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Home » C.AR.EL’s 50 year history

C.AR.EL’s 50 year history

Supplied by CAREL

CAREL was founded by four partners, and was initially called C.AR.EL, an acronym that stood for electrical panel construction. The partners started the company with the idea of shifting the production of electrical panels to north-eastern Italy, closer to the company that would become its very first customer, Hiross.

A drone’s view of the current. Image supplied by CAREL
A drone’s view of the current. Image supplied by CAREL

In the beginning, there were four or five employees working in production, and two in the office. However, the need to try something new soon became clear: electrical panels were very simple products with low margins, so the company began to explore new avenues and to grow. This desire for diversification led CAREL to start manufacturing humidifiers, initially for the same customer, Hiross.

These humidifiers operated using immersed electrodes in a disposable cylinder with a plastic casing, appliances that today are quite common, yet at the time were highly innovative. It took a few months to go from designing to marketing this first product, with an external consultant providing the design and production of an elementary analogue controller, while the company designed and built the water circuit. Initially it was an uphill struggle, but after a few attempts HUMITRONIC was released in 1978.

In 1986, CAREL entered the programmable electronic controllers sector, and indeed was one of its pioneers. At the time a gradual transition from analogue to digital was underway, with its technologies being applied to products. At the same time, the company grew not only by expanding its range, but also and above all at an organisational level, applying the lean philosophy from the early 2000s.

CAREL’s history of sustainability began when the Group was founded in 1973. Over time, technologies, needs and sensitivities have evolved, and with these also the objectives and means to achieve them. Today, even more than yesterday, the strategy that drives innovation in the Group can be best defined as ‘sustainable success.’ This strategy guides the continuous search for solutions developed to guarantee high efficiency and energy savings, whatever approach is adopted by customers and partners in the construction of their refrigeration units and systems.


The following Q&A is provided by Giandomenico Lombello, CAREL group managing director and Umberto Bianchini, innovation manager.

When was the idea for a programmable controller conceived, and why?

Lombello: Today, electronic controllers are either parametric or programmable. Parametric controllers are designed for vertical applications – they have multiple parameters to choose from (at times more than 200), and manufacturers can thus adapt them to suit their specific application. However, everything is predefined.

Programmable controllers, on the other hand, are typically used for more powerful, more complex and more expensive units, and allow manufacturers to fully define their own programming strategies. In the 1980s, the only controllers available in our sector were parametric.

We came up with a series of ideas that brought about a major innovation and determined our success as a company. It might sound simple, but it wasn’t. When the visionaries who came up with the ideas explained them to our engineers they sounded crazy, as they had set a goal to be achieved regardless of the technological difficulties involved.

Yet it was this determination to not give up that was the key to our success.

Lombello: Our main customer wanted controllers for complex units designed by CAREL engineers, with advanced skills who worked using assembler, a machine code language.

CAREL thus had the intuition of developing a controller that could be programmed directly by the customer, while considering that customers had electrical, mechanical and thermodynamic engineering expertise, but were certainly not software programmers. We invented a CAD software that made it possible to control the unit by putting together a number of basic functions that customers could access from a CAREL library. In the exact same way as they were used to doing when selecting the electromechanical components to make an electrical panel.

What steps did CAREL need to take operationally to develop the first software for programmable controllers?

Bianchini: We created a programming environment with virtual software objects (even though we didn’t know they were called this at the time) that our customers, electrical and mechanical engineers, knew how to connect together because they already did so in other areas – this was the basis for the initial programming system.

We developed a simple program that compiled the blocks that the customer had selected and allowed debugging. The software was called EasyTools, and for the first few years it was only tested and used internally. Then, in the early 1990s, we started offering it to customers. It was quite innovative at the time.

Moreover, we had set ourselves an additional challenge: to make the software independent of the hardware. In other words, software that could be moved to different controllers, following technological evolutions. This meant customers could protect their investment even when the hardware changed.

Lombello: Hardware independence and simplicity of the development environment using CAD made knowledge of assembler language unnecessary, allowing customers to work autonomously even if they were not programmers: back then, this was totally innovative.

How has programming evolved over time?

Lombello: CAREL has changed the market dynamics in its sector, changing the work flows and roles of the different stakeholders. Specifically, we shifted the sale of control systems from being typically for installers (who purchased, installed and configured the controllers) to unit manufacturers, i.e. OEM’s. By having simplified the programming of electronic controllers, OEMs were able adopt what is known as downstream integration. They brought unit control in-house and therefore were able to start supplying the market with finished units, that to be installed, simply required connecting the electrical parts and fluid circuits.

Then ‘smart’ components came to the fore, with superior performance and higher reliability, capable of adapting to different operating conditions. This gave even greater importance to software tools that allowed users to easily install and manage complex devices. The next evolution will involve improvements in self-diagnostics and predictive management of unit failures.

The way forward is to connect more and more units, collect data and develop intelligent algorithms. CAREL currently has around one million units under supervision, at least 300 000 of which are connected to our cloud.