At ATMOsphere Europe in October, Enrico Mirandola, Chief Group Sales and Marketing Officer of Resource Data Management (RDM), took part in the “Industry 4.0” panel to discuss the applications of smart systems for HVAC&R and the Internet of Things (IoT).
In the following interview, conducted by Accelerate Magazine, he talks about the natural refrigerant controls industry, and particularly the integration of smart systems using the Internet of Things (IoT).
Accelerate Magazine (AM): How important is natural refrigerants to RDM’s business?
Enrico Mirandola (EM): From conception, RDM focused the direction of product development by asking prospective customers what would help them deliver their corporate objectives. The insight gathered, coupled with founder Andrew Chandler's vision, took RDM in the direction of remote monitoring and refrigeration controls. Over the succeeding years we have continued with this philosophy of working with end-users, OEMs, VARs and consultants to give them custom, flexible and sustainable control solutions to help them implement new natural refrigerant systems.
It is part of RDM’s philosophy to be environmentally aware. We are passionate about protecting the environment. Implementing, whenever possible, processes and structures that minimise energy consumption and carbon footprint – For Andrew, this is at both personal and business level. This consciousness, coupled with as drive to continually evolve and expand our solution offering, meant a natural progression towards ammonia and secondary control systems, which were introduced into our product offering in 2004, followed by CO2 controls in 2007. Since then, the product range has developed and evolved to accommodate the different processes used to control natural refrigerants.
AM: Are you planning on penetrating the U.S. market after your installation at the Lunds & Byerlys supermarket chain? What are your plans for global expansion?
EM: Since our formation, we have grown to over 200 employees, across five locations worldwide, who are all supported by a strategically positioned affiliate and distributor network. Our subsidiary locations in Asia and the U.S. mirror the sales, support and training facilities offered in the U.K. head office. We are committed to supporting our customers globally.
When we launched the U.S. office back in 2012, we faced much resistance. Mostly it was the fear of change, both in terms of changing brands but also very much in terms of changing technologies. The U.K. approach to control strategies is quite different from the standard U.S. approach. We couldn't pick up our successful model in the U.K. and replicate it directly in the U.S., so we had to adapt and re-educate.
The new technologies that we were introducing meant that early adopters had to commit to a steep learning curve. For them, the steep learning curve and our investment have paid off. We are now at a tipping point, with U.S. customers better understanding the benefits that modern control solutions can offer. Training and specialised support have been and will continue to be essential to support our growth. I feel confident with the team that we have in place and am very excited for the years ahead.
AM: How much can controls help improve the energy efficiency of CO2 and other systems?
EM: Massively. Energy efficiency and control go hand in hand — a well-maintained system will perform close to its design efficiency envelope. Our products and software applications are designed with energy efficiency in mind. A major U.K. retailer that is committed to combating climate change has implemented many of our energy-efficiency options to successfully improve efficiency. Their challenge is to find new ways to reduce energy. An opportunity they identified was suction-pressure optimisation, using our rack controllers to offset the target suction pressure in response to fluctuations in the cooling load. The project focused on HFC refrigerant-based systems, as CO2-based cascade systems inherently allow suction pressure to float in response to cooling demand.
The savings reported by our customers demonstrate what is possible. U.S. grocer Lunds & Byerlys, using an integrated control and monitoring solution from RDM, saved US $8 million over six years, across just 18 stores – a considerable saving that they were able to reinvest to grow their business.
AM: What trends are you noticing in the refrigeration industry, particular in natural refrigeration controls?
EM: We have noted a definite step towards technologies such as waterloop and solar systems. The European F-Gas legislation has also been a disrupter.
Two years ago, we worked with an OEM partner to develop a controller to support a new variable-speed driven, multi-refrigerant condensing unit range. The condensing unit can be installed either on top of or underneath the display case. The heat generated by the compressor and the display case is not directly released into the immediate vicinity but is transferred outside by a waterloop system to a dry air cooler. The technology was installed by RDM New Zealand for food retailer Foodstuffs, reducing refrigerant charge by 90%, compared to a centralised pack system.
A more recent project, with our Dutch distributor, was a solar-powered cold storage facility. In regions without a steady power grid, remote locations and disaster-stricken areas, the lack of reliable cooling systems makes it challenging to prevent food waste or store medicines securely. To work around the problem of electricity availability, the Dutch company Vink Koeltechniek developed a cold-storage facility powered exclusively by solar energy. Relying on solar power for 100% of energy use, cold storage facilities have no running costs and are eco-friendly; they also require little maintenance and, with remote monitoring in place, technician visits are limited to the absolutely necessary ones.
In Europe, the requirement for companies to reduce F-gas consumption by 2030 is forcing companies to stand up and take note of the changes that they need to make. We see this as an opportunity not just for RDM, but for our customers. Yes, they will need to invest in their infrastructure to make a move from traditional refrigerants to alternates such as ammonia or CO2. But by investing sooner rather than later they can achieve cost savings, higher ROI and quick payback on the investment, through improved energy efficiency. At the same time, they can demonstrate environmental awareness and responsibility – making the change because they can, rather than because they are forced to.
AM: What role can IoT play in refrigeration controls and smart systems?
EM: The principles of IoT are fundamental to the creation of a successful control and smart system strategy.
It is not possible to predict every failure, but if we can identify the systems that are failing slowly and not operating efficiently, we can save a considerable amount of energy and reduce environmental impact. This can happen with IoT.
For example, we help customers to make informed decisions on the balance between the environmental impact of ripping out and potentially scrapping their old system with the benefits that can be achieved from installing a new control solution. We can also provide options to retain elements of their legacy system but enhance the efficiency and performance by updating specific elements.
AM: What are the biggest challenges you face with IoT?
EM: Not all communication protocols are what they at first appear. There are currently some protocols that are billed as “open protocol.” But they are not because they still need an expensive gateway at the device level, or typically users will be required to pay an annual subscription to be a member of the protocol organisation. This is not a true open free-to-use protocol.
Another challenge is a lack of knowledge. Some people are simply not aware of the options that are available to them. RDM installed the first refrigeration controller, with IP connectivity and the ability to capture data remotely in 2004. Yet, we still meet companies for whom temperature compliance is critical that manually capture and store temperature data. These companies may be losing thousands of man hours, and potentially millions in revenue, by manually checking and recording data that could be done automatically or more accurately.
AM: Overall, what are the benefits of integrating IoT-enabled smart systems?
EM: The benefits are endless. Insight and automated processes lead to improved efficiencies, reducing operating costs, energy consumption and carbon footprint. It is a domino effect that comes 360° and allows a business to thrive, reinvest and grow. It can give companies the tools to manage vast estates that can even span multiple countries. It’s all done remotely by filtering and channelling the information that is important to the right people, all in real-time.
AM: Where are we going with the integration of smart systems? How do you see the future?
EM: As companies look to become more efficient and drive better results, many will turn to predictive analytics to help determine strategy moving forward. The future is the adoption of smart systems. They will be an essential requisite, if a business wants to be the best in their marketplace. In my opinion, the most significant risk of any individual responsible for the management of HVAC&R assets is to not protect those assets with a monitoring solution that allows them to analyse operating data effectively.
The 10th annual ATMOsphere Europe took place at the Airport Hotel Okecie in Warsaw, Poland, October 16-17. For more information and to view the full program, visit www.atmo.org
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