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Aerofoils take flight in UK

Sainsbury’s Buckingham Local has hosted one of the first store-level trials of aerofoil shelf attachments, with energy savings topping 23 per cent on average. Andrew Gaved reports

Last year RAC reported on Aerofoil Energy’s development of a new concept for retail display in the shape of ‘aerofoils’ fitted to multideck shelves.

Over the intervening months, the concept has been seized upon by retailers as a potentially less disruptive energy-saving alternative to fitting glass doors.

The idea was conceived as a result of refrigeration case supplier and contractor, Fridgeland UK seeking to provide its customers with an alternative to glass door installation – many of whom had been wrestling with the decision to use glass doors or not in their stores.

The glass door debate, of course, has been raging for years, not least at RAC’s own Retail Question Time in November, where the panellists said that the despite the energy saving, the potential effect of glass doors on purchasing habits meant many supermarkets’ merchandising departments remained unconvinced.

Fridgeland MD Paul McAndrew puts it plainly: “Fitting glass doors is an expense, they create a barrier to sales and they inevitably cost money to repair and maintain.

But at the same time there are well-known problems with multidecks – because they are open-fronted, the cold air falls out, and what doesn’t fall out mixes with warm air. These dual effects are what makes multidecks so power-hungry and so horribly expensive to run.”

Aerofoil Energy, a sister company to Fridgeland UK, was born as a result of researching what would happen to the cold air curtain in a multideck when passed over aerofoil-shaped strips hung from the ends of the shelves.

Mr McAndrew says: “Aerofoils are astonishing things and they have very powerful effects on moving airstreams.

They are able to reduce turbulence and straighten falling air curtains back into shape, so the idea in theory could have beneficial effects on a multideck air curtain.”

Back in 2013, the company reported evidence in laboratory tests of significant energy reduction from the multideck aerofoils.

With CFD modelling indicating that more savings could be achieved, the company filed a global patent and European, US and Australian design registrations to deter copycats, and then went to work to transform the concept into a product ready for the rigours of retail.

While the development was ongoing, the aerofoil concept gained the recognition of industry – both as a finalist in the Refrigeration Innovation category in the 2014 Cooling Awards and in a research presentation by Dr Alan Foster of testing house RD&T at the IIR’s international conference on sustainability and the cold chain.

Substantial savings

This month the company reports that the promised additional savings have now been realised in a test environment, with savings now being recorded between 20 per cent and 25 per cent in a range of trials.

But the proof of the concept is in its delivery at store level, so Sainsbury’s now has aerofoils installed on integral multidecks in its Buckingham Local convenience store.

One of the first adopters of the technology, Sainsbury’s has worked closely with Aerofoil Energy for the past two years, and is trialling the product with a view to using aerofoils across more of its stores.

The latest Buckingham trial results have shown average energy savings of 23.44 per cent, leading Sainsbury’s to give Aerofoil Energy the go-ahead to extend the trial to the remote cases in the rest of this store.

If the trial shows similar energy savings, then aerofoils could become a common sight in Sainsbury’s stores across the UK,
Mr McAndrew believes:

“We first conceived our idea three long years ago and since then we have spent a lot of time refining the product in order to get more of the potential savings that we knew could be achieved.

“In theory, our aerofoils can save as much as 30-35 per cent in energy if we could make them of a certain size and then point them where is best for the optimum airflows. But we also have to be sensible and balance this against what looks good and is practical for the retailer.”

As he notes, as a ‘front of house’ energy-saving measure, the merchandise presentation remains a vital consideration: “For example, we can’t have massive aerofoils blocking the products and we have to face the aerofoil’s front edge towards the customer, as this is where the price labels are displayed.

We think our current product strikes this balance well and feedback from retailers suggests we have got this right.”

Aerofoil Energy is in advanced discussions with other retailers and reports it has trial sites booked to begin in the next few weeks.

Mr McAndrew is convinced that the aerofoil concept ticks the boxes for retailers in search of energy reduction: “Essentially we have a product which saves a lot of energy; saves a lot of money; is positively cheap when compared to glass doors costs; has no barrier to sales; and is very unlikely to break.” 

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