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Thread: Tools

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
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    I was wondering if there were any tools for installing controls that a person should not or cannot live without, besides the basic hand tools?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Alpharetta, GA
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    If someone else runs your cable, and you're terminating devices or even just doing checkout, you'll need a toner like the telephone guys use. 'Cause The little Post It notes or bubblegum wrappers or whatever they mark your cables with will fall off! Also, if you install a lot of Belimo actuators, invest in a 10MM wrench and maybe even a deep 10MM socket so the nuts don't strip. I used to work with a guy that used a set of lineman's pliers for this task. He actually used those pliers for everything, I'm suprised he didn't eat his lunch with them!

    But the most important tool is the best dang "technician friendly" multimeter you can afford.

    Good Luck!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
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    Originally posted by techguy35
    I was wondering if there were any tools for installing controls that a person should not or cannot live without, besides the basic hand tools?
    I'd suppose it depends. After all, when you mention "controls" you're covering a broad, broad subject. Many different manufacturers and physical configurations of equipment and components. And when you say "install" that means different things to different folks.

    For example, are yah pulling you're own wires, or having a separate group of installers (electricians) do that? Using a relatively slow, but simple and reliable RS485 comm type system, or high speed copper or fiber lan link. Using a network that requires a lot of extra crap like routers, repeaters, etc?

    You get the picture, I think. What one can not live without, is highly dependent on a number of variables. Not only what equipment one is dealing with, but also the way your company is organized and how they do things.

    For instance, where I work, tasks are separated. Different folks do the physical equipment install and wire pulling, as versus the folks who do the programming, testing and commissioning, etc. The installer guys all have training in automation systems, but it's on the light side. We want em familiar with the systems, we want em to understand what we're trying to accomplish and basically how. They do sit in a class where they're taught, short and sweet, how the systems work. And so forth. So they'll understand why we're doing this or that, know what kind of errors will really screw us up, etc. There can look at a points sheets, and read the sequences of operation and understand them, and understand what needs to be done to make the system work. But do they know enough to do the programming, testing and commissioning, etc? Nope. Nor do they carry the stuff to do that task.

    Now the guys who do the setups, testing, and commissioning of a system, essentially have to know it all. These we call automation techs, as versus installers. Have to know (well) the equipment to be controlled and understand that equipment, and must understand the controllers they're dealing with very well. Some are electricians, some are fitters. But in this job that doesn't really count. They're automation techs. And don't carry around all of the stuff a working electrician or service pipe fitter would normally carry.

    Their primary tools are their laptops, a stack of reference books, their brains, and their Nextels. The Nextels so they can call for help. Because none of em know everything. Nobody in the company, including me, knows everything. And if anyone were to claim so, I'd be thinking about booting him out of the job because he's almost certainly gonna be more trouble than he's worth. However, amongst the larger group, all of the automation techs, our regular electricians and pipe fitters, the engineers back in the office, add the fact we all carry the important phone numbers for tech support desks of the manufacturers we deal with, we can get er done and get a tech the answers he needs. As the techs come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, there isn't just a lot one can ask, that one of em can't answer. Add the wealth of knowledge and experience available among the hard hats in our electrical or mechanical departments. ie Just the other day a tech and I ran into an issue. I know the basics about Trane controls, but am hardly expert. But a simple phone call away was one of our service fitters who is a Trane guy. He was able to talk us thru a problem in short order.

    The automation techs do rely heavily on their laptops. Not just for communicating with controllers or a control network. Besides the printed manuals, cut sheets, data sheets, etc which they all have enough of to represent a lot of dead trees. They all carry a rather sizeable library, in PDF format of other tech manuals and such on their hard drives and on CDs they haul around. Several gigs worth on average. Add historical files of past jobs. Which include plans and schematics in Visio or Autocad format, complete copies of all points sheets, sequences of operation, memory dumps of controllers, text copies of custom programs written, copies of databases for entire controls netwroks and all points, so on and so forth. As well as the digitized version of all info and plans, programs and drawings, for the current job. It's reference material. Why would yah want to start from scratch to figure out how to do something that took you, or someone else, 4 hours to figure out the last time?

    In our case, most of our jobs are custom jobs. ASC (application specific controllers) units infrequently match the job specs or requirements. Oh, a VAV is pretty much a VAV. A CUH is pretty much a CUH. But above that level of things, it's all pretty much customized programming. General purpose controllers are used, and programs written.

    But we don't start from scratch. Thus techs, and engineers back in the office have complete copies of everything for past jobs. You look up a similar job and task, start with that program, and tweak it to make it adaptable to this new job. We do this for consistancy. We do it because the basic program was PROVEN to work. And it saves time. We even have a library of known, proven PID loop settings for various purposes. And unless there is a real reason to do otherwise, those are used for like purposes on new jobs. Again, why spend time re-inventing the wheel? Each set of PID loop settings has been used and proven time and time again, in many varied installations, and has a known characteristic response we're all familiar with. And is set up the way it is for a valid, very good reason.

    ie One can set up a PID loop that looks good, right now. Holds set point within specs and so forth. But how will it behave at some other time under other conditions? How about when there are sharp spikes and sudden changes in the measured variable? How much do yah undershoot or overshoot? What's the recovery time to restore a steady state of controlled operation, within spec, after some drastic change in the system? These kind of things count when considering the saving of wear and tear on eqipment (reducing the period of wild swings and hunting) and in maintaining customer satisfaction. That last part includes such things as a secretary complaining that the constant oscillation in temp drives her nuts, or that the whistling caused by too high air velocity thru a diffuser is annoying. Or customer's in-house maintenance guy looking at yah and asking why his VFD driven air handler is surging (hunting) like that for so long? He durned well knows that can't be good for bearings or belts, which he's gonna be stuck with replacing.

