Speaking on bottlenecks for greater penetration of VRF technology, Moan Abraham, Vice President & GM for Air Conditioning, Hisense Middle East, said that an ongoing issue is still the lack of the local market’s acceptability of new brands, noting that many contractors and consultants revert to using chillers and traditional names. “I feel that the VRF business should become more popular not just among high-level consultants but also smaller- and medium-sized contractors, who should also be able to get used to installing, commissioning and replacing the system,” Abraham said. He underlined the importance of training and capacity building, presenting them as the missing links in the industry’s move to increase the uptake of VRF technology.
Providing an international perspective, Abraham shared observations on how VRF technology was able to capture the retrofit market in many other markets. “This is happening in mature markets like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan,” he said. “VRF [technology] is in a lot of retrofits, because the skills in those markets are also more.” In the United States, he added, in the DX business, almost 70-80% of the air conditioning market is geared for the replacement market, which is being catered to by VRF systems.
On concerns whether VRF technology is suitable for high-rises or not, Abraham said that in China and Japan, installing in high-rises is the trend. “It all depends on the design of the building and how you design the system,” he said. “Today, all manufacturers have tools, software ground training, on-site training and factory training. All these help in developing the skills of the people and confidence in VRF.” These skills, he emphasised, should reach the lowest value chain in the industry, all the way to the “technician on the ground operating from his pick-up truck.”
In the region, Abraham said, technicians are able to install split air conditioning without much training, yet are not at the same level of familiarity with VRF technology. The skill-set to handle VRF technology, he said, is still only among MEP contractors and has not gone down the value chain. “If you look at the number of installers at the lower end of the pyramid, there are thousands of them,” he pointed out, emphasising the need to address the gap in training.
Abraham shared his opinion gleaning from the company’s experience in China, where, he said, Hisense places great importance on training through centres that educate technicians in the area. This is why in China, VRF technology in the residential sector is booming, to the point of eating the market share of other air conditioning equipment, he said. Once the lower level of the industry gets trained, Abraham said, and they are able to gain the skill-set to install VRF technology with no major problem, the whole market will shift, he added.
As such, Abraham said, Hisense is aiming to replicate the same success in the UAE and is planning to develop a training centre. Currently, he said, the company holds technical and theoretical training sessions, but that in the next 2-3 years, once Hisense has a full-fledged training centre in Dubai, the training will be more hands-on. “The aim is to train the lower level of technicians and installers currently installing split units,” he said. Those are the ones that need to be educated about VRF, so they can move from their current skill set to new skill set.”