit is properly charged. Today’s charging cylinders are accurate to the oz. and are compact enough to fit in a tool case. I use a 16 oz. charging cylinder available from Thermal Engineering. What I like about this particular cylinder is the ability to rebuild it;  a kit is obtainable from the manufacture to replace the seals and quartz-glass.

VACUUM PUMP

Vacuum pumps are standard equipment for any seriously minded technician. They’re rated in CFM’s (cubic feet minute) and are available in single-stage, two-stage, and for commercial and industrial applications, three-stage. I use a two-stage rotary pump capable of reducing pressure on average of 50 to 250 microns which, in most cases, will boil-off any moisture at room temperature. I also carry extra vacuum pump oil in my service vehicle and replace it after each use to prevent contamination. For a thorough understanding of how vacuum pumps work see Modern Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, GW Publishers.

LEAK DETECTORS

If you are old fashioned like me then you’ll prefer using a jar of bubbles to find a leak or a halide leak detector which attaches to a propane  or MC tank. Halide leak detectors are quite accurate and are not expensive and are still available from local suppliers. With that being said, modern technology has trumped again and now electronic leak detectors are out in the forefront. They are more accurate, readily available, compact and affordable and no sealed system technician can do without one simply because they save enormous amounts of time. There are several manufactures today with brand names you’ll recognize available from most supply houses specializing in refrigeration and electronic instruments.

ACCESS VALVES

Access valves, sometimes called line-tap valves, saddle valves, and piercing valves allow access into a sealed system in just a few minutes.  In the 50s and 60s, GE and Frigidaire had special access ports attached to their compressors that required special tools. Up until the early 90s, Sub-Zero refrigerators came supplied with process ports,  which allowed easy access. The GE and Sub-Zero ports were on the low-pressure side of the system while the Frigidaire’s were mounted on the high-side dome. They were helpful and saved the cost of installing a piercing valve. Today one of the most popular access valves on the market is manufactured by the Sealed Unit Parts Company (SUPCO). Their patented Bullet Piercing Valve comes in a variety of sizes including the most popular BP31, which is the most widely used in the domestic refrigeration field. They fit 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″ tubing and are designed for permanent installation on the low-pressure side of the system.

MC TANK

For sweating and brazing you’ll need an acetylene tank. For space saving the MC tank is most suitable because it can fit into a tool box. When you’re pressed for space in a small vehicle like mine, it’s ideal. However, a B tank will suffice if you don’t mind the extra weight. Both B and MC tanks are refillable from local suppliers.

TORCH AND ACCESSORIES

For most sealed system repairs you’ll need several pieces of equipment including a torch, striker, cleaning brushes, swag and flaring tools and a ball-peen hammer. My torch of choice is the torbo-torch from Cyberweld which creates a hotter flame by using the oxygen in the air to mix with the flowing acetylene to produce enough heat to braze copper to steel. There are a variety of tips available to accommodate almost every size. For domestic refrigeration equipment I use a number 5 tip and a smaller number 3 tip for tubing smaller than 1/4″ , however, some manufactures have different heat ratings, so you may need to experiment. Ask your local supplier or someone in the trade. You’ll most likely get a variety of answers, but remember to limit the size of the flame as much as possible to avoid safety issues. A flame guard is also an additional piece of protection.

PINCH-OFF TOOL

A pinch-off tool can be a helpful device for sealing-off the sealed system after  a recharge. When it is necessary to tap into a system, if you have to remove the line-tap valve for any reason, you use the pinch-off tool to close off the process port. We’ll talk more on this in part 2. There are several types and styles of pinch-off tools to choose from. I personally prefer a tool with a ball end and a Tork handle.

SWAGING TOOLS

A swaging tool makes joining tubing together quickly and less costly. You use them in conjunction with a flare-block. Each piece is machined to provide a snug fit from the male into the female end. In the long run, you’ll save on sweat-couplings and joints; less joints means less chances of a refrigerant leak in the future. I prefer individual sizes and use 1/8”, 1/4”, 5/16” and 3/8″. I’ll cover more on this topic in part 2, when we discuss procedures and safety.

TUBING CUTTER

I only carry a 2″ mini cutter because I very seldom work on units with larger than 3/8″ tubing. There are many brands to choose from, but carry an extra blade and occasionally tighten the set screw holding the cutter wheel in place. I’ve lost many cutter blades in my career.

BRAZING RODS/SILVER SOLDER/FLUX

Here is where preference becomes an issue. I like using silver solder with a 56% silver content. Sometimes, that’s not always available, so I settle for 45%. I like the flow better than brazing rods. However, some of my top technicians use the rods and claim superiority and reliability, with very few bounced jobs. It’s all in the technique. Like I said above, it’s a matter of preference. Be sure you use the appropriate flux for each type of solder. You’re supply house can recommend a matching brand.

