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HVACR Contractors Offer Practical Perspectives on Refrigerant Regulations

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel of three Atlanta-area HVACR contractors to glean their firsthand insights into the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses and customers. A recent article covers a wide range of topics and issues, including this discussion about the impacts of refrigerant regulations on contractors and their customers. You can read the full article here.

The service impacts of refrigerant regulations

Imagine showing up to a job site and not knowing which refrigerant is being used in the refrigeration or AC system. According to Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, this has become an all too common scenario. “When pressures aren’t reading true, we have to start from scratch with a total refrigerant evacuation, recovery and recharge before even attempting a diagnosis,” he said. Hoover noted that the transition from legacy refrigerants to today’s lower-GWP options comes at a cost, even for those refrigerants that are considered “drop-in” replacements.

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., added that customers are not happy to see recovery and disposal fees tacked onto their bill, and this is putting competitive pressures to use shortcuts on small contracting businesses. “Many companies may not be following proper recovery protocols to win business, which can put companies like ours at a disadvantage,” noted Duffee. “It is obviously counterproductive from an environmental standpoint.”

When asked if customers were even interested in the trend toward using lower-GWP refrigerants, Duffee said that in his experience, cost considerations are his customers’ first priority. Even if their legacy systems are leaking, customers are reluctant to invest in replacement equipment. They may be more open to discussing new refrigerants when that investment eventually becomes inevitable.

Presenting new refrigerants as an opportunity to add value

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, serves a much larger enterprise customer base. He said his customers have demonstrated more interest in making these investments, and his company is trying to frame the transition as an opportunity. “It’s challenging to align customers’ goals with the available equipment options, but there are some cases where federal and regional regulations are forcing a change.” Wharton added that change isn’t always good news for customers, but he helps them understand the real values of their investment, including total lifecycle costs, energy efficiency and performance advantages.

Too many options result in too much complexity

All three of the contractors said that refrigerant uncertainty is also adding complexity to the equipment decision-making process. Hoover noted his customers are concerned about the long-term viability of the changes. “The last thing they want after investing in a new system is for it to be phased out in four to five years due to a refrigerant change.” All three contractors agree that the industry would benefit by standardizing. Hoover added, “Preferably, we’d like to see one refrigerant, not five or six different options, to replace the old ones.” He pointed out that many contractors simply aren’t able to carry multiple varieties of refrigerants in their trucks at all times. And since these different refrigerants often have unique performance characteristics, variety only adds complexity to service calls.

At Emerson, we’ve seen the wide range of new refrigerant options as a technical challenge, developing equipment and retrofits to accommodate and optimize their performances. But it’s our interactions with contractors and customers that give us insights into how options ultimately impact end users. Their answers shed much-needed light on potential solutions — such as a press toward a single, standard and regulatory-compliant refrigerant.

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.

 

Five Prestigious Reasons to Become an HVACR Apprentice

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

As National Apprenticeship Week (March 4–8, 2019) once again approaches, the critical shortage of qualified HVACR technicians within the U.S. continues with an estimated industry shortfall of 118,000 technicians by the year 2022. Recruiting apprentice HVACR techs remains as challenging as ever, because students with an aptitude for technical trades are not being encouraged to pursue vocational or technical training. Students need to be convinced that an HVACR career path is a viable alternative to a four-year college degree, offering them a chance to work on new and emerging technologies in meaningful careers that contribute to society.

What’s stopping them? One is the perception among American high school students that a college degree is more valuable and prestigious than an apprenticeship and a fast track to a career. The other is that we collectively as an industry are not adequately presenting them options. Here are five great reasons for a high school student to consider becoming an HVACR apprentice.

  1. College is more popular — and more expensive — than ever.

At least two-thirds of the high school class of 2020 intend to go to college; this represents the highest rate of secondary education attendance in U.S. history. They and their parents know that college is getting more expensive, while financial aid is shrinking. The average student graduates with an average of $40,000 in student loan debt just as they’re about to begin looking for an entry-level job. What isn’t as well-known is that about half of all college students drop out without earning a degree — and with no real job skills. Yet schools, guidance counselors and peers continue to push students straight to college.

  1. There is an alternative: A fast start — with no debt.

When many “traditional” students are just starting their sophomore year in college, some of their high school friends will be beginning their careers as HVACR apprentices with average entry-level salaries ranging from $47,000–$60,000 a year, depending on skill set. It’s a matter of supply and demand, and being an HVACR tech is a vocation in extremely high demand. It’s time high school guidance counselors had information about alternative apprenticeships on hand.

  1. An apprenticeship is a wise path for students who can use their heads — and their hands.

A bright student with some high school courses in math and/or physics can learn to read a blueprint and earn an HVACR apprentice certificate at a community college in six months to a year, at little or no cost and with no student debt. Others can even start straight out of high school, getting paid while earning their certificate on the job. In an industry that needs 118,000 new HVACR apprentice technicians, their certificates mean they are almost certain to get job offers from almost any company to which they apply. As an apprentice, their future career tracks are limited only by their ambition and drive (or lack thereof).

