University's new hvacr lab offers students hands-on experience with the latest in industry equipment
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. - Ferris State University officials like to point out that their school is one of only a handful nationwide that offer a four-year degree in hvacr technology. But what was already a unique program was just made even better by the addition of a new modern hvacr laboratory, courtesy of Johnson Controls.
It features more than $280,000 worth of equipment and software for students enrolled in the school's two- and four-year hvacr technology degree programs. The lab has equipment, computers and instrumentation usually only found in commercial and industrial buildings: a 10-ton variable air volume (VAV) four-zone system that controls heating, cooling and ventilation and a computerized building automation system that includes 10 Metasys M-5 workstations with graphical software. Metasys gathers and organizes information to allow building maintenance staff to interpret data to create the ideal indoor environment. Tied into the workstations are 10 work controllers, air handling unit controllers, 20 unitary controllers and VAV controls. The lab also has 10 DX9100 control/simulators - portable units which can be tied into the network or used off-site for remote learning applications.
The lab was completed last spring and was opened as a classroom in the fall. All of the new equipment was donated by Johnson Controls Inc., a major supplier of nonresidential building control and integrated facility management systems. Company officials said the donation benefits both the university and Johnson Controls - during the past two years, Johnson Controls has hired up to 30% of Ferris hvacr program graduates.
"We've had a good relationship with Ferris for a number of years," said Kevin Shelton, construction sale manager with Johnson's Auburn Hills, Mich. office and a member of FSU's hvacr advisory board. Through the years Johnson has also installed a number of the university's building controls systems.
According to Ferris hvacr program head Michael Feutz, the old lab desperately needed to be modernized. The current equipment was getting out of date and there were not enough workstations for the program's 75 students. So Feutz, Shelton and the other members of the advisory board developed a "wish list" of new equipment that would bring the school's lab into the 21st century. To their surprise, Johnson agreed to donate all the equipment the board had asked for. Now the school has enough equipment to allow up to 20 students to work on a project at a time where previously they were fortunate if two students could get the hands-on experience during a typical session. "This is a quantum leap forward," Feutz said.
The new equipment is housed in the university's 21,000-sq. ft. Energy Laboratory, where it also shares space with boilers, chillers, a computer room and a study area. Feutz admits they had to dismantle the school's large hvac "museum," a display of heating and cooling equipment going back more than 60 years. However, that's only a temporary situation, because Michigan Gov. John Engler signed a bill in January that will fund the construction of a new $18 million, 45,000-sq. ft building for the public university that will have room for the program and the museum.
"We're pretty excited," Feutz said.
According to some students, even the current lab is as good or better than the training facilities of some of the major hvacr equipment companies. FSU senior and New York City resident Coury Revan just returned from Florida, where as part of a job interview, he toured the training facilities of a building controls manufacturer. Revan said Ferris' lab was better, especially in the controls area. "(At Ferris), you can actually see the controls working," he said.
Feutz and Shelton are both hoping the new lab and building increase enrollment and the visibility of the hvacr program. Already enrollment in the courses has increased so much, the school is adding another section. Feutz's goal is to double enrollment in the two-year program and triple it in the four-year program.
Ferris' hvacr program was established in 1945 and teaches both the principles of theory and real-world applications. Participants in the two-year program learn to test electrical and mechanical refrigeration components, light commercial summer air conditioning equipment and heating and solar energy systems. Those who go for a four-year degree learn about performing efficiency evaluations, retrofitting, system balancing and related operations. Students also perform energy and hvacr systems analysis for Big Rapids area businesses and industries. Teaching the course are eight full-time faculty members, many of whom have hvacr repair or consultation businesses on the side.