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Designing HVACR Systems for Foodservice, Supermarkets and Cold Storage

Mike Saunders Mike Saunders | Senior Lead Innovation Technologist

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Many questions about the future of the industry were raised during an insightful panel discussion at our latest E360 event, which was held in Chicago on October 5. Highlights of the Q&A session follow. For more, watch the complete panel video.

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Panel participants:

  • Randy Mielke, president, Mielke Consulting
  • Tim Prater, president, Prater Engineering Associates
  • Charlie Souhrada, vice president, regulatory & technical affairs, North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers
  • Tony Welter, vice president/director of refrigeration, Henderson Engineers

How are regulations influencing system designs?

We need to have a balance among the “four Es”: energy, environment, equipment and economics. Manufacturers are looking for as many answers as possible. Each major retail chain seems to be taking a different approach, from trying everything to doing nothing.

What role are natural refrigerants likely to play?

We don’t anticipate a significant change in the air conditioners we’re specifying for commercial and industrial buildings in the next five years. However, it’ll be another story in 10 to 15 years.

The choices are tougher for foodservice and food retail equipment manufacturers because self-contained units are so important. Many are gravitating toward propane, which is creating new safety and security concerns at production facilities. Public perceptions about safety are another challenge.

CO2 and cascade systems are becoming more widely accepted in cold storage and commercial applications, where they’re now more frequently deployed. OSHA requirements are making many end users eager to keep ammonia charges low.

How are end user preferences impacting system designs?

Two key factors are the life expectancy of a building and who owns it. University and hospital buildings are expected to last 50 years or more. Their maintenance staffs can handle larger, more efficient systems like water-cooled centrifugal chillers. Large developers may want similar lifespans, but prefer less costly systems if they only plan to own a property for 10 years or so.

Cost always matters. Most owners just want to meet energy codes without breaking the bank. Another consideration is whether owners or tenants pay the energy bill. If it’s the owner, they’ll be more interested in efficiency.

Sustainability is important for owners who want LEED certification (about 20 percent). Cold storage is pushing toward central systems with as little ammonia as possible. They’re looking at their impacts on the environment, their surroundings, and even their building insurance.

Easily maintained systems encourage repeat business, but must be balanced against regional technician expertise.

How is the increased use of electronics changing the experiences of end users and contractors?

Many operators just want equipment to work. They don’t want a lot of technology or electronics. That said, intelligent systems help combat the technician shortage. Remote access from smartphones or laptops reduces maintenance staff needs, allowing facilities to rely more on contractors. Younger techs particularly want the technology to be more developed. They often ask, “Why isn’t there an app for this?”

For retailers it comes down to cost analysis. They want the latest technology, but only if it’s affordable and robust.

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