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New IOR president sets sights on complex technical and Brexit challenges

Kevin Glass uses his inaugural speech to set out the direction of his tenure with aims to build on its existing skills and education work, while also warning of potentially significant Brexit disruption

Kevin Glass has formally taken up the presidency of the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) and set out his aims for a cooling industry that faces complex technical, policy and skills challenges resulting in part from the UK’s low carbon ambitions and a lack of certainty over the Brexit process.

Mr Glass delivered his inaugural speech in the role in London today by praising the work of his predecessor Stephen Gill in a range of areas such as his work in establishing the Women in RACHP Group to try to build and recognise a wider level of expertise in the industry.

He said, “For many years, there was a large group of industry members who didn’t feel part of the industry. Today, however, this new group is building a support network and opening up new opportunities that widen our appeal as an industry and make us more relevant to each other and society.”

“It can only strengthen our collective endeavours as it develops in the months and years to come and will continue to have my full support.”

No silver bullet

Mr Glass also spoke about the issue of shifting to lower GWP refrigerant that he identified as a top priority for industry in terms of unresolved technical challenges, not least in the growing number of potential solutions available.

He said, “I am sometimes asked if I believe there is a ‘silver bullet’ yet to be discovered. The simple answer, of course, is no. Everyone wants a return to simplicity and a settled order in relation to refrigerants. However, out of necessity, we continue to navigate our way through a multiplicity of options. Just when the focus appeared to be narrowing, a new left-field option recently sprang into view and we have a new possibility on the table, and a new validation challenge.”

Mr Glass pointed to the emergence of compounds and products not previously used in refrigeration and air conditioning as creating some compatibility issues that would take time to be tested and resolved.

Without directly mentioning the implications of a range of lower flammability gas products being made available to replace higher GWP non-flammable refrigerant, the new IOR president said that computability testing and validation must be “thorough and systematic”.

Mr Glass said, “There really are no short cuts. Huge potential investments in plant and manufacturing infrastructure depend on it. At this stage, and subject to proper evaluation, the best that can be said is that recent developments and new formulations for refrigerants may turn out to be silver-plated bullets.”

“It could also open the door to other, potential new options in the future. This is a promising area and has generated understandable excitement. However, time will tell if this offers a genuine new way forward.”

The president also discussed the opportunities for industry from new technological approaches to plant that can capture large amount of data that can be used to inform key performance factors.

Mr Glass said that industry had only begun to glimpse the potential for new types of services such as compressors that use data to automatically adjust their internal sliders to ensure higher efficiency operation. He argued that data and systems that can understand and react to them could be equivalent to an engineer being present to permanently fine tune a system.

Mr Glass said, “Step up a level, and it gets even more interesting and potentially transformational. Online monitoring and control of plant has been available for some time, and is often built into today’s systems. However, it is not always used.”

“This will change as understanding grows of the potential benefits. The power of this approach, of course, is not just in the ability to remotely control plant, but in the data generated and the uses to which it can be put. Data harvesting and analysis in our industry is in its infancy, but has huge potential to improve the service we deliver to customers and society as a whole.”

He argued that remote diagnosis of key systems would allow for more timely maintenance, particularly from service companies that would no longer have to rely on sending out engineers to sites to locate potential problems.

Mr Glass added, “The digital revolution is democratising knowledge through the availability of data. The skill and the challenge, of course, is in interpreting the almost infinite flow of terabytes of raw information in order to extract actionable insights that will improve plant performance and efficiency.”

Ensuring a wider influx of skilled young people was identified in the speech as a vital issue for industry in order to brace for the technological changes anticipated as a result of connected appliances and systems.

Mr Glass said that appealing to as many people as possible in society was already a focus of work underway by the IoR to try and create awareness of potential opportunities in the industry, the IOR president also committed to try and reshape common views of the cooling industry among younger people and the type of career prospects available.

He said, “With remote diagnostics, data capture and intelligent systems, we are emerging as a genuinely high-tech industry on a par with almost any you can think of - and one that underpins the quality of modern life. Our message is no longer, ‘We keep things cold’. It is: ‘We are totally cool, join us!’”

“Genuine concern” over Brexit

The speech also touched on the importance of clarity over the final settlement around Brexit both for industry and the UK as a whole with the country’s exit still scheduled for March next year.

Mr Glass said that the broad shape and nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU was intended to be agreed during his IoR tenure, making it a vital topic considering the close historic trading partnerships and shared development of regulations and standards.

He said, “Our ability to maintain the nation’s critical cooling infrastructure depends on the vital flow of equipment, components and services. We should be under no illusion about the potential negative impact of a so-called hard Brexit, and interruption to flows of goods and materials at our borders.”

“The nation’s food chain, medicine and healthcare, critical industries and our ability to maintain our cities as productive places to live and work, all depend on an efficient and fully functioning “refrigeration economy”.

Mr Glass highlighted the importance of ensuring a free flow of goods and services between producers, installers and end users on the continent, especially in ensure breakdowns of cooling plant.

He added, “The nation simply cannot afford the cost and disruption to vital services that would ensue if vital replacement plant was routinely quarantined at the docks awaiting processing of paperwork. If workable customs practices for trade post-Brexit can’t be agreed, there is a strong argument for special fast-track arrangements for critical equipment such as refrigeration and air conditioning plant, on grounds of national security and the economic well-being of the nation.”

“This sounds dramatic and some outside the industry may consider it scare-mongering. However, those of us who know how important mechanical cooling is to the productivity and health of the nation have a duty to highlight this issue. There is reason for genuine concern, and the clock is ticking.”

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