Clay Rohrer, Business Unit Manager for Electronics, MicroThermo Technologies, Parker Hannifin
It’s an exciting time to be a part of the sustainable refrigeration industry. As natural and sustainable refrigerants—already the norm across Europe and much of Canada—slowly but steadily gain acceptance in the U.S. market, OEMs have a unique opportunity to educate retailers and contractors about working with natural refrigerant technology.
Suppliers’ efforts to spread awareness and understanding of CO2 and other sustainable refrigerant technologies will benefit everyone from retailers to contractors to manufacturers themselves by helping to bring costs down and accelerate the switch from harmful synthetic refrigerants to environmentally friendly alternatives.
The challenge is not simply to ensure a successful implementation at one particular jobsite, but also to inform, educate, and train refrigeration contractors and technicians throughout the United States, one CO2 installation at a time. We’ve made great progress in areas like the Northeast, the Northwest, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Chicago metro area, where natural refrigerants are widely used in supermarkets and trained technicians are easy to find. But outside these pockets, particularly in rural areas of the country, natural refrigeration equipment is still perceived as complicated, unfamiliar technology.
A Best-Practices Approach to Training
OEMs talking to prospective customers in those untapped regions may benefit by following a standardized process for whom to train, and when. Drawing from the experience of past CO2 installations, this best-practices approach seeks to avoid problems and keep costs down by getting everyone up to speed before the project gets underway.
Step 1: Retailers
Even before the project is out for bid, OEMs can prepare retailers and facilities managers and help them understand the CO2 installation process. The OEM’s sales engineers should be able to address their concerns and increase their general awareness of the similarities and differences between natural and traditional refrigerant technologies. For the most part, that means high-level discussions about CO2 safety and the actual design and cycle of natural refrigerant technology. Retailers may be surprised as they come to the quick realization that this intimidating new technology is essentially just DX refrigeration with a slightly different cycle.
Before bids go out, advise retailers to let contractors know upfront that the job is a CO2 installation. Retailers may be concerned about higher construction quotes for a natural refrigerant installation, and contractors may indeed be inclined to add an upcharge if they are unfamiliar with the technology. But with the OEM’s guidance, savvy retailers can inform contractors that pipe sizes are halved, materials costs are lower, and the system is straightforward, meaning that construction charges shouldn’t need to be any higher than with a traditional installation.
Step 2: Consulting Engineers
Check in with consulting engineers to make sure they have the right specifications for the job. In most cases, engineering firms are willing and motivated to get up to speed quickly, if they aren’t already, and will invest the time upfront to prepare for the project.
Step 3: Contractors
Next, speak to the contractor groups, beginning with the manager or person responsible for quoting the project, then moving on to the crews actually doing the installation work.
The most crucial part of the process, and the most challenging to accomplish, is to find the time to train and instruct the refrigeration contractors and technicians who will install and service the equipment. The process begins with a project review, explaining where display cases will be, along with differences in pipes, sizes, rack locations, leak detection, and control systems, as compared with traditional refrigeration equipment.
Ideally, the refrigeration contractor will invest the time for its employees to sit down with the OEMs for one or two days of training on the system design, followed by deep-dive, OEM-led training on the jobsite to ensure that contractors are instructed on commissioning the equipment and bringing different loads onto the rack.
While refrigeration contractors in less populated regions may be understandably reluctant to invest their time training for a job they perceive as a one-off departure from normal projects, forward-thinking installers should see this as an opportunity to establish their expertise with a future-friendly, environmentally sustainable technology in an ever-growing industry.
Finally, teach facilities managers and local technicians how to service the equipment, including training on the system of internal and external check valves and safety valves.
Taking the Long View
Until awareness gains a foothold in the Midwest, the South, and rural areas throughout the country, finding and training people to work on natural refrigerant equipment remains one of the biggest hindrances to spreading sustainable refrigeration technology.
By investing the time and money to train retail operators, facilities managers, contractors, and technicians, manufacturers in the sustainable refrigeration industry shift the risk and the burden away from retailers, helping to build awareness, increase demand, and hasten the adoption of CO2 solutions throughout the U.S. supermarket industry.