With a growing number of CO2 refrigeration installations, Florida-based Publix Super Markets has established an aggressive training and certification program for its contractors and technicians in concert with OEM Hillphoenix to ensure that its CO2 systems are properly maintained.

“The last thing we want is for somebody to stand in front of a machine and not know what to do,” said Doug Milu, Refrigeration and Energy Program Manager for Publix, who described the program last month at a session during the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Energy & Store Development Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Milu stressed that the certification program is designed for both contractors and their technicians, as well as for Publix’s own technicians. All participants have to pass a written test as well as engage in field training for each level of certification – bronze, gold and platinum.

Publix, which operators 1,270 stores across seven southern U.S. states (nearly 800 in Florida), uses CO2 systems in 17 stores, “with several more in the pipeline,” said Milu. Those CO2 systems include cascade and secondary configurations, some with glycol for medium temperature cases, some with CO2 in liquid overfeed. 

Publix plans to install its first transcritical booster CO2 system in the third quarter of 2020 at a new store in Orlando, Fla.; the system, to be supplied by Hillphoenix, will include an adiabatic gas cooler and ejectors.  The chain is also pursuing plans to install an ammonia/CO2 cascade system. “It’s just a matter of time,” Milu said.

In the certification program, Hillphoenix, based in Conyers, Ga., U.S., near Atlanta, has been providing training to Publix’s contractors and technicians on CO2 technology. The program began 3.5 years ago but expanded to cover all five of Publix’s divisions in January, said Rusty Walker, Hillphoenix’s senior corporate trainer, who participated with Milu in the FMI Energy Conference session, and is heavily involved in the Publix program. Walker described the program as “the first of its kind” for a food retail chain in the U.S.

“We took what Rusty was doing in Conyers [Hillphoenix’s training center] out into the field,” said Milu. “He travels to Miami, Atlanta, Jacksonville and the Florida panhandle for onsite training.” The Miami training had about 170 technicians attending.

Each class takes a full day, with some being all day in the classroom, and others split between the classroom and a nearby store for the “hands-on portion,” said Milu. 

Cycling back

Publix’s bronze certification program encompasses glycol commissioning, case setting and advanced electrical troubleshooting diagnostics. Contractors must renew their bronze certification every third year, and technicians also “cycle back through to make sure the training sticks,” said Milu.

To achieve gold certification, contractors must certify that all service and lead installers have passed advanced electrical and troubleshooting. In addition, contractors and service personnel must pass cascade and booster CO2 requirements; lead installers must pass an in-field set-up and installation class for CO2 systems; start-up technicians must pass energy management and case controller training; service personnel must pass case maintenance, including proper cleaning of cases; and service technicians must pass open meat case set-up and commissioning

For platinum certification, lead installers must take the Bitzer training class. In addition, service personnel and lead installers must complete a commissioning training class; lead installers must pass field-brazing training; service personnel must take case maintenance; and contractors must have quarterly diagnostics training in-house. Administrative personnel must be able to order parts online.

Contractors whose technicians go through the certification program gain “certain levels of accreditation” to work at Publix “so we understand what your capabilities are,” said Milu. “It gives us insurance that you guys know what you’re doing and your techs have been trained on our systems.”

For more on Publix’s training program, check out the November-December 2019 issue of Accelerate Magazine, available at http://accelerate24.news/magazines/on November 19.

“The last thing we want is for somebody to stand in front of a machine and not know what to do.” 

Doug Milu, Publix Super Markets

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