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By James Piper, P.E.
HVAC Article Use Policy
Boilers, water heaters and their control systems have grown more complex and sophisticated over the past several decades. New-generation equipment in institutional and commercial facilities can readily achieve operating efficiencies unheard of even just 20 years ago. And the benefits do not end there. Today's equipment offers longer service lives, more reliable operation, and lower maintenance requirements.
But there is a catch. To gain any of these benefits, those who operate and maintain these systems must understand strategies for setting up, operating, and maintaining them according to manufacturer recommendations and the needs of a particular facility.
Maintenance that once was "good enough" is no longer good enough. Systems are too costly and complex, and energy costs are too high to settle for good enough. Managers and front-line technicians must strive for optimum performance, while minimizing energy costs. And interruptions in service in many applications have become so costly that managers must take all possible steps to avoid them.
One proven strategy for ensuring facilities get what they pay for with boilers and water heaters is to provide proper training for those who operate and maintain them. Without this training, technicians will not have the necessary technical and troubleshooting skills.
The first step in developing a training program for operators and technicians is to perform a needs assessment that identifies training needs. Managers cannot simply assume they understand these needs. A training program based on vague or improperly defined needs will not provide the desired return.
Before managers commit to a training program, they must make certain that deficiencies in the current operation of boilers and water heaters are the result of a lack of knowledge and skills among operators and technicians, and not some other factor.
The first step is to review the maintenance history of the equipment. Are there an unusually high number of breakdowns or interruptions of operation? Are maintenance costs higher than expected? Are those numbers increasing? If operators are monitoring the efficiency of a particular unit, is it performing at the level the manufacturer says it should? It might be necessary to consult with the manufacturer to review operation and maintenance practices.
Next, managers can identify the skill sets technicians need to perform the operation and maintenance tasks. If the training program is to succeed, operator skill sets must match in-house task requirements. There is no point in training the maintenance staff on re-tubing a boiler if an outside vendor is going to perform that activity. Similarly, failing to teach operators strategies for monitoring and adjusting a boiler's control system misses a major opportunity to reduce energy and maintenance costs.
The next step is to review the backgrounds and qualifications of operators and maintenance personnel responsible for the operation of the boilers and water heaters. While almost everyone can benefit from such a periodic review — particularly if they have developed bad habits over the years without realizing it — managers do not want to spend time and money to develop the skills and knowledge technicians already have. Just as importantly, managers cannot afford to overlook the skills operators need to deal with the latest generation of equipment installed on which they might have received little or no instruction.
The difference between the skill levels of operators and technicians now and where they need to be will determine the focus of the training program. Not all will be at the same level or require the same skill sets, so the needs assessment will help managers develop a range of suitable programs.
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Plenty of Options for Boiler and Water Heating Training Programs