Deciphering the Unknowns – Tips for a Successful Natural Refrigerant Pilot

Q&A with Steve Barbier, Key Mechanical

Steve Barbier of Key Mechanical shared his experience working with Whole Foods Market on the installation of the Propane and CO2 Cascade system at their Santa Clara facility. In this interview, Steve highlights the role of early planning and coordination in overcoming the unknown factors and ensuring the success of a pilot project. NASRC is offering a site tour of the facility on Thursday May 25th, 2017.

Given that this was a pilot using equipment being built for the first time, how did you approach planning for this project?

Everything was planned way before we even got involved. Before we bid the project, we sent our team out to the Carnot facility to review the system’s operation. There were many conversations before the project began,  with other vendors, in order that we might anticipate potential issues and discuss strategies for realizing optimal performance on the system.

How did you handle the unknowns during the bidding process?

We had all our answers and knew exactly what to expect by the time we began the project. In general, Whole Foods did a great job working closely with the design team to arrive at this innovative application. And when you bid from the design drawings you end up pretty much in the ballpark.

Were there any issues that came up during installation?

The biggest challenge was the equipment delays. Our crew ended up working a lot of overtime, and since the install schedule is always so tight, when the equipment is delayed it delays everyone. It’s important to order the equipment as early as possible to help avoid delays. That can quickly turn a project upside down and increase costs significantly. The customer rarely wants to push out their scheduled opening date.

Was there any additional training needed to work on the system?

Yes.  After the equipment was installed, Carnot sent a team to the site to provide a training course before the equipment was started up, as well as while the equipment was running.   With innovative design projects, there is always additional training that is necessary. It helps to keep everyone educated on new technology.

From your perspective, what factors helped make this project successful?

It takes a sharp team to complete a pilot project like this. The design process makes a big difference, it’s the best investment you could make. Working from a good set of plans sets the contractor up for success. Of course, there is an additional cost to collaborate on the design process up front but it will make a big difference in the success of the project and can save on unforseen costs in the end.

We were also familiar with Whole Foods approach to and preparation for a project like this.  We had already worked with them on several jobs where the designs differed from their other projects in this region. We had just finished the project in Dublin with an ammonia system on the roof. If we didn’t have such a strong partnership and trust built with the Whole Foods team, the project could have been much more of a struggle.

What are your lessons learned for next time?

It’s hard to plan for the unknown, especially when you are working with groundbreaking design.  That’s why it’s important to plan early and work with a good team that you trust.  It helps to minimize the surprises. The future will certainly hold more pioneering ideas for efficiency, as the world continues to move toward reducing global warming. It’s in our industry’s best interest to follow our customer’s lead