There are no more excuses, the refrigeration has the duty towards itself of growing, and not quantitatively. Energy efficiency, cold chain, process cold in increasingly central industrial segments (let us think of pharmaceutical, protagonist with vaccines of this social and economic phase) lead a profession and a technology, until now behind the scenes, to a protagonist role.
Let us do order and focus the discussion on some of the most important and precious themes that characterize the present and will determine the future of refrigeration in Italy and in many Countries in the world, and not only the most developed ones.
Where to start?
Changing regulations are the first ambit of thorough analysis: the legislative and regulatory boost is steeply rising, because the Regulation UE 517 and the norm EN 378 are under review. Already today, without considering this rewriting process, the matter of refrigerants is central in the future of industry and of cold technology application sectors: risks and expectations of the new refrigeration with low GWP are clearly stressed by the fact that in 2022 it will be mandatory to turn to low-impact refrigerants with GWP under 150, and this will create relevant consequences on industrial scale, engaging buyers to choices that will certainly involve gases but especially will highlight the necessary competences for their safe efficient use.
What is the fundamental theme under discussion? Maybe it is simpler than what it might seem: establishing the minimum professional requisites for the refrigeration technician of the present and of the future, a subject who from now onwards must learn how to deal with precise problems.
Essentially, a new way of designing, based on a broader more complex concept than the “simple” volume to be cooled, but taking into account more and more precisely goods and people, too, additional loads, and also able to consider the available options in the ambit of software solutions that support a correct design of plants.
Afterwards, a more and more integrated vision of the set of rules to comply with: the coexistence of PED, EN-378 and its review in progress in CEN work teams, sizing/control of safety devices will have to define the more operational aspects of the activity, highlighting how much two work phases, testing and maintenance, are central to generate “safe” efficiency in conformity with regulations. The know-how is the only formula that assures a satisfactory plant engineering and managerial result for customers, so resulting in the need of a broader reasoning.
We are speaking of an increasingly organic and structured evaluation of plants, which considers them less and less for their initial cost and more and more according to a long-term vision: recent conversations with key figures of the technical sector culture, such as Francesco Mastrapasqua, President of Assocold, and Filippo Busato President of AICARR, urge into the direction of a new assessment index of a plant quality, the Total Cost of Ownership, which includes design, installation, management, maintenance and disposal costs.
What derives from it? An issue, very clearly: it is no longer obvious that an initial low design and installation cost is convenient, on the contrary, adopting short-term economic solutions can be widely dangerous from the spending point of view. The proof comes immediately to the surface when we face another ambit hinted above, refrigerating gases.
We must treat myopia
Two topics that have been long debated deserve an in-depth analysis from a strictly industrial, professional and operational point of view, starting from the topical theme, the review of the Regulation UE 517/2014, the “mythical” F-Gas Regulation. The next future of refrigeration plants depends on the new version, because confirmation or revision of the phase down and redefinition of the next brackets that will limit the use of “old” refrigerants is a determinant question for the choices that buyers, designers and plant engineers will have to make in front of the retrofit – revamping crossroads.
A technical analysis on the possibilities offered by the market for refrigerant gases, risks and benefits of A1, A2L, A3 or natural applications almost mandatorily binds with the due extension of the necessary technical competences to face the topic: the question mainly consists in the delicate decisions on the existing plants where it is not possible to recharge the existing virgin gas, thus involving choices between interventions of service life extension of recent investments or long-term investments to conform quickly the fleet of machines and instruments to technical standards that allow reaching the targets of CO2 reduction and atmosphere warming.
Immediately downstream the regulation question, it was born or better, takes a form and an extremely consistent relevance what follows: the need of supplying all operators with useful gas to repair losses in old plants. Whoever bears in mind issues such as recovery, recycling, reclaiming or disposal will be technically committed but also commercially advantaged in comparison with those who have not considered the rules already defined by Regulation 517 and try operating beyond the limits of rules, with gases coming from the black market or not certified mixes.
A synergy among gas producers, plant maintenance operators and customers will have to be developed on the theme because – as already seen – only a strong collaboration will give birth to the virtuous practices in refrigeration ambit that allow facing concretely the need of old-concept plants that must reach the life end.
Several parties demand for a solution to this delicate problem that has the characteristics of a chain agreement and that would deserve the regulation body’s attention, to establish the “reclaiming consortium” debated for years, based on the model of “simpler” ones that might be a template, like those intended for packages, for plastic, for paper and glass.
IoT and “digital” cold
A issue that needs utmost farsightedness is the new refrigeration frontier, digital cold. Manufacturers have been committed for a long time to several fronts, from the augmented reality to allow remote maintenance to the performance control of single elements or integrated plant structures and currently a very strong competence transfer downstream is required to generate concretely the efficiency promised by the Internet of Things, and not since today. The possibility of managing the cold world through sensors, electronics, cloud and algorithms is nowadays a concrete fact, suitable for increasingly reducing the energy consumption deriving from refrigeration.
The 4.0 refrigerator operator will be a subject able to make great strides, for all customers that will choose him, because he will create the conditions to ground a giant technological content of research and development that industry and also design, especially if active in the system integration logic, have proposed and that has an enormous need of downstream competences to express its whole value.
What is required? A huge investment in industry, to provide more and more concrete tools to make customers perceive the digital control value, a very powerful value also in economic terms but hardly transferred owing to buyers’ missing farsightedness (see above).
We are going into a theme that provides advantages in both generated information, which not only control the performance but also its systemic efficacy (let us think of the possibility of generating HACCP reports) and create the conditions to benefit from incentives concerning both digitalization and energy saving, in a more and more circular dimension of the cold management.