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Interview - IOR's Andy Pearson

Andy Pearson’s tenure as president of the Institute of Refrigeration is set to be a busy one. He outlines to Andrew Gaved some of his plans and challenges they bring

Andy Pearson has made no secret of the foundation on which he is going to build his tenure as president of the Institute of Refrigeration.

It is the subject he took for his inaugural Presidential address which itself continues a theme he started at March’s IIR Conference in Cambridge. And it is a subject that is very much to the fore at his day-job as Star Refrigeration managing director. That subject is Innovation

It is something that naturally this industry thinks it is pretty good at, but Dr Pearson’s focus is driven by a feeling that this is a crucial time for the UK refrigeration industry to step up the pace. “I was taken with a paper by the UN’s Lambert Kuijpers, who noted that the last 20 years has seen the industry make rapid developments out of the necessity to meet environmental legislation, but that the next ten years will require even more, even faster.”

And he thinks that to do this, the rac industry must be willing to work on a global scale, share its know-how, and to learn from its international counterparts. He says:

“One of the privileges of my work with Star is that they allow me to travel and you can pick up a lot from hearing how other people do things. I would like to see the UK industry engaging more internationally, at a personal level, at a company level and at a government level. It’s a real opportunity for the UK. We can pick up where other countries are moving back. We’ve done our moving back a few years ago.”

The arrival of Andy Pearson at the President’s desk marks an opportunity for IOR too. For a start, he is a President very much at the coal face of the commercial world, so we can expect the Institutional work of advancing the science and learning to be joined by pragmatism. It seems unlikely that there will be any references to ivory towers during his presidency.

“We have had to learn during the years at Star that it is not a question of ‘Can I do this?’ but ‘Should I do this?” Engineers are very good at coming up with new ideas, but innovation purely for its own sake can be wasteful. “

 “The questions we are being asked will get harder and harder as the timescale gets shorter. When you think about the things we did ten years ago, I very much doubt whether anyone is doing things the same way today. Just look at email and mobile technology.. But ten years ago, there are a fair number of people who might have been doing things the way they did ten years before that, in the 1990s. So we have to be thinking: ‘what is the industry going to look like ten years from now?”

This pragmatism also means that along with the emphasis on technology, he will have a focus on innovation in the business element of the industry too.

“The refrigeration industry can learn a lot about service, and I am just as interested in innovation in service as well as technical. The best companies will be a skilful mix of whizz-kid knowhow, craftsmanship and hands-on technical ability. The refrigeration industry has a greater mix of mechanical, electrical and controls than many other industries, and today’s gadgetry is very different to what the older guys know. The new generation absorbs electronics much better than we did.”

In the wake of the IOR’s Cooling Award winning and high profile Real Zero campaign, which sought to raise the issue of leak containment up the priority list of the UK rac industry, focusing heavily on engineering, Dr Pearson is keen to emphasise that the Institute represents  a much broader range of interests than just engineers, in fact broader than what we would conventionally consider to be the rac ‘industry’ . “The Institute is first and foremost a learned institution for individuals, professionals who have an interest in refrigeration in all its forms. This means there are biologists, food scientists, chemists - they are not all engineers.”

Whilst Real Zero made great strides in raising the profile of leak containment, it also was pretty successful in raising the profile of the Institute itself. Its grasping of the problem and proactive addressing the many aspects won it plaudits and at the same time banished the perception that had been voiced in some quarters that it was more interested in the science than in the day to day business of refrigeration.

It is this proactive element that Dr Pearson wants to build on in the coming months, building on the good progress made with government and its agencies by Real Zero to press for change on other industry priorities such as F-Gas – and not only in the UK. “Because it is an Institute of individuals, the IOR hasn’t been part of corporate lobbying, but we need to find away to come alongside ACRIB, FETA etc. We are already perceived as leading the way in Europe with Real Skills Europe, which is building on the work done by Real Zero.”
There will be a crucial international aspect to this lobbying, he believes, drawing on the Institute members’ vast collective contact book. “I would like to increase the activity of our international committee, to bring people together for some sort of a seminar once or twice a year. When it comes to raising the importance of innovation with government – such as pressing the case for encouraging development of heat pumps for example – the international committee can be a huge influence. There are huge amounts we can learn from places like Scandinavia. It could be an international/governmental version of [IOR innovation network] Sirac for instance.”

The IOR has a key role to play in the adoption of natural refrigerants too he believes. While some sections of the international industry are currently screaming for faster adoption of natural refrigeration, there is a need for the IOR to provide a note of objectivity. “The Institute’s role is to be an unbiased source of reliable information on natural refrigerants, That is a harder job than it sounds, because much of what you hear at the moment has a bias of one kind or another.”

He believes that the UK industry needs to do more to embrace the potential of naturals: “What haunts me is the target of 20 per cent [carbon reduction] by 2050. That can’t be achieved by simply being a bit more careful. It is not the next change we should be worrying about [ie when HFCs might be phased out) but the change after that. You can’t blame the end-users for being sceptical about HFOs for instance, what they want is stability – they had to get out of CFCs, then HCFCs and possibly HFCs, it’s a case of thrice bitten four times shy.”

When it comes to the oft raised concerns that the retailers’ move to CO2 will give rise to major skills shortages, he offers a counter opinion: “I don’t really subscribe to the ‘lack of skills’ argument. In reality, transcritical CO2 doesn’t need skills that are that much different to HFCs, it is designed differently, but what an engineer will find on site is not too dissimilar. It is inherent that it is different but it is not necessarily difficult for engineers - I have a higher regard for their skillset than that. In fact in the early days of CO2 installations, some customers who had been worried about the complexity came back to us to say it was actually simpler than before. Hydrocarbons would be more of a concern, because they feel like they are the same but they have to behave differently to work.”

The whole area of energy efficiency, in turn reducing indirect carbon emissions, is something that the industry needs to get hold of, he believes. “We need to more than just remove HFCs - ammonia and CO2 have both produced substantial efficiencies in industrial applications. Capital cost always won over efficiency in the past, but there are signs that that are changing. For Phase II of the Refrigeration Road Map we are looking at a Code of Conduct and one of the aims is to ensure that efficiency is taken into account. That isn’t to say we should ignore leakage, it should remain a priority if only because it is wasteful, there is no upside to it. It is a quirk of natural refrigerants that they have to be built to a higher standards than HFC systems, in order to accommodate the increased pressures, or to reduce the flammability risk, and therefore leakage is much less from the systems.”

Box off: Presidential Priorities: Andy Pearson’s main IOR priorities

1)      Encourage innovation

Everybody needs to take a fresh approach to innovation. But remember too that stability is important – we need to keep the safety net

2)      Engage with new generation

Make use of the skills of the younger members of the industry and thereby remove any perception of the IOR as being for the older generation

3)      Exhort the UK industry to take its rightful place in the world

This applies at a personal, corporate and government level and depends on people being connected internationally

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