With F-Gas regs, carbon footprints, natural refrigerants, sustainability and global warming, training establishments are being challenged to produce better equipped engineers, as John Ellis of Ellis Training explains.
THERE is no question, we need to rise to the challenge and produce people who understand the principles that underpin the new refrigerants and the systems that will be required to accommodate them and, at the same time, people with good skills who can successfully engineer and fabricate such systems.
We need people who appreciate the impact on the environment of poorly engineered and maintained systems too. So that in the future we can not only design, manufacture and install systems which have a lower impact on the environment but can also service and maintain these systems so that their impact on the environment remains low.
In order to achieve that aim, I believe we have to become more aggressive in the training world. Much more aggressive with our assessment and verification, much more demanding with our teaching of basic principles and the underpinning knowledge that enables engineers to deal with changing technology and not to fear it but to relish the changes - secure in the knowledge that they understand the principles and therefore have the tools to deal with anything.
Let us reflect for a moment on the old principles: 1st law of thermodynamics; pressure-temperature relationships; conduction; convection; radiation; heat transfer; heat load calculations; properties of refrigerants; pressure-enthalpy charts/basic vapour compression cycles; psychrometry; function of compressor; condenser; expansion devices; evaporators and line components.
Do these subjects/topics ring a bell?
I'm sure some do and some don't for a variety of reasons. But although these are taken from a C&G syllabus of 1968 (in Refrigeration Practice as I recall) they are also among the areas covered by today's Technical Certificate - City & Guilds 6127.
The point is that the basic vapour compression cycle hasn't changed and even more importantly is unlikely to change while we compress refrigerant substances in order to condense them again for re-use in the expanded state in an evaporator of some sort.
Systems which use ammonia and propane are pretty much identical in function now as a hundred years ago - much more efficient, with smaller footprints, less charge and quite sophisticated controls. However the basic principles haven't changed at all. Likewise with CO2 - apart from transcritical use where there will be extra expansion and an additional gas cooling heat exchanger which will look like a condenser.
If we make sure that our new young entrants to the industry are thoroughly schooled in these basic principles then they will be able to confidently deal with new technologies as they come about. Of course somebody has to ensure students realise that the basic principles do not change and we, as an industry, do need 'champions' for these young people who aren't afraid to stand up for knowledge.
Of course any engineer worth their pay can use their hands and do the practical things competently and we mustn't lose sight of the responsibility of the employer to ensure that apprentices/trainees are taught the basic skills. Sadly we can't take practical skills as read.
Young people today are not taught how to use spanners at school and very often are only taught the very minimum of mathematics and scientific principles. It is much less likely that a young apprentice today has any idea about how the engine in the van or car works.
They therefore need to be inspired to learn the basic principles - not because they have to scrape through City & Guilds exams but because their jobs require them to have this knowledge, so they can develop into 'proper engineers'.
Training establishments have been quite savagely attacked over time by the funding providers so that learning hours available to students are considerably shorter today and staff have to fulfil all sorts of additional requirements unrelated to teaching students about their subject.
The inevitable result is that passing exams becomes the only worthwhile target because funding is outcome related. As an industry we should be putting serious pressure on the governing bodies, such as Summit Skills and QCA, to increase the provision in this extremely important area so that our young people can end up with their qualifications which are naturally and rightly important to them, but also with sufficient underpinning knowledge to make ever more vital contributions to the development of systems into the 21st century.
As for the present - our biggest challenge is to maintain existing systems that are leak-free.
It doesn't matter what the global warming impact number of the refrigerant is, it must not be allowed to escape from our control, in the system or in a cylinder. These are extremely basic concepts, which don't require much knowledge or skill, but we don't seem able to deal successfully with leak prevention, never mind good maintenance to reduce energy usage. These are basic principles yet they still present us with a serious challenge for today. Hence the F-Gas regulation and where I came in.
Translating good underpinning knowledge and practical skills into worthwhile actions by us all on a day-to-day basis, that's the real challenge for training today.