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Comments of first day at the IIAR conference

By Andrew Perks

It was heartening to sit in on the education meeting on 12 March and to gauge the emphasis that IIAR put on adding skills to the industry.

Various companies in the US have bought into the training of future engineers for the industry and contribute funds every year for scholarships where young graduates are selected by the education committee and assisted with their fees. Primarily, the intent is that the graduate will then enter the industry. A relevant comment was that most people who become part of the fraternity stay part. It was the same for me. I wanted to be an electrician back in the 1960s but here I am still involved in the Ammonia industry over 60 years later. We are not going to get the people we need if we don’t encourage and mentor prospective engineers.

The industry needs new blood, this next generation will seriously impact the world as they are more morally in touch with our environment and are aware that what they do now will have major repercussions some 15 years down the line. The public’s misconstrued understanding of Ammonia being a dangerous medium needs to be addressed. There is danger involved in everything we do – people need to be better trained in order to understand the fundamental safety provisions in place with Ammonia systems. Remember, you need to be trained and have a license to drive a car. Why? Because it can be dangerous.

Being closely associated with IIAR it is ASTI’s prime mission to bring a level of knowledge of the requirement for not only thinking about safety but also working safely; we are the solution but also the problem.

The general feeling at the meeting was that we need to change the image of the IIAR from an Ammonia organisation to that of a Natural Refrigeration organisation. It was well accepted that the synthetic refrigerants are not the way of the future. The industry is playing around with cocktails in order to meet the limits set for GWP. Some of these cocktails have up to 4 different refrigerants just to get the GWP to an acceptable limit. Clients need to understand the implications of these cocktails and their longevity.

We have been through this already where ‘new’ refrigerants quickly become obsolete due to new regulations driven by climate change demands. A holistic approach should be adopted when looking at a replacement refrigerant. When retrofitting and installing new plant we need to look at the selected refrigerant’s GWP and overall efficiency it should contribute to the costing, not just the installed cost but the long-term operational costs. When looking at projected life spans of plant and equipment we need to compare not installed costs but the effective running costs to say the projected 10 years on Freon and 30 years on Ammonia. Over the longer period on investment return Ammonia will win hands-down in costs and efficiency.

The general feeling was that the industry needs to provide a basic standard to look at applications and appropriate design parameters, bearing in mind the redundancy of current refrigerants and their phase outs.

IIAR and RETA are developing certification and certified training courses way beyond where we currently are and that would take what we do with SAQCC Gas training to the next level. The problem in South Africa is we do not have any fully technical courses available for Ammonia to raise our technicians to the higher design levels we will need in the future. An affiliation with these internationally accepted companies and their standards, we believe, is the way to go. It was a privilege to spend the morning with these skilled and knowledgeable people whose vision is to spread their knowledge throughout the industry world-wide.

The lack of skills was discussed at length in further meetings. One of the proposals was to get out there into technical schools and look at young people who are looking to enter the job market. In the USA there are grants and organisations that are doing just this, it’s something we need to do in South Africa. We have so many vacancies, isn’t it time that we made this commitment to go that extra mile and seriously look to the future before the ageing skill base we have at the moment disappears?

I would be interested to get some feedback from the key players on how we are going to upskill our industry, not just to SAQCC Gas levels but to design engineers’ level.

Let’s see if we can come up with something positive.

Lots to chat about further,

Till next issue stay safe.

About Andrew Perks

Image credit: Andrew Perks

Andrew Perks is a subject expert in ammonia refrigeration. Since undertaking his apprenticeship in Glasgow in the 1960s he has held positions of contracts engineer, project engineer, refrigeration design engineer, company director for a refrigeration contracting company and eventually owning his own contracting company and low temperature cold store. He is now involved in adding skills to the ammonia industry, is merSETA accredited and has written a variety of unit standards for SAQA that define the levels to be achieved in training in our industry.

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