  1. An apprenticeship is a top-notch education.

An HVACR tech certificate may not sound as glamorous as a college degree. But four years of on-the-job training in a technical field are easily the equivalent of a four-year academic degree. HVACR techs are responsible for maintaining healthy environments at major medical centers. They work in the aerospace industry and in high-tech corporations. HVACR techs know how to maintain and repair 12-ton coolers, heat pumps, furnaces, ultralow-temperature freezers and refrigerators; they can manage the electronic systems that connect them; and they can run the software and internet programs that monitor and control them. HVACR techs work with advanced technologies, doing essential work that significantly affects people’s lives.

  1. They’re wanted.

The HVACR industry is working with educators, unions and contractor organizations to make it even easier to earn apprentice certification, with more online courses, night classes and technically advanced curriculums to create valuable on-the-job training. Even the federal government has stepped in, with the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act providing funds for students who are looking for more career-oriented education after high school.

 

Ensuring Freshness in Click-and-Collect Fulfillment

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Click-and-collect fulfillment requires new or improved refrigeration strategies to ensure food quality and safety. I recently discussed these approaches for Progressive Grocer magazine. Read the full article here.

To meet consumer demand for convenience, many food retailers are entering the omnichannel arena with a click-and-collect, curbside pickup option. This new model comes with high consumer expectations, especially for maintaining maximum freshness of perishable items. As we know, even the slightest deviations in holding temperatures can quickly impact perishable freshness and negatively affect a grocer’s reputation. One bad experience can quickly erode consumer confidence, spread through word of mouth, and even inflict long-term damage on a brand.

But when executed properly, a positive click-and-collect fulfillment process can result in significant business expansion and a thriving new revenue stream. It’s important to realize that this popular fulfillment model can place unique stains on a refrigeration system, such as maintaining ideal temperatures and humidity conditions in the face of frequent cooler door openings. Ensuring success will mean implementing an optimum refrigeration strategy. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a refrigeration system for click-and-collect fulfillment.

Implement smart controls

Modern control systems are ideal for click-and-collect applications to help retailers manage food quality from the time it enters the store to when it’s delivered to a customer. Best-available solutions combine facility management and supervisory controls with user-friendly software and mobile apps to deliver always-on, remote temperature monitoring and comprehensive management of store systems and refrigeration.

These controls help operators keep temperatures low during active fulfillment periods and adjust setpoints back up during non-peak hours to save energy during low-use hours — maintaining optimal conditions for perishable freshness. Monitoring services can detect system performance issues early and notify designated store managers via mobile alerts, enabling them to make informed decisions and quickly take corrective actions.

Consider outdoor condensing unit flexibility

Click-and-collect refrigeration may require facility operators to update their current systems to support reliable cold-storage and staging areas. These systems must be robust enough to meet low- and medium-temperature requirements, but also flexible enough to address the unique demands of click-and-collect fulfillment.

Self-contained outdoor condensing units (OCUs) are ideal for adding refrigeration capacity to new cold-storage areas without affecting a facility’s existing centralized refrigeration architecture. Modern OCUs are also equipped to address difficult setpoint and humidity challenges.

OCUs have compact footprints that allow for greater installation flexibility while combining advanced components with onboard controls to help maintain precise temperatures in difficult operating conditions. Proven scroll-compression technology helps these units deliver consistent reliability across a wide range of capacities (from 0.75 to 17 HP) to meet a variety of operational requirements. Electronic expansion valves, digital compression technology and specialized load-matching algorithms enable precise capacity modulation to match compressor capacity to fluctuating refrigeration loads during peak delivery periods.

Condensing-unit controls provide demand-driven defrost cycles and humidity management to help combat repeated door openings of cold-storage rooms and refrigerated lockers. Seamless integration with facility management controllers enables remote monitoring, power management and predictive diagnostics to help operators quickly respond to, and even potentially preempt, refrigeration faults or disruptions in performance.

Click-and-collect represents a tremendous growth opportunity for food retailers as consumers continue to embrace online grocery shopping. To succeed in this competitive arena, earn customer loyalty and capture market share, retailers will likely need to delight their customers with every transaction. These refrigeration strategies can help retailers deliver a seamless click-and-collect experience by ensuring consistency, freshness and quality with every order.

 

Top 10 Emerson Blogs for 2018: Our Most Popular “Climate Conversations”

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

A quick two-minute read may be all the time it takes to keep up with the latest developments taking place throughout the food cold chain and its shared industries. That’s why we blog frequently about trending topics, emerging technologies and proven strategies for success. As a foundation of our E360 platform, the Climate Conversations blog is designed to make sure you’re the first to know about new industry opportunities, issues and ideas. Based on this year’s traffic to our website, we’ve selected the 10 most popular blog entries we published in 2018 — information as relevant today as the day it was posted.