WIRE BRUSHES

Wire brushes, and sand cloth are essential in preparing any soldering task for leak-proof joints. There are also liquid chemicals that you brush on, liquid sandpaper as it is sometimes called, that eliminates the need to sand at all. I prefer sand cloth. I carry 1/4” and 3/8” brushes. A worn-down 3/8” brush can be used for 5/16” tubing.

COPPER TUBING/COUPLINGS

If you’re going to be doing sealed system repairs you’ll need different sizes of copper tubing. The most popular sizes are the same sizes as your swag tools; 1/8”, 1/4”, 5/16”, and 3/8’. Copper tubing is not only measured in diameter (OD), but also wall thickness, usually .030, .032 for refrigeration systems in the HVAC industries. Don’t forget sweat couplings just in case you can’t swag. Copper tubing designed for ice makers and water supply lines are not recommended for refrigeration work.

FLARING TOOLS

I very rarely use flare nuts in my day-to-day service business because sweating and brazing are not only better, they’re quicker and less likely to leak. The constant expanding and contracting of refrigeration lines, because of temperature fluctuations, can work the joints loose over time and create an unnecessary callback. With that being said, I do carry some an assortment of different sizes in my tool box.

There are other helpful accessories you might consider carrying in your magic tool box, some of which are: extra flints for you striker, open-end wrenches for securing your pressure regulator-tip attachment, a jewelers saw and file, tubing benders and extra schrader valves.

In this first part series of sealed system repairs, we’ve covered the basics as far as tools and equipment is concerned. In the next segment, part 2, we’ll discuss the techniques and safety procedures to help you become a sealed system pro.

Phone Technology

REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR COMPANY PHONE

by Aaron Beth

There are two aspects of telecommunications that require a thorough understanding if you expect to outlast your competitors: phone technology and phone technique. While the devices you use, whether you answer your phones directly or by answering machine, are technology, how you answer, your voice and method of speaking are technique.

Let’s talk about phone technology first. In today’s current business environment, technology is outpacing itself exponentially. No sooner is a new model available then another, upgraded and offering more widgets, is waiting in the wings. Smartphones are getting smarter. Aside from connecting you to the internet and navigation, they provide access to cloud computing, databases and storage. My entire customer database, (over 20,000 records) is in the palm of my hand. If on a job you’re stuck and need troubleshooting advice, bingo! You connect to YouTube and watch a training video or check schematics on a company server. The technology is waiting for you to embrace it. There’s no getting past it. It can work to your advantage starting right now.

But in addition to the benefits of high-speed processors and time-saving features of today’s phones, great strides are being made in phone answering, such as special voicemail. I’m not talking about voicemail provided by your local carrier, but about independent companies whose only service is to answer and divert your calls. They can be found by a simple internet search, and they provide a plethora of options, not merely call-forwarding, call-transfer and caller ID, but a host of other features as well, such as 24/7 live support, and access from any location, geared to making your life easier and more productive. And all for a nominal fee.

There’s no live person answering your phone. Your greetings and instructions, stored in a database, are activated automatically.  Messages are digitized and sent to your cellphone via SMS or email. Your greetings are recorded in your own voice or can be provided by the variety of voice-over talent available for customized messages. Phone technology today allows me to divert incoming calls to my cellphone while the caller is listening to my greeting. Here’s how it works for me:  when a call comes in over my business line, the caller hears a greeting identifying my company and listing the services I offer. Options include different departments, such as “Press 1 for the Service Department” or “Press 2 for the Parts Department.”  When the caller presses 1 for the service department, the voicemail system calls my cellphone.  The caller hears, “Please hold while we connect you to the service department.” I can then talk with the caller. If someone calls looking for parts, a separate message directs them to the parts department, which in turn announces the number of my local parts supplier.

Contrary to what small service businesses have long believed, having several telephone numbers to give an illusion of being large or local, is no longer necessary. You need only one landline. As for me, I have one toll-free and one local number, both landlines, and two cellphones, that’s all. The reason I carry the second cellphone, I will explain later.  Basically, I’m answering the call live, but the caller doesn’t know I’m in my car, or out in the field on a job, or in my office. If I happen to be in an area with poor reception, my voicemail system will either call me on the second cellphone used for backup, or it will divert the call to someone I designate in real time, someone who is always by a phone. Oftentimes, I’ll get by with one phone, but the second cellphone from a different carrier is worth its weight in gold. The important point is to make sure your phone is always answered. The gain of one job a week could be enough to pay your phone bill, if not your rent.

As an example, in the 1980’s my service business required four receptionists and six technicians to get the job done. I had more than a dozen phone numbers which were monitored 24/7. After hours and during holidays an answering service resumed the pace. That was a lot of manpower at considerable cost.

