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Real progress

Two-thirds of the way through his term of office, IOR president Graeme Maidment tells Andrew Gaved about the achievements and the hopes

The election of Graeme Maidment to the presidency of the Institute of Refrigeration in 2013 came at a time when debate was raging about the Institute’s role in the wider world.

Inevitably, the election of someone whose day job was Professor of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration was seized upon by a handful of online critics as evidence that the Institute was more interested in satisfying its academic members than engaging with the day-to-day realities of the refrigeration industry.

There were even strong rumours about setting up a breakaway group to meet the needs of the ‘commercial industry’.

Those nay-sayers clearly couldn’t have encountered Graeme Maidment, since a person more unlike the stereotype of the ‘dry’ or ‘unworldly’ academic one could not wish to find.

Two years on, it is clear that the IOR is determinedly working in the ‘real world’.

Arguably there was no one better placed to work on closer ties between the two groups of the academic community and the engineers in commercial organisations.

Before embarking on his university career, Professor Maidment had put in a dozen years at the coalface with J&E Hall as a design and project engineer.

And following that, no doubt as a result of his real-world experience, much of his work leading cooling research at London South Bank University has been based on practically inclined projects, not least the university’s work on Cooling the Tube, with Transport for London.

But the clearest evidence of the proactive efforts at fostering cross-fertilisation is one of Professor Maidment’s key achievements at the Institute before taking on the presidency.

Sirach (Sustainability In Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat-pumps) is a networking group designed to focus attention on developing sustainable technology and expressly aimed at helping the research community to build dialogue with their commercial compatriots.

A view of the programme for Sirach meetings past and present should nail the myth once and for all that IOR isn’t engaging with the commercial world – from site visits to Carter Group’s cabinet manufacturing site to the recent discussion of heat pumps and solar cooling at Climate Center’s sister facility the Sustainable Building Center (see April RAC), the goal is determinedly to harness the riches of cooling industry’s research resources for practical purposes.

Member engagement

Professor Maidment cites Sirach as a prime example of one of his key drivers – engagement with the Institute’s members. “We are not just a learned society; we are a members’ society,” he says. “Getting members more involved has been one of my major goals.

“We have made significant progress as an Institute in the past couple of years in a changing world. We have had recession; we have had major legislation in the form of F-Gas and its HFC phase-down, which we couldn’t have foreseen a few years back.

But there is still so much to do, so much opportunity,” he says.

The priorities of the Maidment presidency have been guided by a survey of members, taken when he started.

Respondents identified four or five key areas, from training and standards to more recognition for the Institute, to more strategically focused information.

He is proud of the fact that progress has been made in all of these areas: the latter has been provided in the form of the REAL Alternatives Programme, which is shortly to produce practical guidance on the potential alternatives to the high-GWP HFCs – and, incidentally, which is likely to spawn a further set of guidance for the next generation via YouTube – while the external recognition is being sought by way of closer ties with building services organisation CIBSE and the powerful US-based cooling and heating body ASHRAE.

The VRF guide shortly to be produced is a collaboration between the IOR and CIBSE and co-authored by the groups’ members.

But arguably the greatest achievement has been in the training standards arena, since IOR has helped the industry to gain control of its own destiny, by way of the government-backed Trailblazer initiative.

The move, which will lead to the development of a completely new apprentice programme, custom-built to the requirements of employers in our sector (as opposed to educational experts) will banish any historical perception that the Institute doesn’t ‘get involved’.

If all goes according to plan, the scheme, devised in collaboration with partner associations such as ACRIB and BRA, can justly claim to be revolutionising training for the cooling industry.

“I would love to see the next generation of refrigeration and air conditioning engineers saying that they learned their trade through a brilliant ACRIB or IOR apprenticeship,” says Professor Maidment.

Not surprisingly, given the debate raging about addressing the ageing demographics of the cooling engineering base, Professor Maidment is a keen advocate for promoting the industry at school-leaver level.

He is excited about the impact of the Cool Science exhibit set to take place at this month’s Big Bang school science fair, established by IOR member Chris Vallis (see news pages) and which is set to include such delights as bicycle-powered cooling.

“The legacy that we get from it will be more important than the Big Bang fair itself. It is fantastic to see the IOR supporting and encouraging individuals in making a difference by bringing the strength of the membership and backing of the IOR to projects like this,” he says.

Another of the examples of progress under the Maidment tenure is in the election of his potential successor. The election of the President-Elect – who will be lined up to take on the top job after a year working in collaboration with the President – is for the first time offered as a choice of two candidates and the elections administered externally through an online ballot.

This system provides a more independent alternative to the previous process, whereby the IOR Council nominated just one candidate for confirmation by the membership.

By the time you read this article, we can confidently say there will be a cooling consultant as President-Elect – Bob Arthur or Stephen Gill – as there were two contesting the role.

Professor Maidment believes the new system can only prove beneficial: “It is really good that all members can have a choice of who they want to be the President. It is now much more accessible.”

There are a number of ways that the Institute can help the industry to face its challenges, he says.

“Other institutes can learn a lot from the way we work. For any industry it is important to have an unbiased view, but for our industry it is particularly so, because of its size. It is difficult for our members to work together in the normal run of business, so the IOR allows them to collaborate, free of any commercial pressures.”

When asked to name what those challenges might be, Professor Maidment lists a few: “Refrigerant choice of course; Ecodesign; embracing the circular economy; and the demographics of the workforce – and that is a real challenge when you look at the average age of the workforce, so training is vital. We need to look forward.”

Circular focus

The circular economy – a phrase we will hear increasingly, as business looks to recycle, remanufacture and re-use more, to reduce carbon footprints – is a particular focus for Professor Maidment in his university research.

In refrigeration, the industry is not yet good at many of these tasks, and he is keen to see that improve. “There is an opportunity as an industry to lead the rest of the country on this. There are some things that can be remanufactured quite easily, such as display cabinets.

But there are cultural barriers to overcome, as we are too used to buying new as an industry.”

Other issues the industry will have to get to grips with are the finite nature of resources, so things such as water use and aluminium versus copper will become increasingly important.

When pushed for the single biggest challenge, he points to the make-up of the industry, with a predominance of SMEs. “So many things are changing at the moment, and the SMEs’ ability to adapt is more difficult.

That is why we are focusing so much on providing them with good technical information, which is easily accessible. We want to lead on the technical agenda.”

With a year yet to run, Graeme Maidment is not yet ready to talk about the legacy of his presidency, but one thing is certain – the progress will be measurable, as there are KPIs in place.

This, he stresses, is not an import from the academic sphere. “It is not academic rigour, it is business rigour, and there is no reason why an institute shouldn’t have that.”

In the longer term, however, he believes that those demographics are going to prove an even bigger challenge. “How do we bring those younger people in? At careers fairs and the like, we are simply not going to have the resources that say automotive has – or the platform, which gets the sector recognition.”

With that in mind, the IOR’s Fantastic Fridges website for schools will soon be up and running in a new version.

“As an industry, we have got to go to the schools. We have got to throw the gauntlet down about diversity too. There are opportunities for everyone because it’s a fantastic long-term career.”

The element that makes all of this increasingly important, is the fact that cooling has such an influence on the country’s energy use. Heat pumps are, of course, forecast to be a major factor in reducing energy, and this is another area where the cooling industry can lead, Professor Maidment contends.

“We have got to grasp that opportunity, because if we don’t, then someone else will. Our ability to service the equipment is a vital part of that. The latest stats show that 19 per cent of the UK’s energy demand comes from refrigeration and air conditioning. We really are a major industry in that respect. That means there has got to be more of a focus on us as an industry.”

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