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Learning lessons on leakage

The Real Zero leakage project has gathered some useful feedback from engineers after a round of training workshops.  Jane Gartshore, one of the architects of the project, reports.

Those committed to reducing leakage need to be very determined and highly focused – and there can be few as dedicated as the ten brave souls who fought their way through blizzards to take part in the first ReaL Zero practitioners forum on leakage on 2nd December.  They came together to share their experiences and success in putting the Real Zero principles into practice through site surveys, client recommendations and some very thorough leak testing.

The IOR has always seen the campaign as an evolving process and we see this as just the next stage in moving the tools and techniques into everyday engineering practice.  Five Real Zero training workshops have already taken place throughout the country – with a further three planned for 2011 in Scotland and the Midlands, while others have undertaken the training using the self-study booklets.  So far around 80 engineers have passed the assessments and many of these senior engineers or regional supervisors are making excellent progress in disseminating this information to field engineers and clients.

Jane Gartshore, who carried out some of the original REAL Zero sample surveys in retail sites, and has led the workshops to date,  joined the practitioners’ forum to share feedback from the workshops so far.  She summarised the engineers’ views on the main reasons why systems continue to leak.  Answers fall into three broad categories  1) mechanical issues such as age of plant and types of joint; 2) poor end-user awareness and the low priority put on leakage reduction; and 3) field engineers’ own knowledge and skills.

The message of Real Zero is still evolving as we set out to overcome such barriers. For example the Real Skills Europe project will update and extend the containment guidance and training into a multi lingual e-learning package to disseminate across European rac industries. At the same time the Carbon Trust-backed Retail Refrigeration Road Map and its second phase, which will become the Code of Conduct for Retail Refrigeration will add to the guidance information, and further further seminars, newsletters and website information (www.realzero.org.uk) will all be added during 2011.

The practitioners forum was challenged with two questions: What more can be done by service and maintenance engineers to win the war against leakage and what will help companies to extend this information through to all their engineers, as well as up to their non technical decision makers?

One of the end-user speakers talked about how his firm had ‘seen the potential for  implementing REAL Zero into their business plan’ by creating a structure of regional ‘leakage reduction champions’.  These Lead Engineers hold monthly meetings with contractors which focus on reducing refrigerant use as a Key Performance Indicator.  Not only do they discuss the reasons for the occurence of any leakage but they also prepare action plans to ensure further reductions and agree a budget for this extra work. 

The same company collects leakage data from site surveys based on a protocol proposed by Real Zero and it supplies all its engineers with torque wrenches along with instructions on how to take anti-leak action out in the field. At the same time, all their equipment is now labelled with Real Zero stickers to draw attention to the issue (see picture).   At the monthly meetings the Leakage Champions are also able to use Real Zero’s leak-loss calculators to demonstrate to contractors on comprehensive contracts the cash value of the refrigerant they have saved (or lost) according to leakage figures. 

Such initiatives, whilst time consuming, have achieved a measurable success in environmental terms for the company – with an estimated 20 per cent reduction in leakage rates this year alone.  The delegate summed up the impact: “The highly visible presence of the Champions within the stores makes a big difference”.  The next stage in this extensive programme of activity is planned to be seminars for all engineers over the next few months, with focus on more effective checking and use of hand held leak detectors plus information about the usefulness of the F Gas records.

The IOR plans to hold these practitioners forum meetings regularly in the future so we can continue gathering information, data and comment on refrigerant containment initiatives. These events are open to anyone who has undertaken Real Zero assessments, information for which can be found on the website.  In 2011, we are also considering developing a short training package for service and maintenance engineers which can be presented to them by supervisors as “toolbox talks”.   This would cover not only leak detection, but also leak prevention.

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