Vehicle thermal test at SABS – will it take off?

Sadly, so far only 11 tests have been done at the thermal test chamber in Pretoria since its completion in 2017 – so what’s the problem?

By John Ackermann

Test001The official opening of the SABS thermal test chamber in May 2017.
Image credit: John Ackermann


Many role players attended meetings and forums where the construction of a chamber to test the thermal efficiency of road vehicles and refrigerated marine containers, was discussed.

The project was funded by GIZ of Germany and at their insistence, the planning was to include the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Transport, vehicle body builders, transport operators, suppliers of transport refrigeration units, transport trade associations, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), supermarket chain groups and so on.

GIZ want the project to be transparent and encompassing of ALL parties that can benefit. The overall purpose is to reduce the carbon footprint of the distribution of perishables in South Africa.

The process started in 2013. After a call for quotations for the construction of chamber and another for the operation of the chamber, the chamber was constructed and completed at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) in Pretoria in May 2017.

During the planning, the parties involved required that the test be done in accordance with a South African drafted standard. Similar to the procedure laid down by ATP in Europe, the SANS 1744 was drafted and titled ‘Insulation and special equipment used in refrigerated transport – Requirements and Test Methods’.

SANS 1744 defines all the technical detail and method for K-type testing, pull down test, type approval, classification and the plating of vehicles based on the outcome of the thermal tests that were done.

Unless there is a willingness for both industry and the SABS to foster a partnership, the chamber may become defunct.

Industry indicated, that based on the annual national production of insulated and refrigerated trailers, about 50 tests on trailers a year will be required. Each test requires three to four days and – including tests done on vehicles that have already been in service for some years – the chamber could be fully utilised for at least three years, just testing trailers.

With the high capital cost of trailers the estimated R40 000 for a type approval is not too excessive. Rigid vehicles could also be tested if operators or body builders needed it. The interior dimensions of the chamber can accommodate the maximum legal size of a road vehicle, including a Hi Cube ISO marine container on a skeletal trailer.

Test002The ammonia refrigeration plant that maintains the required temperatures in the SABS test chamber.
Image credit: credit: John Ackermann

Regulation issues

In the drafting of SANS 1744, the requirement of having a refrigeration unit fitted for the test of those vehicles to be plated FND (mechanically refrigerated equipment with normal insulation k=/< 0.7) or.0. FRC (mechanically refrigerated equipment with heavy insulation k=/< 0.4) was at the centre of much debate.

When the first vehicle was sent for testing it was also evident that, according to the operating procedures of the SABS, only the entire test could be done as laid down in SANS 10744 and not portions of it. On the first trailer, the fitted mechanical refrigeration unit would not be operated so as not to impact on the manufacturer’s warranty and was not acceptable to the SABS.

Here it is worth mentioning that the refrigeration unit is not required to operate during the test to verify the thermal efficiency (K value). For a type approval, the capacity of the refrigeration unit must be at least 1.75 times the heat leakage at which the vehicle will operate. It is acceptable that the cooling capacity of the unit be certified by a recognised independent authority.

After the teething problems with the first test it was mooted to redraft SANS 1744 and to split into two standards to accommodate pull down tests which can be performed off the site of the SABS chamber.

The standard was redrafted and has since remained in draft form.

Sadly, the outcome of all the debate and different views has resulted in a very low utilisation of the chamber. A total of 11 tests since May 2017 have been done and of these eight were on in-use vehicles.

Test003Refrigerated vehicles in Europe are plated to indicate thermal rating, for example FRAX – mechanical refrigeration with heavy insulation (k < 0.4) operating temperature 0 to12°C and the refrigeration compressor is driven by engine of vehicle. Certification expires in May 2019 (05-2019).
Image credit: John Ackermann

Latest update

At a meeting held in November 2018, the drafting committee and SABS accepted that SANS 1744 would remain unchanged and the SABS would be prepared to undertake parts of the test in accordance with the requirements of the client, for example, only a k valve test, or just a pulldown test or naturally a complete type approval.

No matter which test was done, the technical detail and method of testing will strictly adhere to SANS 1744.

It was also accepted that mechanically refrigerated vehicles could be sent for testing with a plug of similar heat leakage to that of a refrigeration unit in the aperture for the unit. Alternatively, a ‘dummy’ used unit supplied by industry could be fitted at the SABS for the test.

The test chamber is an asset for South Africa’s body builders to verify that their products match international standards and they should be keen to have their products tested. All too often, local body builders claim that their products match European standards. Testing in the SABS chamber certainly aims to dispel any doubts.

Operators who are committed to food safety standards, fuel usage and global warming, will also want to have their in-service vehicles tested to gauge when it becomes uneconomical to operated aged vehicles.

The outcome of the November 2018 discussions paved the way towards a beneficial utilisation of the chamber and a way to forge a close partnership between the SABS and industry role players.

Unless there is a willingness for both industry and the SABS to foster a partnership, the chamber may become defunct.

If South Africa is to adopt international food safety standards, it should be a strict requirement of operators (supermarket groups, food processors, cold chain distributors, refrigerated logistics operators) that at least all new refrigerated trailers be subjected to a thermal test or type approval in the SABS chamber. There is no need to wait for legislation, surely the industry still has leaders who are willing to set the pace?




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