NASA-Funded Outreach Program Helps HVAC Installer with a Dilemma

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff May 18, 2006

Thanks to assistance from the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), a Fort Worth, Texas HVAC installer has created a safe and efficient means to solve the normally tedious and difficult task of setting copper refrigerant lines when installing AC systems.

Vess Polk, president of A-Redemption, a product development company, has devised a line guide that would enable one person, instead of the usual two, to install the copper refrigerant line while at the same time reducing the potential for damage to the lines.

SATOP, administered through the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program’s 50 alliance partners, made up of aerospace companies, universities and NASA field centers involved in the U.S. Space Program.

“I discovered in my 21 years of installing air conditioning systems that it was impossible to position the lines by yourself in tightly constrained attic space.Plus, nails and other impediments would frequently damage the lines,” explained Polk.

Polk’s initial idea of a line guide sounded feasible, although early prototypes created friction. “I had resistance when pulling the line set through my invention; obviously, this had to be resolved in order for the guide to work,” he said.

Fortunately, Polk learned about SATOP through the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Services Department.After Polk filled out a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) with SATOP he was matched with John Dillon, a mechanical engineer with Alliance Partner AJT & Associates in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“Vess Polk’s design had a tendency to compress the insulation against the line, which could affect the insulation integrity and also bend or kink the pipe, thereby impeding the delivery of the coolant,” said Dillon.”I began working on a design that would reduce drag in the line guide with any size of piping and insulation.”

Dillon suggested a two-piece opening in the metal guide that would allow the user to adjust the opening to whatever width is needed and still keep the wall stud structurally firm. “Therefore, if the installer needed to create a wider opening for piping, they could do that by widening the wall stud opening and installing the two piece guide,” he said.

Dillon’s adjustment appeared to work without damaging the copper lines and insulation.Polk, who has patented the idea, is now working to generate interest for the line guide among A/C contractors. He also is making presentations to wholesalers and manufactures for licensing agreements.In fact, another SATOP Alliance Partner, Ed Handwerk of MEI Technologies in Houston, is assisting in this effort by helping to identify possible manufacturers for the line guide.Handwerk also made recommendations that would expand the market to other types of construction.

“SATOP really helped make my dream a reality,” said Polk. “Without their assistance and technical advice, I would still be stuck in the attic with a good idea in my head.”

“The entire SATOP staff views this product as a real asset to the home building industry,” said David Braun, a project engineer with SATOP Texas.”This device aids in the installation of air conditioning systems by allowing the refrigerant line to be installed without damaging the line as it enters the attic.It should set the standard in the HVAC industry.”

For more information about SATOP, or to request technical assistance, go to .