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F-gas qualifications – a progress report

In this exclusive overview, Ellis Training Works’ MD John Ellis provides some food for thought on the areas where engineers need to concentrate and on one forgotten issue – energy consumption – which will ultimately benefit everyone.

Ellis Training Works has been running the City & Guilds 2079 F-gas course since December 2008 and has accumulated sufficient experience to give a first progress report.

We were all very apprehensive about the introduction of the ‘2079’ qualification for a variety of reasons, but most significantly because it quickly became apparent that it would be very different from the ‘old’ Safe Handling qualifications - first introduced to familiarise people with the recovery process - which in itself was a new departure some 20 years ago.

Of particular note is the duration of the assessment and the regulatory requirements which centres have to take heed.

Even with modification in 1996, to take account of blended refrigerants and hydrocarbons, the total assessment process took about one hour. So far, the City & Guilds 2079 F-gas assessment for Category I is taking approximately one hour for the online exam and about 2½ to 3 hours per person for the practical assessment.

As I have pointed out before, the assessment specification is written into the regulation as an annexe and the Qualification Awarding Bodies are legally responsible to ensure that their qualification meets the standard. This also means that they are legally liable if qualifications do not meet the standard required.

So, to the progress report. We have had a wide variety of engineers along to do this course; most of them have opted to do the five-day course. They have come along with a variety of qualifications from raw novice to NVQ2, NVQ3 and ONC or HNC. Also, with a wide range of experience from chillers, to splits on the ac side and from integral cabinets to supermarket systems on the refrigeration side, ‘install-only’ people to service and maintenance and commissioning. All however have seemed to share one thing in common: a desire to learn. And learn they have!

So far, even the most highly qualified and experienced people have said that they have learned something and indeed many have said that they have re-learned some of the basic principles that had been overlooked prior to undertaking the course.

We have discovered that in common with a lot of other vocational training in the UK, much of the previous learning is superficial: people are often taught sufficient to pass their exams, but are unable to apply that knowledge.

A common example is with complete understanding. Very often people can give you a word perfect definition of ‘super heated vapour’ yet don’t know what it means or, indeed, how or where to measure for it.

Since the F-gas qualification majors on reducing emissions of both refrigerant from the system and CO2 emission for the power station producing the electricity used by rac and heat pump systems then it is essential that engineers can carry out direct leak testing and perhaps even more importantly indirect leak testing.

This latter requirement is where the majority of the training requirement is necessary. After all, a tight system is not necessarily charged with the right amount of refrigerant. A very high number of split ac systems for example do not leak, but suffer from excessive energy consumption and compressor failure because they do not have the correct amount of refrigerant in them.

We are finding that engineers are very conscious of the need to ensure that systems are tight, but less conscious of the need to ‘tweak’ them where possible to improve their energy efficiency. We also find that the aforementioned superficial knowledge leads people to misdiagnose simple faults and that when they have explored the basic principles more thoroughly they can significantly improve their diagnostic skills - an outcome that will surely pay off as we all become more aware of the need to reduce our energy consumption.