German manufacturer Teko, one of the leading providers of natural refrigerant-based commercial and industrial refrigeration systems, keeps a rolling total of its CO2 (R744) system installations on its website.

As of March 9, there were 5,023 CO2 units in use. The company, headquartered in Altenstadt, Germany, also supplies propane (R290) chillers and some custom ammonia/NH3 (R717) products. In total, natural refrigerant systems now represent 95% of Teko’s sales, noted Andreas Meier, its Managing Director.

Teko has been able to carry on successfully over the past year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To that end, the company will be exhibiting at the free-to-attend ATMO Virtual Trade Show 2021, to be held online March 30-31, where Meier will be presenting at two webinars and participating in an EU policy discussion. (The show is organized by shecco, publisher of this website.)

In the following interview conducted by shecco, Meier discusses how the company has leveraged online platforms, including the ATMO Virtual Trade Show, and how he sees Teko operating in the future.
shecco: How effective have online venues – virtual trade shows, webinars, social media and Zoom/Microsoft Teams meetings – been in compensating for the loss of in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Andreas Meier: It hasn’t totally compensated. Nowadays everybody’s tired of Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls, and wants physical meetings. But if nobody can travel, then this is the only way. All companies have to do it, so it’s not a competitive advantage or disadvantage.

Still, it’s quite hard to develop good relationships with new customers because normally you have to be at their site and at least go out for a drink at night. That has not been happening. But we try to do our best.

What the last [ATMO] Virtual Trade Show showed is that you can combine virtual thinking with “live”; so we had a “real” booth [at a factory, where Teko representatives showcased the company’s CO2 systems via video chat with show attendees]. That was very important, not only for customers, but even for our staff. Our sales team was COVID-tested and stayed together for this one time to have team-building. It’s been quite hard for the sales team – everybody’s home and getting tired all day locked in Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings.

Business has been hurt a little but we are lucky because 90% pf our work is in the food retail industry, which is one of the industries not [adversely] affected by the COVID situation. They are still making investments, so we can’t complain. Some of our industrial refrigeration business was postponed but it’s still OK; we have a lot of requests for new projects, and those that were planned have all been executed. But we have seen a slowdown in air conditioning projects.                                                                                                                shecco: When the COVID-19 crisis is finally over, will you continue to use online platforms?

AM: Those will continue. It will be a mixture: You can’t have every meeting online and you can’t have every meeting physical. The learning has been that we don’t need to be physically present at every meeting. I’m not sure it will be 50/50, but let’s see. You save a lot of time with online meetings, of course, because there is no travel, but sometimes it’s just not the same as a physical meeting. We have saved gas, which is good for the environment, but not spent on hotels and restaurants. We are one society and if we stay home then the economy will die.

shecco: What is the future of the virtual trade show concept?

AM: It has to be dedicated to a global, 24-hour perspective. We have visited online trade show with more days, and there is not much traffic. But if it’s for 24 hours and can reach the whole world, this concept is not bad. Costs are lower.

But it’s still not the same touch and feel as a physical trade show, so a combination of virtual and physical in the future makes sense. And vice versa – in a normal trade show, have some virtual effects, so maybe a mixture.

shecco: How will Teko’s approach to ATMO VTS 2021 compare with what the company did for the first ATMO VTS last year?

AM: The setup will be nearly the same [four virtual booths covering retail, light industrial, industrial, and Wurm control products, and a video link to a real booth]. We will show more product developments. The last time we spoke about CO2 chillers in development; this time the CO2 chillers are ready for sale. We have also been selling propane chillers for three years; they have a very small share of the commercial/industrial chiller market, but have a lot of potential in this very big market.

shecco: You will be speaking in two webinars during ATMO VTS, one on chillers and one on CO2 start-ups. What can you tell us about those webinars?

AM: The key message in the chiller webinar is that for every air conditioning application, there is a natural refrig- erant solution available that you can use. I would say propane is the most efficient one for AC in the summer. If you use propane, you would take the same safety measures as for A2Ls. The typical charge, depending on capacity, is 5-30kg (30-66lbs). If you use the chiller throughout the year for process cooling, then CO2 is very efficient; you can run it in subcritical mode, so you have a different energy calculation. 

The CO2 webinar will show that people don’t have to be afraid of a CO2 start-up. In some markets people still have concerns about CO2 pressures and how to start up the system. During the COVID situation, we have customers we could not come to for the start-up. For example, in Israel, where there has been a lockdown, a customer bought a big CO2 rack for a warehouse. They did the start-up without our presence, based on the learnings they had, and what they did upfront; it was a nice start-up. (We did speak to them on the phone.)

We see this in other countries, that people don’t have to be afraid of the start-up if they take care of some points. Normally, everybody says to us, come for the start-up, but if it’s not possible, refrigeration engineers around the world normally have the knowledge to do it. 

“We have visited online trade show with more days, and there is not much traffic. But if it’s for 24 hours and can reach the whole world, this concept is not bad,”

Andreas Meier, Teko.

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