When the Steamfitters UA Local 602 Mechanical Trades School needed equipment to use in its apprenticeship program, SPX Cooling Technologies donated a Marley® NC cooling tower, enabling the school to present students with a real-world environment. Instructors use the complete new cooling system to teach students how to troubleshoot and fix problems with HVAC systems.
Union Beefs Up Training Spaces
Steamfitters UA Local 602 Mechanical Trades School recently expanded and renovated its training facilities. The union, which represents journeymen, apprentices, and helpers working in the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, and process piping industries, sought equipment donations to outfit the school and help with its apprenticeship training mission. The school’s training centers in Landover, MD, and Springfield, VA offer a five-year apprenticeship and train a diverse group of over 700 students ranging in age from 19 to 70 years old.
Apprentices are assigned to a union contractor and jobsite, and they generally work 40 hours per week. Classes range from soldering and brazing, health and safety, and drawing and blueprint-reading to basic and advanced refrigeration and electricity.
James Balderson, assistant training director, explained that the nonprofit school has a very small equipment budget, so he has to think creatively to beef up the equipment available for HVAC training. Balderson is the coordinator for the school’s HVAC department and trains air conditioning, refrigeration, and boiler technicians.
“Being able to expose our students to real equipment gives us a greater advantage compared to teaching out of a book,” said Balderson. “Classroom time is necessary, but we must reinforce it with hands-on training.”
Balderson notes that he and other instructors regularly ask vendors if they know anyone discarding equipment. “If they are going to replace equipment and it’s still usable, we’ll arrange to come get it. Hands-on knowledge is the most important part of the steamfitter’s trade, so the ability to have access to real equipment to solve real-time problems is essential in the industry.”
He developed a long equipment wish list, at the top of which was a cooling tower. SPX agreed to donate a factory-assembled single-cell crossflow Marley NC® 8401 cooling tower. Originally constructed as a demonstration cooling tower for trade shows, the tower is typical of what students would see in the field every day, making it an excellent fit for the school. “When I was in the field, the Marley brand was known as one of the superior cooling towers out there, so I was happy when I heard we had an opportunity to get one for our program,” Balderson said.
Cooling Tower Central to Training
The cooling tower is key to the students’ hands-on training. When it was delivered, the apprentices helped install the tower, and now it is being used to cool one of the new classrooms. The instructors also use the tower in conjunction with other pieces of HVAC equipment in the classroom. The availability of real operating equipment allows instructors to intentionally put “faults” in the system as it runs, so they can train students to troubleshoot. When the system shuts down—for example, a pump stops pumping water or a fan no longer pulls air through the heat
exchanger—the apprentice is tasked with identifying the problem and fixing it.
“We could buy trainer units, but having the real thing is so much better,” said Balderson. “A working cooling system where I can place faults that HVAC technicians have to fix is the best way to train. They can process firsthand how important it is to properly maintain equipment and components and how water treatment is critical to product lifecycle.”
In sum, Balderson said, “Without these kinds of equipment donations, we could not provide the education we do. They help us educate our apprentices to a high level.”
For more information, visit spxcooling.com.