    Anyway, besides the reference material and laptops. Our average tech carries basic handtools. But not just a whole lot. 95% of the time they don't need much of anything that won't fit on a standard tool belt, a light one at that. Add a battery powered drill/hammer drill. Inevitably somebody missed something, forgot something, or he needs to remount or slightly relocate something. ie A recent job. I've been hauling around a new guy. I've been doing some tech work recently as we're a bit overloaded with work. At one site we found missing space temp sensor. Wires were coiled up in the overhead. So we punched a hole in the block, dropped the wires and attached a sensor. Not worth it to call the installer back to the job site for one thing like that. He works for same company as we do, different department, but same employer. Why waste money? Faster, less lost labor time for us to do it. At another job site, installer screwed up and had located both hot deck and cold deck temp sensors on the cold deck side. So, punch a hole, relocate hot deck sensor, mount cover plate over abandoned hole. That sort of thing. It's not frequent, but it is common.

    Good electrical meter. Or meters. Personally, I carry multiples. Haven't yet found one that serves all purposes adequately. ie Sometimes I'm measuring 60 amps, sometimes low milliamps. Sometimes 480 volts, sometimes just a couple ... and I want a fairly accurate reading on that couple volts. Sometimes 0 - 1000 ohms range is good. Sometimes I'm troubleshooting and need to be able to see megohms. Etc.

    YMMV, depending on how your company does things. With us, it's not adequate or acceptable for an automation tech to just say, "Hey, it doesn't work and I don't THINK it's our problem." He'd durn well better know precisely where the problem is, if not why. In short, he troubleshoots to isolate where the problem is located, even if in gear that belongs to someone else. Then gives us some meat ... hard data ... to show conclusively that the problem is someone else's problem. Our techs are good about that. Have to be. Often in automation work, yah run into the blame game. Everybody denies that it's their part of the equipment at fault, and often don't bother to even check adequately. And ultimately, customer or general contractor stares at automation and thinks, "Must be your problem. After all, you're supposed to be making the whole system work."

    BTDT, too many times. I expect, and the automation techs expect of themselves, that when one says something isn't working, he'll go on to tell me or whomever, exactly what the heck is not working. Maybe even why. So it's common for them to report not that "I can't get power to the motor" but rather, "The ground fault trip setting on the motor controller needs to be reset to a higher value". Or, "The overloads in the motor starter aren't the right size. I looked at the motor name plate data, and the sizing data on the motor starter. And that doesn't match the overloads the electricians put in." Or, like yesterday, I got a call. Tech was testing a unit. Fitters had told us DX condensing unit serving unit had been charged and checked. I believe em. Know the guys. But they have a leak. Tech had tried to run unit, and when she refused to run tracked down issue to a low pressure limit being tripped.

    Thing is, if I call fitters and say, "Hey, I THINK something is wrong with your condensing unit." And they're not on site any longer. Too often I'll get some guy telling me, "Nah, we checked it over, it's good to go. You must be doing something wrong." But if I call em and say, "The low limit is tripped." I get a LOT more cooperation and response.

    Just something for yah to think about. A person can waste a lot of time, lose a lot of money, running around in circles and waiting on other folks. I find it saves time, money, hard feelings from playing the blame game, and so forth if the techs know how to, and have the basic stuff to, do simple trouble shooting of the systems they're controlling.

    Our automation techs don't, for instance, carry refrigeration gages. I wouldn't want em to. If our own guys didn't put in the system, we could end up "owning" the damned thing that way. But there are other ways to determine if one has a "probable" low or high charge.

    So the techs carry meters (personal choice as to which ones) that cover a wide range of things. High and low ends of amps, volts, ohms, often freq, capacitance, etc. Add standard pocket type-non electronic temp gages, plus electronic or other type temp and humidity measurement instruments. (I leave it up to the individual, as each man has favorite tools for this). Most of em carry a selection of Magnahelics. And hand pumpers. Used to calibrate things. We don't just install a dirty filter switch, or pressure transducer, etc. They'll be tested, adjusted or calibrated, set, etc. A little tag affixed to it to indicate tech did this. These items also used for troubleshooting. ie For testing pressure drop across a component if something appears not to be working correctly. Most carry infrared thermometers and a mechanical or electronic tach. Most know how to "ball park" air flow and such. Well enough to establish whether we have a probable air flow or water flow problem. Can read DPs and DTs well enough and understand what they should be seeing well enough to establish probable problem and cause.

    Most also carry a toner for tracing lost wires, miswiring, etc.

    But all in all, it's not a lot of stuff. Magnehelics, pneumatic hand pumper, small selection of test gages, selection of multimeters to cover normal requirements (two normally will cover almost all needs), temp and humidity measurement devices, toner, most have at least a mechanical hand tach. Battery powered drill; drivers, hole saw blades, and drill bits. Basic hand tools. And as mentioned by another poster, since we do a lot of Belimo motors, selected size combo wrench, deep hollow shaft nut driver and deep well socket in 5/16 and 10 mm sizes. Have all three, and yah can work fast. Be missing one, and depending on where item is mounted, and the clearances, yah could spend an hour instead of 5 minutes.

    Specialized items like network analyzers? Have em, but they're back in the shop. Not needed MOST of the time. I doubt if we have to haul it out more than 4 or 5 times a year. If that.

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