HVACR Technology and the Five Senses

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How do refrigeration products continue to spread through everyday life, and what could be in store for the grocery sector in particular? That is where The NEWS’ recent conversation started with Jeff Fordeck, director of global platform management and strategic accounts for Tecumseh Products Co.

His experience over 32 years in a wide range of roles, and his current focus on compressor development for commercial refrigeration, made him a good person to ask about industry matters great and small.

The NEWS: What are some modern compressor applications that simply didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago?

Fordeck: One of the great elements of our industry is that there are always inventors who have new ideas and new ways to keep something cool. An example of this would be the expansion of transport refrigeration to formats that are smaller than semi-trailers or rail cars.

Today, we actively work on cabinets that are capable of flying on a plane, and we have researched applications that are smaller and more suited for the last segment of the delivery routes.

The NEWS: It seems like the supermarket sector is dealing with especially significant change these days — not only technological progress and increased refrigerant uncertainty, but also some evolution in what people want from these stores and how their space is used. How does all of that (separately or collectively) affect a compressor manufacturer in its planning and process, its products, and maybe even its personnel?

Fordeck: The supermarket is one segment that has been affected by the high rate of change our industry has experienced over the past few years. The trend toward environmentally friendly refrigerants, such as CO2, hydrocarbon, and HFO refrigerants, has changed the entire refrigeration dynamic. As the industry is aware, CO2 comes with higher operating pressures, especially in the transcritical state.

When it comes to A2L and A3 refrigerants, charge limits are now a design factor. Previously, the limitations on charge were cost and reliability focused.

The NEWS: Where do you see the broader market/consumer trends taking these stores and their cooling needs?

Fordeck: There has always been a desire to have interchangeability in supermarket store layout between remodel cycles.

However, hard-piped systems with high charges and long piping runs have made changes more difficult due to the significant level of remodeling required.

Today, the high cost of refrigerant (some replacements are upwards of $80 per kg) combined with charge limits will allow a significant amount of rethinking in terms of store layout and flexibility.

This flexibility could go as far as changing select cases to meet seasonal needs, such as placing high-margin floral cases ideally to boost sales at Easter — or similarly, turkeys and hams for Thanksgiving.

The NEWS: Tecumseh has collaborated with various research and development (R&D) facilities and universities as part of its own mission. Do you have any advice regarding collaboration that could be applicable for contractors who may consider aligning with trade schools and other organizations as a way to address the ongoing technician shortage, training needs, etc.?

Fordeck: The old adage, “You receive what you give,” has probably never been more true than it is today, in our industry. With so much change happening at a rapid pace, cutting-edge ideas can easily come from someone who is looking at the problem with a fresh mindset.

For people in our industry, this has not always been the case. In many instances, it was considered that the best advice came from elders in our business.

Today, we need a collaboration of both new ideas from those with fresh ideas combined with experienced people with open minds who are able to apply field-proven principles to quickly identify new options to problems. The best way forward is to greet new minds to our industry with an open mindset and be willing to exchange ideas rather than to teach the young. This will help the next generation to enter our industry with open minds.

The NEWS: How has regulation from the government affected the compressor market? Where do you see that going in the near future?

Fordeck: Government regulations are a double-edged sword. Not only do they affect our entire market, but they are, in many instances, the driving force required to keep our industry fresh and evolving.

The best outcome would be for efficiency requirements to continue to be placed upon the finished good component, which allows the various choices on how to obtain efficiency improvement to be left open to the manufacturer. If the efficiency regulations change to be predominantly on the components, this means that a single rating condition, likely not the cabinet operating conditions, will be an arbitrary metric. For our market to stay competitive, we have to allow finished-good manufacturers and component manufacturers to collaborate to come up with the best solution using all available technologies.

No one solution will answer all problems, today or in the future.

The NEWS: Are there any common misperceptions from technicians or owners as far as maintenance or the equipment in general that you would like to shed light on?

Fordeck: Misperceptions are probably the highest on equipment that is purchased and plugged into a wall outlet. Too often, there is a mindset of “start it and forget it.”

However, all equipment requires routine maintenance for optimal performance. This is a fact that I relearned at home recently. My wife is constantly sweeping the floors in the kitchen area and does a wonderful job of keeping the area around our refrigerator clean. However, as I found out, this puts more dust into the condenser coil and requires cleaning at a higher rate than normal. Having spent nearly a decade in a service truck, this should have been obvious to me.

Routine maintenance is the single largest factor in maintaining equipment in a safe, reliable fashion for the long term.

The NEWS: Another article in this issue discusses compressor failure — not necessarily as an isolated event but possibly as a symptom of issues elsewhere in the system. Could you add any observations or sleuthing tips on that topic?

Fordeck: An often overlooked tool in the toolbox for a service technician is the five senses. Far too often, technicians want to put gauges or other diagnostic tools on a system.

The best first step for any technical repair is to look closely at the system. Are there visible signs of clean, clear oil anywhere around the system that could suggest a leak?

Are the evaporator and condenser coils free of obstructions, and are the air-moving devices functioning properly?

Are there traces of electrical arcing or burning? Is the unit unobstructed, and does it have enough air space around it? Is the suction line sufficiently cool, or is the discharge line excessively hot? A visual inspection using all five senses is far too often overlooked or not performed thoroughly enough to help the technician properly diagnose all the problems. Not only does this setup a situation where a callback may occur, but it can also cause the incorrect part to be blamed for the failure.

The NEWS: What’s the next “breakthrough” opportunity for compressors and cooling?

Fordeck: Tecumseh’s development pipeline has more active projects today than at any time in our history. While I cannot give away too much, it is safe to say that we feel the rumors surrounding the demise of the reciprocating compressor are far from true. Tecumseh is just getting started!

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