Today, however, I use no answering service, I have no receptionists and no employees. I answer the calls myself. This state-of-the-art voicemail technology allows me to monitor every call on the fly, in real time.  And while it’s true I handle more responsibility, it keeps my operating costs down which allows me to undercut my competition so I can charge less and make more profit.

Your telephone technique is where you secure the confidence of the caller. Every time you answer a business telephone, your voice and manner of speaking are, in the truest sense, representing who you are.  So it’s important, if not absolutely crucial, that you give the very best impression to all those who call. By speaking with clear pronunciation, correct grammar, and a pleasant voice, you will build an image of prestige in the public’s mind.  First impressions are priceless and can increase business or drive it away.

Whether you answer your phone directly or use a voicemail system,  the importance of speaking etiquette cannot be over-emphasized. Your greeting, your ability to project a friendly and concerned voice, makes all the difference to the caller. The tone and style of your responses can instill a sense of integrity in the mind of the caller or sound harsh, driving the caller away. The phrases you use should be warm and friendly. Customers want to know you’re interested in their problem. They want to know your experience.  Don’t think for a moment that callers can’t evaluate the conversation. Be honest and project a voice of confidence.

Telephone technique has simple rules that are easy to learn and must be adhered to if you expect to prosper.  Here is a list of a few.

Let’s start with your greeting. Introducing your company and the services you offer are of primary concern. Most companies agree that it is more efficient to say “Hello” and the name of your company or department, followed by “How may I help you?” Be welcoming. Let callers know you want to hear their problem. Give them good advice if they ask for it.

Listen to the Customer. Find out what the problem is by asking basic questions. For example, “How old is your appliance? What is or isn’t working? Would you like to schedule an appointment?” Keep the conversation flowing with your concern for their problem.  Here is a list of basic principles.

1. Avoid Interruptions and Side Remarks. It is discourteous to expect one person to wait while you chat with another. Concentrate on the telephone conversation.

2. Explain Delays. If a caller must be kept waiting while you call someone else or answer another line, let them know there will be a delay. Don’t leave them waiting, their time is valuable, too.

3. Make Notes and Use Them. Keep a phone log book and a pen handy at all times. Don’t delay your customers with, “Just a minute, I can’t find a pen.”

It’s fairly easy to keep a pleasant voice when the caller on the other end of the line is courteous, but the handling of an irate or dissatisfied customer can be difficult. If you are confronted with a complaint, I recommend a few ground rules for retaining the customer’s goodwill:

Don’t take the complaint as a personal offense. Keep the tone of your voice sympathetic and reassuring. Make the customer aware of your concern by your manner of speaking and the words you use. Let him or her explain the whole story. Avoid interrupting. Be diplomatic. Retain your composure. An attitude of resentment will only make matters worse. But a relaxed and courteous tone will induce your customer to adopt an agreeable manner.

Your voice is the icing on your cake. The first few words said over the phone can register an attractive personality and add status to your company. Remember to greet every customer cordially. Show that you are pleased to receive the call and want to be of service.

To summarize, here’s the List of Do’s:

*Be prompt in answering the phone.

*Identify both yourself and your company

*Use correct grammar and clear speech

*Sound cheerful and alert

*Show enthusiasm through the tone of your voice

*Observe basic telephone courtesies

*Be prepared to answer questions about your services and charges

*Take accurate messages

*Book appointments for service efficiently

*Answer complaints tactfully

*Overcome price objections

*Write down all necessary information

Here is a List of Don’ts:

*Speak too loudly or too softly

*Ask blunt questions, such as, “Who’s calling?”

*Make side remarks

* Eat while on the phone

*Allow interruptions

*Keep the other person waiting without an explanation

*Bang the receiver

*Become irritated

*Argue

*Refuse to give service

*Use slang

*Sound disinterested.

In addition to answering the phone promptly and giving proper identification, there are other rules of good telephone usage. These include:

Display an interested, helpful attitude.

Supply requested information with efficiency.

Say, “I am sorry to keep you waiting,” or “May I ask what this is in reference to?,” or “I’ll check the schedule and call you back.”

It’s amazing how many people do not realize that it is courteous to let the other person know the conversation is finished by saying, “Thank you for calling. Goodbye,” before hanging up.

The job of answering the phone will be made easier if you have the proper equipment with which to work. This means that your phone should be in a convenient location where you can hear it and respond within a few rings. In addition, you should have the following:

A phone call log book

Often used information, such as: daily schedule of calls, invoice records, etc.

Pen or pencil

Frequently called telephone numbers, such as parts suppliers.

A database of all your customer records for easy retrieval.

In conclusion, be prepared for more changes in cellphone technology. Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR) is on the horizon. Access to data will become second nature. No longer will you want for information because it will be at your fingertips. You will have access to customer data and each appliance history in a wink of an eye. It will bring down cost and eliminate waste. It’s exciting just thinking about it, and soon it will be knocking on your door.