We all know that these are interesting times in Refrigerationland. CFCs are history, HCFCs are on their way out, and HFCs are being scrutinized and phased down; dozens of new refrigerants are in the works or have already arrived on the scene; naturals are poised to claim a bigger share of the market; we’re in the Paris agreement and then we’re out, and no one knows what that might mean for the Kigali Amendment; and the Department of Energy is always lurking about, ramping up efficiency standards. At times like these, the old brain can start to feel overwhelmed, and that’s when it’s good to step back and gain a little perspective.

In this case, that perspective came at one of my favorite places in the world: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.

If you have never been to The Henry Ford, I recommend it in the highest possible terms. It is a wonderful place where you can lose yourself for an entire day, provide your mind with some fascinating brain candy, and gain a sense of perspective on the inventions that have helped shape our world. People might hear the “Ford” part of the title and think the museum is all about cars, and sure, the automobile exhibits are great. But there is much more: trains, aircraft, early motors and engines of all types and sizes, dynamos, a 1953 Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, the world’s only existing Dymaxion House (you’ll have to Google it, you wouldn’t believe me even if I told you), and, yes, early refrigeration systems.

As I wandered through the museum on my most recent visit, I was struck by something that applies to our industry today: we figure things out. Americans don’t look at a need and shrug. We find a way to get it done. The solutions we devise aren’t always perfect and, as the exhibits at the museum make clear, a tremendous amount of trial and error is an integral part of the process of inventing. As Henry Ford himself said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

But in the spirit of summer and giving our weary minds a nice break, remember to keep your sense of perspective in these uncertain times. Refrigeration is too important – in fact, it is a truly essential industry – not to claim a big share of the innovation brain power out there. We probably won’t return to the simple days of yore when one or two major refrigerants covered 90 percent of the equipment on the market. But we will figure things out. We always have. And who knows, perhaps the innovations in refrigeration that are taking place today will be viewed with wonder by visitors to The Henry Ford 100 years from now.   

Publication date: 7/5/2017

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