End users from all sectors continue to face the need for trained technicians – both for traditional systems as well as new natural refrigerant-based systems. Over the past year, Accelerate America has talked with numerous end users of natural refrigerant systems about this issue.
Training in-house technicians essential
The biggest lesson Food Lion learned from its secondary and cascade CO2 stores was the need for proper training in using the new technology. For its Southport, North Carolina, store’s transcritical CO2 system, Food Lion held an initial employee training event at the Conyers, Georgia, headquarters of system supplier Hillphoenix. “We made sure there was training not only for installation but [also] for maintenance,” said Wayne Rosa, Food Lion’s energy and maintenance manager.
Like at Food Lion, in-house employees oversee the transcritical system at Hannaford’s Turner, Maine, store as well. Hannaford technicians have worked on the system since its inception in July 2013, gaining a sense of ownership . “It wasn’t just foisted on them,” said Harrison Horning, Hannaford’s director of energy and facilities.
Contractor expertise a major concern
For Whole Foods, a major concern in adopting natural refrigerant systems is the expertise levels of refrigeration contractors. “When the contractor doesn’t understand the system, it’s a big issue,” said Tristam Coffin, energy and maintenance project manager.
Installation and service contractors also have a tendency to raise their fees when dealing with natural refrigerant systems with which they are unfamiliar, warned Coffin, citing the example of Whole Foods’ HFC-free Brooklyn store. To counter that, the company is increasing contractors’ comfort with the systems via training courses.
Stakeholder cooperation overcomes challenges
Paige Dunn, CSR and sustainability project leader for Red Bull, stresses the importance of safety, maintenance and training for its growing fleet of hydrocarbon coolers. The company partners with system suppliers to train technicians. Indeed, training is now “a non-issue” for Red Bull, said Dunn, hailing the results that can be achieved when stakeholders work together to improve the market.
US Cold Storage has also developed expertise in managing the ammonia/CO2 cascade refrigeration systems in many of its cold storage facilities. “Knowledge transfer and training was a challenge, but we have been able to overcome that,” said Mike Lynch, vice-president of engineering for U.S. Cold Storage.
CO2 units: easier and safer maintenance
Tomas Ambrosetti, eKOfreshment global programme director for Coca-Cola, believes the company’s expanding fleet of CO2 vending machines and coolers are relatively straightforward to service. “We believe that CO2 is going to be easier and safer to maintain in the field than hydrocarbons. It requires very few additional tools. The training is not unlike being trained to maintain R134a or hydrocarbons or anything else. You can do CO2 maintenance on site.”
Manufacturers doing their part
Manufacturers of natural refrigerant systems have been at the forefront of technician and end-user training. Rusty Walker, Hillphoenix’s senior corporate trainer, identifies a list of training challenges manufacturers commonly find with CO2 systems: among others, distinguishing myths from reality and putting the risks of CO2 in perspective.
“Is CO2 dangerous?” asked Walker. “The answer is, ‘Yes, of course it’s dangerous,’ but we have to explain to contractors that’s it’s no more dangerous than R22 and R134a.” One area where CO2 does differ from other refrigerants is in the higher pressures under which it operates. But Walker pointed out that the higher pressures don’t exist in the store, and where it does occur, the system is built to handle it.
In assessing the state of training, Joe Sanchez, application engineering manager at Bitzer U.S., observed that IIAR and RETA have established the “gold standard” for ammonia training. As for CO2 training, they are adapting their programmes for “industrial use,” but OEMs are still required for systems training. The establishment of better training and certifications on flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants may pave the way for larger charges and applications in the U.S., Sanchez argued.
In terms of design, Systemes LMP is working to keep things simple for technicians. For example, CO2 transcritical systems are designed with nearly the same cases as traditional HFC systems.
This is a summary of a longer article featured in the November 2015 edition of Accelerate America. To find out more about the training challenges facing the natural refrigerant industry in the U.S., read the full article here.