Cooler, Freezer Manufacturers Refocus on Customers’ Desires
Market demand rather than government regulations is now driving product development
Manufacturers of coolers and freezers are emerging from a regulation-driven innovation cycle and are ready and eager to return to one driven by their customers’ wish lists.
Most manufacturers and end users would not necessarily have chosen to move away from established hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, said Sara Sunderman-Kirby, product manager, refrigeration, Delfield. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) phasedown of HFCs under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program left them no choice.
What has emerged is an industry that increasingly uses hydrocarbons (HCs) — specifically propane (R-290) — and is much less wedded to HFCs. And, ultimately, it hasn’t been a bad thing.
“People may hear about R-290 and assume it’s unsafe, but it’s safe and has been used worldwide for decades,” Sunderman-Kirby said. “The R-290 charge in our small undercounter unit is less than what’s in a Bic lighter, so it’s really just a matter of education. And end users could see an increase of 30-45 percent in energy efficiency with an R-290 system compared to most R-404A systems.”
There is a charge limit of 150 grams of R-290 per refrigeration system, so larger units may need more than one system. However, refrigerant blends may provide a solution.
“It may be a hydrocarbon blend that hasn’t been discovered yet, but the market has until 2019 and 2020 to find a solution,” she said.
In the realm of technician training, Sunderman-Kirby pointed out that Delfield rolled out a line of R-290 undercounter units at a major restaurant chain in North America last year, so all of the company’s technicians are already trained to service the R-290 units.
“They’re all trained and ready to go,” she said. “Servicing R-290 units is very similar to servicing R-404A units. The important thing is making sure the unit is marked properly for R-290 so techs know what refrigerant they are working on when they arrive at the site.”
R-290 NOW ‘EVERYDAY BUSINESS’
At Traulsen, Scott Mallernee, sales development manager, said the company’s work over the past 18 months with R-290 has it well-prepared to address the DOE’s new efficiency standards in 2017 as well as the EPA’s ongoing refrigerant phasedowns.
“Last year, we had a fancy cutaway of an R-290 unit on display,” Mallernee said. “This year, the message is that these new refrigerants are just a matter of everyday business.”
In addition to propane, Traulsen will offer units that use all the EPA-approved low-GWP (global warming potential) blends, Mallernee added.
“It’s our intent to offer customers various options,” Mallernee said. “Our R-290 innovation, as expensive as it was, was government-driven and not customer-driven, so we recognize that the customers may not want R-290 in their kitchens.”
Mallernee concluded that Traulsen, along with the rest of the commercial refrigeration industry, is eager to get back to customer-driven initiatives.
“We’ve been spending much of our time on government-mandated innovations,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound like we shouldn’t be addressing environmental concerns, and I don’t mean to imply that these are bad ideas, because they are the correct things to do. But these moves were not market-driven. As an industry, we’ve been investing heavily in what the government has told us we must do, and now it’s time to get back to our customers’ wish lists.”
IMPROVING THE INNER WORKINGS
Dean Groff, regional marketing manager, refrigeration, Danfoss, said Danfoss is well-positioned to help the industry transition to low-GWP refrigerants under the EPA’s SNAP rules. The company is also dedicated to helping OEMs meet the DOE’s updated energy-efficiency regulations.
“The U.S. commercial refrigeration industry is following closely the changes taking place in Europe, and Danfoss has an established product portfolio of products for low-GWP refrigerants and continues to invest in product development as well as training for end users and distribution channel partners,” Groff said.
Specifically, Danfoss offers variable-speed compressors that can increase system efficiency while providing tight temperature and humidity control and mechanical and electronic expansion valves to replace fixed-restrictor cap tubes.
In R-290 systems, Danfoss microchannel coils and 1 ½-inch filter driers can help reduce the charge limits. “You’re getting more bang for your buck out of 150 grams [of refrigerant],” Groff said.
In addition to energy efficiency and low-GWP refrigerants, connectivity is another trend that will continue to reshape the industry, Groff said.
“Modern refrigeration units can provide tremendously useful data about temperatures and energy consumption, and this cloud-based data can then be used for more advanced functions, such as predictive maintenance or consumer engagement,” he said. “Connectivity will become an increasingly important part of our product development and ultimately deliver our customers and customers’ customers a better user experience.”
Hoshizaki America Inc. recently upgraded its commercial upright refrigeration series to include all-stainless steel interiors, said Sally Ray, marketing manager.
“When it comes to commercial refrigeration equipment, performance and reliability are the two things people are looking for,” Ray said. “Our entire interior cabinet and interior door liner are all stainless now, which provides a high level of durability in a commercial kitchen.”
She added that Hoshizaki upright units feature thermostatic expansion valves (TXVs) to help maintain tight temperature control and ensure food safety.
A COMMODITY MARKET?
David Bishop, managing consultant, Blue Air Commercial Refrigeration, said he believes commercial refrigeration equipment is becoming increasingly commoditized. Thanks to the internet, virtually all brands are now accessible nationwide. This makes price, especially first cost, paramount in the purchase decision.
“Unfortunately, the trend in many cases is ‘buy cheap and regret later,’” Bishop said.
Blue Air, he added, is trying to focus on long-term value in its products, and, to that end, is seeking feedback from the refrigeration service community.
“We’d like to hear from the service community to find out if they’re interested in taking a look inside our products, highlighting the things they like, and sharing with us things that should be changed or improved,” Bishop said. “The service community will be an important part of our future growth.”
ZERO-CLEARANCE UNDERCOUNTER UNITS
Master-Bilt has introduced the MBU-A Series of undercounter worktable refrigerators and freezers. The MBU-A Series features a new front-breathing design and allows cabinets to be enclosed on the top, sides, and back, freeing area workspace and offering zero-clearance installation. The units also include a new pullout condenser filter screen located in the rear of each cabinet that can be removed without tools for easy cleaning.
The MBU-A Series is available in one-, two-, or three-door options across five refrigerator and three freezer models. The refrigerator models use R-134a, and the freezer models use R-404A. All units are covered by a limited three-year parts-and-labor warranty and two years of additional coverage is offered on compressor parts.
Publication date: 7/4/2016