Peter Powell

Back in the mid-1980s, I had barely been in the HVACR industry and was editing a publication calledRSC Magazine, when I was asked by one of the editors at a sister publication,The NEWS, to cover an energy and technical conference of the Food Marketing Institute.

My knowledge of refrigeration was sparse, being filled by taking an HVACR course at a community college. Covering the conference was a challenge, but thanks to a tape recorder and lots of questions, I pulled together some stories.

It was at that conference that I first met Grant Brown, who a few years later was to form Phoenix Refrigeration, one of the most innovative manufacturers of supermarket systems. About six years later, Phoenix merged with Hill Refrigeration to become Hill-Phoenix, which today remains a constant innovator.

Beyond the FMI Energy & Technical Services Conferences, I also began back in those days to cover the FMI Expo that used to take place every year in Chicago (and currently is an every other year show in Las Vegas).

One aspect of that huge expo was to visit the major rack manufacturers, those companies that pulled together all the components that made up the refrigeration of supermarkets. In those days there were four majors - Hill, Hussmann, Phoenix, and Tyler. It was educational and fun to explore those booths in detail. In one sense, you could see what each company was promoting as the must have latest technologies.

And, you could also see the ebb and flow of technologies. I can recall one year when there was a lot of fuss about secondary loop technology. This was back in the early, early days of that now quite common technology. A year later, that technology was not featured quite as prominently at booths where it was a big ado the year before. Then over the years, the technology was back in the forefront at some booths.

The big four hardly marched in step. Each had their own way of creating refrigeration and each stressed the advantages of their way. I never wrote that one was better than the other. I just told readers what I was told and let them make the decisions.

When Hill and Phoenix merged, the big four was down to three. Now, it was recently reported that Hill Phoenix has “acquired certain assets and intellectual property of Tyler Refrigeration.” For all intents and purposes the Tyler name is going to disappear.

The end result is one less player in the refrigeration sector. This does not mean that the choices available to the refrigeration sector are going to decrease. Major players will remain. Many smaller companies will continue to offer their own take on refrigeration technology. And many engineering departments within supermarkets will continue to build their own packaged systems drawing on components from a number of manufacturers.

Component manufacturers will continue to bring new and interesting products to market and will point out that what they have will fit most any system-wide application. And most any manufacturer still in the sector will promote the fact they are a “one-stop shop” where decision makers can come and have all their needs met.

The HVACR industry, like many others, is always promoting change. And we are always appreciative when that change results in better, more energy-efficient and environmentally-correct products.

I suppose change also has to mean a change in the makeup of the manufacturing sector. We have certainly seen it over the years. The annualHVACR Directory & Source Guide, which comes out the first part of each year, has a section on mergers, acquisitions, and name changes. That section seems to get bigger and bigger every year.

It is sad, especially for us old folks, when a familiar, respected name in the industry disappears. But, it is just the way it is.

Publication date:07/06/2009