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How HVACR Contractors Are Responding to the Labor Shortage

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. In an article written about the discussion, a wide range of topics was covered, from the impact of new regulated refrigerants to the potential of today’s emerging high-end technologies, and more. One issue dominated the discussion: the impact of the labor shortage in contracting businesses. You can read the entire article here.

“We all would agree that labor is our number one issue.”

This statement by Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, phrases American HVAC contractors’ key concern in a nutshell. Throughout the panel discussion, the technician shortage was a recurring theme — regardless of the topic discussed. When the conversation zeroed in on their labor challenges, each contractor was eager to detail how it was impacting his business and what steps the industry could take to help improve the situation.

The recruiting is non-stop

Finding qualified candidates starts at the company level, and each panelist has different approaches to the recruitment, onboarding and training processes. Hoover said his recruitment never stops. “We’re a small company and we recruit 24/seven/365,” he said. His company has developed an accelerated career progression plan for promising candidates, one specially designed to appeal to younger people new to the trade. “We’ve divided career steps into 30-day increments, which engages the younger generation from the entry level and allows them to progress very quickly,” he said. The goal is to accelerate their path to senior technician level and provide ample avenues for advancement.

Changing the perceptions of a valuable skill

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., said one of his biggest recruitment hurdles continues to be the negative public perception of the trade. “Let’s face it, the trades sometimes have a less than positive image, and our trade is very demanding,” he said. “We get our hands dirty, we work with heavy equipment, on rooftops in the pouring rain, in snow and 100-degree temps.” Because of these factors, Duffee’s company places a premium on candidates who are enthusiastic and possess positive personality traits.

According to Duffee, the industry needs a renewed focus at the high school level to promote the trades. As experienced technicians retire from the industry, Duffee sees the labor shortage only getting worse in the coming years. “We all should be aware and take whatever steps necessary to change this trend,” he concluded.

Putting HVACR careers on the radar

Adding to Duffee’s point, Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, noted that HVACR has fallen off the radar of many high schools with trade programs. “When you talk to high schools about trades, no one is talking about HVACR, so most don’t know it is an option.” Instead, Wharton’s company relies on alternative sources for recruitment, reaching out to former members of the U.S. military, vocational schools and technical colleges, and career and technical organizations.

Wherever recruits are found, Hoover stresses that on-the-job experience is the final step toward developing a well-rounded technician. “Tech schools don’t really teach someone how to present yourself to a customer and have the proper communication skills,” he said.

New challenges in HVACR bring new opportunities to technicians

With the introduction of new refrigerants and technologies, there’s no question that the HVACR service technician trade is more challenging than ever. But within this growing knowledge base lie growing career opportunities. As Hoover pointed out, “The technician shortage will drive up pay rates.” And the influx of connected technologies, software and analytics transforming the industry may help make the job more attractive to younger, tech-savvy candidates.

At Emerson, we believe that creating awareness of HVACR technologies and career opportunities at high schools and technical colleges is one of the keys to attracting the next generation of candidates. Even as technologies advance to provide more proactive and predictive capabilities, the industry will still need highly skilled individuals in the field to apply their own experiential know-how to system diagnosis and repair.

 

[New E360 Webinar] GreenChill Will Report on Supermarket Refrigeration Trends in New E360 Webinar

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

For more than a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership program has worked with supermarkets across the country to help them implement “greener” refrigeration strategies. In our next E360 Webinar, Tom Land, manager of the program, will present findings from GreenChill’s recent report examining 10 years of supermarket data trends. Join us on Thursday, June 20 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT for this informative update.

As we all know, the supermarket industry is experiencing a significant transition in its approach to refrigeration. Global, federal and regional environmental regulations have mandated the use of more environmentally friendly refrigeration alternatives. At the same time, many supermarket retailers are being driven by corporate sustainability objectives as well as market pressures to implement more sustainable practices in all their operations. The net result is an industry that is in varying degrees of conversion, from legacy refrigeration systems to new alternatives that do not rely on ozone-depleting refrigerants and offer lower global warming potential (GWP) and improved energy efficiency.

Since launching in 2007, the EPA’s GreenChill program has partnered with companies representing nearly one-third of U.S. supermarkets. Its goals are to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease their negative impacts on the environment. To date, more than 350 individual stores have met GreenChill’s stringent certification criteria by demonstrating their commitment to environmentally friendlier commercial refrigeration systems with minimal leaks.

Because of its unique position, the GreenChill program is a microcosm for understanding larger refrigeration trends in the food retail industry — as well as providing insights into how companies are responding to increasing environmental mandates. In our next E360 Webinar, which will take place on Thursday, June 20 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT, Tom Land, manager of the EPA’s GreenChill program, will report on the 10-year data trends gathered from companies participating in the program.

Attendees will learn:

  • Emissions and refrigerant leak rates of refrigeration systems
  • Types of refrigerants installed and emerging system architectures
  • Technology innovations and refrigerant transition trends in GreenChill-certified stores

Register now for this informative free webinar.

 

Six Steps to a Successful Refrigeration Retrofit

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes an article from ACHR NEWS, entitled “Refrigeration Retrofits Offer ‘Cool’ Savings for Supermarkets.” Click here to read the article in its entirety.

