I just returned home from a vacation in Chicago with my wife, with a side trip for me to the WaterFurnace dealer meeting this week in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Chicago is great and we really liked the public transportation system. We bought passes and took buses and the “EL” where ever we wanted to go including Oak Grove to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and museum, an Architectural Foundation walking tour of Art Deco buildings, and Chinatown where we had an excellent Dim Sum experience for late lunch.
At the end of the WaterFurnace dealer meeting, I took a factory tour led by Kevin Fockler, the plant manager. I was instantly struck by how happy and relaxed the employees were around him. They welcomed our intrusion into their work space with smiles and a quick comment and then going about their work. The whole plant was clean and well ordered. I asked Kevin what the average length of employment was for the line workers, and he told me “between 15 and 16 years. We are like family.” I knew that the WaterFurnace products are well built, better than most of the HVAC equipment I have sold over the years, and now I know why. The workers like what they are doing and come into work happy to be there. They take pride of ownership, support each other and their completed products reflect this.
The complexity of building hundreds of different models on the same line is managed by bar code scanning and computer oversight. Once a unit is ordered the parts are pulled, scanned and assembled with testing done at intervals. When a unit is finished it is taken to a room for a final rigorous testing where it is hooked up to water and electricity. Data is collected for each stage of operation to insure it meets all Water Furnace standards. Once a unit passes it is sent out to shipping. A unit never leaves the factory without meeting all specifications through comprehensive testing.
The biggest news from the dealer meeting is that the Web based monitoring system for the 5 and 7 series will be coming out this year. It is called Symphony and will be released by October, after it undergoes beta testing. They did a live demonstration of an installed Symphony monitoring system, connected to a 7 series, and it was fantastic to see how sophisticated it is. It gives the homeowner access to the thermostat from anywhere and provides fault alerts. The trouble shooting form is automatically filled out for each 10 second interval, available with the touch of an icon. I will be able to trouble shoot a system from anywhere, and if I need WaterFurnace technical assistance, they can see all of the data as well. The homeowner buys the monitoring system, and pays to have it installed, and then has access to all the data without paying any other fees.
WaterFurnace is also releasing several new products this year. There will now be a 3 series, to fill out the line. The 3 series is a 2 stage scroll with a 5 speed ECM fan. It has a smaller foot print and is a basic machine, built on the Arora platform. For those who want a quality machine, at a competitive price, this unit will fit the bill. It is a great replacement unit where price or space is limited. A new water to water unit, with vapor injection, is expected to be released this fall. The capacity, efficiency and temperature limit are all enhanced by the vapor injection compressor. It can produce 150°F load water temperatures, making it suitable for some baseboard and almost all radiator heating systems.
My trip to the factory enhanced the confidence I have for the quality and ingenuity of the Water Furnace products.