Carter has been in business since 1945, when the late John Carter, DFC, a Squadron Leader in the RAF Bomber Command, returned home from the Second World War, part of which he had spent as a prisoner of war. The magazines Carter read during his detainment offered a glimpse of a world in transformation, including the metamorphosis of grocery stores from primarily small, local shops to self-serve operations.
For Carter, this was a revelation. Resolving to supply this impending demand having read up on business and HVAC during his internment, Carter upon his return set up Carter Thermal Industries Group in a small office in the aptly named Corporation Street, located in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Carter is a different entity altogether: for one, it is now a Group of engineering companies. It no longer sits on Corporation Street but rather on its own land, which features a 150,000 square foot factory built in 2004 with plenty of room for future expansion.
Making the ‘cases’ for CO2 and hydrocarbons in supermarkets
During a tour of the factory and office, Geoff Amos and Ian Garvey – Carter’s Head of Sales & Marketing and Technical Director respectively – detail how manufacturing capacity is now in excess of over 10,000 refrigerated commercial cabinets per year, 60% of case production is now purposed for either hydrocarbons or CO2.
Like any other growing business, Carter is apt to evolution. The factory itself has seen a gradual transformation regarding the importance of natural refrigerants. For instance, a custom-built hydrocarbon cabinet manufacturing line was introduced to the factory six years ago and additional test labs were built to help accommodate CO2-specific equipment. The location of the test labs in-house is of great importance to Carter, as Amos notes how this allows them to “constantly evolve the product”. Carter is the world leader in higher system charge hydrocarbon self-contained cases. With the increase in interest, what is potentially novel for others is now standard for Carter in hydrocarbons.
While most of Carter’s business remains within the UK, this dedication to the precision of their products has brought Carter opportunities all across the world. Most notably, Carter’s presence in the United States continues to grow, with their innovation recognised by ASHRAE this year where their CO2 transcritical ‘net-zero’ Walgreens store scooped the most innovative award alongside project partners Green & Cool – something Amos was understandably pleased about:
“Today, it’s still the most advanced system North America has, as well as our most advanced installation. It was our first project in the United States, so it was a good opportunity to show what we can do.”
And the importance of a good first impression in terms of CO2 installations is not lost on Amos:
“The US has gone from zero CO2 stores at the start of 2013 to over 50 now, so they’re in a similar position to the one Europe was in 2006 – and we saw how that grew exponentially from there on in.”
After being successfully used in over 200 stores in the United Kingdom, Carter’s hydrocarbons water-loop business is also travelling to the United States after having already been exported to mainland Europe, South-East Asia and Australia. The choice that Carter offer – in terms of expertise in both CO2 and hydrocarbons – usually gives retailers a decision to make. Garvey offered up the typical criteria that dictate which retailers choose which refrigerant:
“It depends on the application and the level of integration the end user wants. If you’re looking for energy efficiency and integration with the system such as heating, you’ll go down the CO2 route. If you’re looking for a simple, maintenance-free system that is future-proofed, you’ll go down the hydrocarbons route.”
Carter: Brokers for best practice from both sides of the Atlantic
The knowledge transfer to other regions doesn’t come without its hurdles. As Carter tries to export their proven hydrocarbon solutions to the US, they are encountering various regulatory obstacles that must be overcome.
The recent Significant New Alternatives Policy application for the use of R1270, a refrigerant more typically associated with industrial refrigeration, in stand-alone food/commercial retail refrigeration equipment is an example of this. However, even with SNAP approval, Carter would still need to change the 150g charge maximum set by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and ASHRAE to 1kg to ensure commercialisation of the technology.
But Carter is quick to add that it’s not all about exporting lessons to the United States:
“We keep on talking about how we are migrating lessons from Europe to the US, but the US have a lot of lessons to teach. For instance, California’s T-24 legislation makes sure that they place 25% of heat back into reclaim. I’m not aware of anything like that in Europe. So, some sort of legislative direction in that direction would be beneficial as we can regularly see 50-60% energy savings with the integration of systems.”
These lessons and others are helping craft Carter into a well-informed entity drawing on lessons from two of the biggest economies in the world. With brighter prospects on the horizon, it might be not too long before that manufacturing plant gets bigger.