The commercial refrigeration system is the biggest energy user in supermarkets, accounting for about 40 to 60 percent of electricity consumption, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For food retailers, getting energy consumption under control is a top priority, and the refrigeration industry has stepped in with new, higher-efficiency equipment and technologies, such as advanced monitoring and control via the internet of things (IoT). However, for many retailers, virtually all their equipment is aging, and buying new equipment and systems across the board would be prohibitively expensive. But there is another path to saving a considerable amount of energy: targeted retrofits or upgrades to their existing systems.

Some energy-saving modifications can be simple and obvious, such as adding doors to cases. But at a recent Emerson E360 Forum, I explained how a systematic approach to retrofits and upgrades can identify savings throughout a store’s entire refrigeration infrastructure, particularly older, energy-demanding direct expansion (DX) centralized systems. It is a six-step process that reveals the primary causes of energy loss and, step by step, proposes energy-saving retrofits and upgrades to your system that can systematically reduce energy costs without breaking the bank.

  1. Conduct a baseline energy audit throughout the store by installing energy-monitoring equipment. These sensors help you analyze the existing energy signature of the entire store before you make any adjustments or retrofits, and will also be invaluable for future temperature monitoring and control to ensure food safety and quality.
  2. Recommission your existing equipment to factory specifications. This may include adjusting setpoints, superheat, suction pressure and other settings. In the process, any broken components can be repaired. This one step alone can result in energy savings of 18 percent or more.
  3. Upgrade your refrigeration technologies. One effective upgrade is changing discus compressors to digital compressors. This single retrofit can reduce compressor cycling, increase system reliability, and improve energy efficiency by 16 percent or more. Installing variable-frequency drives on condenser fan motors can save even more.
  4. Upgrade your HVAC system. Ambient store temperatures are major stressors on refrigeration systems. Consider upgrading rooftop units and adding demand-controlled ventilation and humidity controls. Integrating the rooftop units with the refrigeration system in the store is another option, creating a self-contained ecosystem that balances ambient and refrigeration temperatures for significant energy savings.
  5. Upgrade lighting and other renewables. Adding modern lighting technology lowers temperatures. Installing doors onto units lowers energy losses. Electronic case controls and expansion valves (EEVs) fine-tune equipment temperatures, while upgrading to electronically commutated (EC) motors lowers electricity consumption while improving equipment efficiency.
  6. Perform condition-based maintenance. Once you’ve migrated to these capital upgrades, it’s important to step up your regular maintenance intervals to continue your gains in efficiency and cost savings.

With these targeted retrofits and upgrades, you can systematically make your centralized DX system more effective in maintaining food quality and safety while simultaneously uncovering efficiencies that can result in significant savings.

Smaller Supermarket Formats Dictate Fresh Refrigeration Approaches

JohnWallace_Blog_Image John Wallace | Director of Innovation, Retail Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Meeting the demands of emergent small-format supermarkets requires a new approach to — or adaption of existing — refrigeration architectures. This blog is based on a recent article that discusses available options. Read the full article here.

One of the biggest trends shaping the food retail industry is the shrinking store footprint. Instead of building large mega centers that once dominated the landscape, today’s retailers are opting to extend their brands into smaller stores, typically in densely populated areas. The small-format trend is part of a larger evolution — one that emphasizes high-quality, fresh, perishable offerings while appealing to consumer desire for more convenience.

Food retailers that are embracing these changes must also evaluate how their approaches to refrigeration architectures and controls will also need to adapt. Fortunately, there is no shortage of available options to help operators make this transition.

Scale down for “centralized” familiarity
A traditional big-box supermarket has more than 100 cases (a mix of medium- and low-temperature cases) supported by centralized refrigeration racks and controls designed to optimize large systems of this type. If you shrink these systems down for smaller formats with less merchandise, it stands to reason that you may not need as many racks. With stores shrinking from more than 100,000 to less than 20,000 square feet, they simply won’t need the same refrigeration horsepower.

In many cases, operators may still want to use centralized architectures for both medium- and low-temperature cases, but appropriately scaled down to suit the small format. Often, we’re able to design a system with one rack to manage medium- and low-temperature needs. Since it’s a much smaller centralized system to support fewer case lineups, it has much shorter refrigeration lines running out to the cases.

From a system controls standpoint, this smaller centralized architecture isn’t drastically different, so retailers can achieve relatively the same look and feel in both large and small store formats — while also providing the flexibility to scale across the full spectrum of store sizes.

Explore “distributed” efficiencies

While distributed refrigeration systems have been preferred in large supermarkets in Europe and other global regions, they are also well-suited for the small-format emergence in the U.S. Distributed architectures come in different formats and offer a cost-effective refrigeration strategy for smaller stores. Preferred distributed architectures include:

  • “Self-contained” cases (i.e., a completely integrated refrigeration system within the case); also provide spot-merchandizing flexibility
  • Modular refrigeration systems capable of supporting small lines of cases sharing similar characteristics

Distributed architectures also have a greater impact on the way controls are set up and utilized. In a distributed scenario, electronic controllers are installed at the refrigeration cases. Additional sensors are typically required to capture data, allow for better control, and support remote troubleshooting activities.

Standardize your footprint

When adding smaller-format stores to an enterprise network, it may not be in your best interest to introduce a completely new refrigeration and controls platform. For retailers with multi-site networks of large- and small-format stores, it’s especially important to select refrigeration architectures and control platforms that provide a standardized view.

When evaluating refrigeration options, look for platforms that support the evolution of internet of things (IoT) in refrigeration and facility management. These systems represent the next generation of operational efficiencies by offering cloud connectivity, predictive maintenance and advanced multi-site management software.

 

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