It was like going to the doctor and then hearing something that you really don’t want hear.

Yet this spring found a different type of doctor addressing leaders at the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses’ annual convention.

It was like going to the doctor and then hearing something that you really don’t want hear.

Yet this spring found a different type of doctor addressing leaders at the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses’ annual convention. Nationally known economist and financial advisor Robert Genetski, Ph.D., served as the meeting’s keynote speaker and delivered an economic overview and forecast.

Among those in attendance was Matt Chang, vice president of sales and marketing with Hench Control Inc., a Hercules, Calif., supplier of energy management systems.

“It’s worth noting that Dr. Genetski said energy prices could rise by as much as 40 percent during the next two years,” says Chang. “It only makes the value proposition for energy management systems that much more critical.”

Chang and others like him believe they can help public and private warehouse operators keep a lid on rising costs. Another IARW attendee, Jim Conant, is president of Logix Controls, Kirkland, Wash.

Both firms say they have worked to address warehouse operator concerns about refrigeration controls. Meanwhile, both companies also say they have improved offerings and services.

How do warehouse owner-operators weigh Genetski’s forecast of rising costs versus the cost of purchasing a refrigeration control system?

“We tell operators the investment cost is mitigated by the benefits a refrigeration control system (RCS) provides - the most measurable of which is energy reduction,” notes Conant. “When potential customers compare the value of the expected energy savings from an RCS to its initial cost, they see an attractive return on investment for their capital outlay.”

Conant and Chang say warehouse operators also are concerned about system accessibility (monitoring) as well as capabilities to fine-tune and document system performance.

“Facility managers and engineering staff are responding to pressures to increase efficiencies and lower operating costs,” Conant adds. “They are asking for tools that provide concise reporting of key performance indicators such as temperatures, pressures, power use and efficiency (often expressed as kW per ton of refrigeration).

“Additionally, clients want these monitoring and reporting tools over a wide range of technologies - including computer networks, Web browsers and PDAs. They also would like this information to be integrated with plant supervisory systems, databases and other programs.”

Accessibility also has been a particular point of focus for Logix, which developed an “Open Architecture” platform.

“With most refrigerated facilities using a computer network to integrate all their day-to-day operations, management access to the refrigeration control system has become even more important,” says Conant. “Many of our customers are using their facilities’ computer networks to monitor and control multiple refrigeration systems from a central location (often at corporate headquarters). This capability allows owners to continuously improve plant operations at all of their facilities and standardize procedures.”

Both suppliers say their customers can access and monitor refrigeration system operations via Web-enabled platforms. Moreover, both companies provide remote alarm alerts to computer desktops, cell phones and e-mail devices; and share and export logged and real-time data via a variety of standard protocols and methodologies.

Automation uniformity and compatibility is another issue, which both suppliers admit comes into play.

“It is common for plant equipment and engine rooms, for that matter, to have a piece-meal approach based on expansions, manufacturer preference and budgetary constraints,” says Chang. “Because of this, there is usually a lack of communication between different processing and control systems, so each unit or groups of units are working independently of each other, which causes many inefficiencies.

“We address those issues by tying in all pieces of equipment - regardless of make and/or model - and control them seamlessly through our user interface and communication protocol. This allows for the entire refrigeration plant to be properly balanced with regard to demand at any given moment, so the lowest amount of horsepower necessary is being used to maintain the desired temperature in each zone or room.”

Complete integration of the systems requires extensive customer support, which both suppliers say they offer.For its part, Hench made stronger customer communication and service a focal point during the past year. Last summer, the company introduced an Operational Service Agreement (OSA), a proactive, preventive maintenance and monitoring program.

“We have an in-house tech center with expert technicians who monitor each customer’s facility once every week for a period of time - in real time - and review the trending from the previous period,” says Chang. “Our goal is not only to fine tune our system but also to make recommendations, verify all set points, look at spikes and basically do preventive maintenance. Then, we send out weekly reports related to energy use, savings and trending.”

Hench’s OSA plan consists of an Energy Report, an Operational Report and a Security Report. The Energy Report illustrates findings and makes dollars-and-cents recommendations to optimize the energy management system. The Operational Report duplicates information found in the Energy Report, except for disclosing monetary figures. The report serves as a “to-do” list for the operator and maintenance personnel.

Finally, the Security Report logs when anyone accesses the system. Moreover, it notes how long the interaction took and what they were doing.

“This is critical in today’s environment, especially if there are multiple operators using the system,” Chang says.

First Person with Tim Clark

R&FF talks about refrigeration controls and energy savings with Tim Clark, director of automation and control services at Stellar, a Jacksonville, Fla., architecture and engineering firm.

Q: Please tell us about Stellar and its refrigeration control experience.

A: Our involvement in controls began with traditional refrigeration industry controls, which tended to be inexpensive commodity grade components. Ten years ago, Stellar implemented fully robust industrial Allen-Bradley control systems and - through our development efforts - we now have standardized designs and programs that are open and industrial based on Rockwell Automation software and hardware. By partnering with Rockwell Automation through a “Solution Provider” program, we can offer these advanced technologies to our customers at competitive prices.

Q: Please elaborate on your approach to refrigeration control.

A: Since opening its doors in 1985, Stellar has provided customers with extensive industrial refrigeration services to complement its core competency of being a leading design-builder (ranked No. 1 by ENR magazine in the food and beverage market).  Not only do we design, fabricate, install and repair refrigeration systems but over the years we developed a competency in understanding control systems.

Stellar’s desire to serve the client and make sure their refrigeration systems are optimized led to the development of a control division. Our refrigeration control strategies have been developed in-house, but include the latest innovations from refrigeration equipment OEMs and suppliers.

We have emphasized energy management from intelligent basic refrigeration control, the use of variable frequency drives (VFD) for many system components, cogeneration and our most recent addition with Rockwell Automation, InSite remote support technology. This new computer dashboard approach allows the operator to separate the energy and management use from either a process application, a zone within a room, a room or the entire building. The InSite remote system is extremely versatile.

Q: Has there been a shift toward A&E firms becoming more involved in recommending certain technologies?

A: I believe that most progressive, forward-thinking and customer-centered A&E firms are heavily invested in the technology future that building and process automation represent.

Some firms may limit their commitment to specialized teams of engineers that act as automation project managers. These teams can serve as technology guides for their firms and customers to specify the desired technologies for the buildings, processes and facilities they build. Stellar has made significant investments in our areas of core competencies, and we are capable of working in other areas with contracted services. We have invested in training, on-site development labs, OEM refrigeration microprocessor technologies from many major manufacturers, chiller micro technologies and VFD lab equipment for extensive development testing of applications.

 Q: What other factors drove Stellar’s decision?

A: While process automation is huge, I think the greatest impact to industry comes from the amount of information generated and its application - through analysis and reporting - for more effective corporate management. Chief executive officer tenures continue to decline, with turnover increasing 300 percent between 1995 and 2004. While the current median tenure for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies is approximately five years, the actions and decisions of these CEOs often have much longer consequences. Because CEOs spend less time in their positions, they - and their direct reports - need better information, more quickly and in a useful context more than any of their predecessors.

We are working to provide this information, enabling companies to improve and shorten the decision-making process and yield flat, highly effective and profitable organizations.

Q: What else are facility operators asking for?

A: Lately, we’ve been asked about transitioning to wireless reporting systems (i.e., PDA, iPhone, RIM Blackberry), wireless control stations, wireless mesh instrumentation systems, and Web browser based HMI (hardwired and wireless). These technologies are coming and they need to be faster, cheaper and better.