Top 10 2018 Climate Conversations Blogs

  1. Why Whole Foods Made R-290 Integral to its Refrigeration Strategy

It’s only natural. If any grocery chain was going to take the lead on committing to using all-natural refrigerants, it was Whole Foods. But finding a greener solution for their self-contained units was a struggle. Whole Foods took a giant leap by converting its stores to new propane-based refrigerant

R-290 and immediately saw a jump in energy-efficiency. Learn how this approach serves as a model for other progressive chains focused on natural refrigeration.

 

  1. Can Amendments to Apprentice Act Address the Technician Shortage?

This blog is a short read of an ACHR News article regarding a possible solution to an enormous industry problem: the need for 115,000 new HVAC technicians in the U.S. by 2022. Each year, America’s college graduates riddle themselves with loan debt while pursuing white collar jobs — each with an average starting salary of $32,000. Yet, apprentice technicians earn an average starting salary of $60,000, and vocational students often enjoy subsidized training with no loans. The Apprenticeship Enhancement Act of 2017 could fast-track these apprentice programs, luring a new generation of motivated technicians into our industries.

 

  1. Regulatory Landscape Presents New Challenges and Complexities

At the time this blog appeared, 10 EPA rulings targeting the commercial refrigeration industry were set to take place over the following four years. Since then, the landscape has changed dramatically, but many of these rules serve as the bases of new state initiatives and industry best practices. Regardless of which direction the regulatory wind will blow next, this blog presents a sensible, systematic approach to compliance, using collaboration and innovation to soften the impact of constant change. For the latest rulemaking on refrigerants, please view this regulatory update session from our most recent E360 Forum.

 

  1. C-Store Trends Through 2025

Convenience stores have come a long way from displaying racks of chips and a Slushie machine. Drawing on a conversation with the editors of Convenience Store Decisions, we looked at trends such as the increasing emphasis on creating positive customer experiences and using inventory management tools to learn what customers prefer.

 

  1. Understanding Applications for Alternative Refrigerants

The move to lower-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants such as new alternatives to high-GWP HFCs seems inevitable. But they are not “fill-and-chill” solutions; these alternative refrigerants present new operating challenges. For example, some run hotter in both low- and medium-temperature applications, requiring compressor cooling equipment. This blog introduces a video outlining various performance issues and requirements, as well as emerging refrigerant alternatives.

 

  1. Natural Refrigerant R-290 Stages a Comeback in Refrigeration

Natural refrigerants such as propane (R-290) are not new to the scene. In fact, in the early 1900s, early refrigeration systems were based on naturally occurring hydrocarbons, which combined excellent performance with one noteworthy caveat: flammability. When non-flammable CFC refrigerants arrived in the 1930s, natural refrigerants took a back seat until the environmental consequences of CFCs became apparent. In the early 2000s, researchers took a new look at R-290 as a completely GWP-free, high-performance refrigerant for low-charge commercial refrigeration equipment.

 

  1. Copeland Scroll Takes Home the Gold

When you spend years researching and designing a completely new compressor line that achieves an ideal balance of energy-efficiency improvements, environmental friendliness, reliability, safety and more, it’s OK to take a bow (and then get back to work). This year, the Dealer Design Awards recognized Emerson’s Copeland Scroll™ Fractional Horsepower Compressor line with its gold distinction, meant to highlight the latest, most innovative products in the HVACR industry and honor design excellence.

 

  1. A Digital Transformation in the Cold Chain

As an introduction to Emerson Group President John Rhodes’ article on the need for tighter cold chain integration, this blog discusses how the internet of things (IoT) is connecting links in the global cold chain to drive food safety and freshness. Rather than a narrow focus only on the performance of disparate operators within the food supply chain, he encourages operators to integrate their data to build a truly connected cold chain. Combining the cold chain with big data gives operators a wide-angle view of where they can improve and innovate.

 

  1. New Challenges Won’t Stop the Cold Chain Evolution

Today’s unprecedented environmental, energy and food safety regulations have created challenges that have become increasingly difficult to overcome. In this blog and accompanying video, Emerson makes the case that the industry can’t afford to lose progress in the face of an uncertain, dynamic regulatory climate. When change is inevitable, create a breadth of product offerings, take the lead in stewardship efforts, and keep an eye toward innovation. That’s what we’ve done to help you find your way through this maze of change.

 

  1. R-290 in U.S. Commercial Foodservice
    The global HFC refrigerant phase-down has brought the natural refrigerant R-290 back into the spotlight. This blog tells the story of how one company, H&K International, put its head down to focus on creating successful R-290 based products. The company worked within the current charge limit for R-290 applications to create self-contained cases, condensing units and reach-ins. Learn how making the switch to R-290 is projected to save H&K’s customers almost $800,000 in energy costs over the next three years.

We hope these blogs help keep you informed and address your most pressing challenges. Be sure to bookmark our blog page and visit it frequently to read our latest posts. You can also sign up to receive an alert whenever a blog is posted so you’re always up-to-speed.

 

 

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