It seems the HVAC industry tends to get the bulk of the attention relative to the refrigeration industry when it comes to a new technology. Of course the refrigeration industry is a fraction of the size and a specialized industry, but times are changing. Today you will find it difficult to identify a newly installed refrigeration system that doesn’t have some type of electronic control increasing reliability and improving the operation and efficiency of the system.

One major manufacturer I know has recently done away with using mechanical controls on any of their smaller horsepower refrigeration equipment, which effectively eliminates any of the usual pressure and temperature controls that you would see on a typical system. The mechanical controls have now been replaced with a single programmable controller.

The thermostatic expansion valve was the norm for at least the past 50 years. Today it is not uncommon to see an electronic expansion valve on systems that require tighter temperature tolerances or once again, increased efficiencies.

Electronic controls will provide increased precision
and accuracy as compared to mechanical controls.

Take for instance the mechanical time clock, this has now become the equivalent of a modern day Ford Model “T.” There has got to be at least a dozen manufacturers that provide an electronic defrost controller that will serve the same purpose and at the same time, provide added options.

Some of these technologies have been around for a while but are predominant in only certain types of systems. However, it’s spreading, and will only increase, but for good reason. The driving force behind this evolution is manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve upon an existing technology that typically results in a less expensive solution. Electronic controls will provide increased precision and accuracy as compared to mechanical controls. We can’t forget about system reliability, gone also are the vulnerable capillary tubes that can cause system leaks, expensive shut downs, and call backs.

In some cases electronic controls can communicate via the Internet, allowing for the capability of remote monitoring and give the user the ability to make operational adjustments and to reset safety controls. The ability to identify a problem well before any product has been lost is also of equal importance. All of this can save the restaurant owner a late Sunday night service call at double time labor rates.  Another great benefit is the ability to profile a system by recording system pressures and temperatures. Recording temperature swings and system faults can aid in the trouble-shooting process or in adjusting settings for maximum efficiencies.

So at the end of the day it’s all about acceptance. Technology will continue, and so will the demands on the refrigeration mechanic. Fractional and smaller horsepower systems find their way into every restaurant, convenience store, florist, or just about anywhere you need refrigeration. These systems have always relied on and demanded a skilled and experienced mechanic for service and installations. The skilled and educated mechanic can be the difference between a short-lived system that consumes excessive energy and another that runs at peak efficiency, providing the owner a well-deserved return on their investment.

The advent of electronic controls on a refrigeration system can be a great benefit to the owner when used correctly. For the mechanic, it requires an added skill and a familiarization with another technology that is accomplished through continued training.

Dale Norton is director of sales, Meier Supply Co., Inc., and member of Controls Group North America. He can be reached at dnorton@meiersupply.com.