COD Instructors Build One-of-a-Kind Hydronic Boiler Trainer

Boiler Trainer Icon

By Mike McKissack

During winter break 2014, College of DuPage HVACR Instructors Bob Clark and Chris Lexow each donated more than 300 hours of their own time to construct a state-of-the-art hydronic boiler trainer in the College’s HVACR lab in the Technical Education Center.

“We are thrilled to provide students with top-notch hands-on experience provided by this cutting-edge trainer,” Clark said. “This comprehensive machine will enable students to understand every dynamic they might encounter in a professional hydronic system, fulfilling a need by students, a need in the industry and a need in the community.”

Hydronics is the use of water as the heat-transfer medium in heating and cooling systems such as steam and hot-water radiator systems. The new trainer, which measures nearly 20 feet wide and is more than 10 feet tall, includes four bays that simulate a broad range of hydronic systems, components and circumstances along with the balancing controls that students will find in every building they encounter in the field. It features a radiant heat bay with five radiant heaters that can simulate both a single baseboard heater as well as multi-unit systems found in high-rise buildings.

In addition, the second bay contains a multifunctional air handling unit used to regulate and circulate air within a heating, ventilation or air conditioning system. The third bay includes a PEX tubing display that provides students with experience working with radiant floor heat systems, and the fourth bay comprises an intricate pump display that shows how heat gets manipulated within the system.

Clark has A.S. earned degrees in Electrical Electronic Automation Systems, HVACR and Industrial Maintenance Technology; a B.S. double major in Business and Communications; a Master’s M.B.A. with an emphasis in Energy and Sustainable Studies; and he is currently working toward a Doctorate in Career and Technical Education. Clark said that while the boiler trainer is impressive, it is only a glimpse of things to come. Funded by a successful bid for the College’s Resource for Excellence grant, there are plans to expand the trainer into a micro-sized version of an entire building system. Connected to the facility’s plant simulated hydronic system, the expanded machine will heat the program’s lab equipment and feature automation that connects to all classrooms in the program, enabling students to view the systems characteristics and control the trainer from a virtual dashboard.

“We aim to build a program that creates mechanics that can hit the ground running at a variety of levels and disciplines when students join the workforce,” Clark said. “As this system evolves, we will provide students with the most current hydronic design and technical hands-on training available, offering practical experience in all stages of HVACR: commissioning, design, construction and service.”

Lexow, who has spent more than 20 years working for some of the largest mechanical contractors in the Chicago area, said that the trainer was exceptionally well planned and that each component serves an important purpose in skills development. He also said that a boiler trainer of this kind and scope is rare.

“I’ve seen HVACR training facilities throughout Illinois and the rest of the country and I’ve never seen anything like this trainer,” Lexow said. “Other colleges and programs will be copying us.”

Lexow also emphasized the importance of hands-on experience to ensure that students gain crucial professional preparation, as well as a deeper understanding of what they are learning in their textbooks.

“That moment when things click for students and they experience what they’ve learned in the classroom is what this is all about,” he said.

Despite the long hours, hard work and personal resources the two instructors devoted to constructing the trainer, both Clark and Lexow acknowledge the importance of administrative support in making the trainer a reality.

“None of this would have been possible without the support of great administrators,” Clark said, “In particular; John Kronenberger was especially helpful in making this happen.”

The HVACR program at College of DuPage provides students with a generalized technical background and allows for specialization in a broad range of areas within the industry. Students learn about a variety of topics, including electrical circuitry, control equipment, system design and the theory behind refrigeration, air conditioning and heating. The program serves as a core for the Building Environmental, Contractor and Service Technician A.A.S. degree programs, as well as the Energy Audit and Analysis, Service Technician and Stationary Operator certificate programs.

Click here to view photos of the new boiler trainer.

Click here for more information on the HVACR program at College of DuPage.