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Home » OTTC’s final graduation of 2023: “Well done guys – it wasn’t easy!”

OTTC’s final graduation of 2023: “Well done guys – it wasn’t easy!”

Written by Eamonn Ryan

OTTC held its final graduation of the 2023 year on 17 November, with a new group of graduates returning to their jobs filled with motivation, new knowledge and raised awareness of ammonia safety.

1 – 4: The students receiving their course diploma from OTTC technical director Anamarie Sibiya (left) and OTTC founder Isolde Dobelin (middle), except Ngobe who was already driving back to Swaziland. All images by Cold Link Africa

Before handing out their diplomas, OTTC founder Isolde Dobelin acknowledged the hard work of the students on completing the arduous six-week course, as well as acknowledging the key role of her late husband Peter Dobelin, founder member of OTTC, for developing the OTTC Ammonia diploma with the Ammonia Safe Handling course some 30 years ago on 1 September 1993, and offering it to the HVAC&R industry worldwide.

“At that time there was no ammonia training from any training institute – only product training from individual companies for their own customers and staff. At that time knowledge was simply passed from technician to technician, and there were few ammonia specialists.” This is also called ‘the blind leading the blind’.

She acknowledged all tradespeople as being “the ones who can run our cities and are essential in the world today. “It is tradespeople who can turn designs and ideas into a reality and improve the world. Learning and experience is what makes that happen – and the opportunity to gain from masters in their fields,” she said. “In particular, graduates of the ammonia course are the ‘kings’ of refrigeration.

“Experience comes from working, but to have the right knowledge from the beginning helps greatly – and we try to give you as much knowledge as we can.”

OTTC technical director Anamarie Sibiya, said: “To learn ammonia the proper way takes time, but when you learn it the proper way you see the difference. Refrigeration can change you as much as you want: when you go back to work and recall what you used to know, even during the first week of this course, only then will you realise how much you have changed. When you learn about safety in ammonia you are also learning to care for others.

“Well done, guys – it wasn’t easy,” she congratulated them..

Students and lecturers mingle at a pre-graduation braai.
Students and lecturers mingle at a pre-graduation braai.

Sabelo Sambo, who works at the East London Abattoir (see this month’s project) primarily on the electrical side, was motivated to do the OTTC Safe Handling of Ammonia Course because he’s been on the electrical side ‘too long’ and his interest was aroused by the ammonia plant. He had done an initial course on ammonia and now the more advanced module (SHAC). “I had been an electrician, but most of the time on the refrigeration side of it ever since my apprenticeship.” The course had changed his view of ammonia, he says, as he realised there were many aspects of ammonia that were not being managed correctly. “The safe handling aspect we had normally ignored or done the wrong way round. Because there were never any actual accidents, we didn’t have the sense we were doing anything wrong. But now that I know the right way, I can compare, and we will be doing things the correct way.

“The result is that there will be lots of changes and safety features that I will implement on returning to work,” explains Sambo.

Sipho Ngobe, working for Coca-Cola in Swaziland, attributes his attendance on the course to the expansion taking place at his employer’s premises, with a new ammonia plant being installed. “I am here so that I know what to do in the new plant. We already use a lot of chiller systems in the factory and are adding two ammonia compressors, so this was an opportunity to diversify my skills from the basic HVAC. “I learned a lot from this course – from the basics to the operational detail, production and the safety of the ammonia within the plant. Everything about the course was perfect. From now on I can work on the plant with greater confidence thanks to everything that I’ve learned. It’s going to help in the long run and make me one of the best tradesmen,” says Ngobe

Hennie Grobler described his motivation to do the course as stemming from a desire “to go deep into ammonia”, with his employer Karan Beef providing the opportunity to enroll. Its current foreman of the ammonia plant is retiring in two years and succession planning required that somebody else get trained in that vital area of expertise. Grobler had commenced his HVAC career working for Nature’s Garden in Alberton, Gauteng, where he had first been introduced to ammonia plant..

“From this (OTTC) course I learned a huge amount. Now I know what the evaporators are doing. I know how the condensers and compressors are working – because the way that such matters were explained to me previously was totally wrong. Now I can see the people who thought they knew, actually didn’t know anything. In terms of his career and the performance of his job in the coming years, Grobler says: “Now, I know a lot more than I used to know, so this information will help me considerably. If I’m put in charge of an ammonia plant, I can sort it out and make it more efficient.”

Ridhaa Fisher, who is based in Cape Town and works for fishing company I&J, was motivated to do the Safe Handling of Ammonia course to better himself, he says. “I wished to improve myself in my trade and learn a few different things and gain more experience. The funny thing was I wasn’t really going to do HVAC initially – I was going to do an electrician apprenticeship. But then I read an interesting article about the refrigeration trade and became more interested in it. Thereafter, I read more and learned more and ultimately went in that direction,” says Fisher. “In particular, this course was of great value to me – it was like a refresher of what I know but on top of that a lot more. This course will definitely take me forward as I both learned a lot, and it taught me to be more responsible, more safety-conscious. I learned how to compose myself better, how to handle situations, as I learned the characteristics of ammonia that I didn’t know before,” he says.

David-Lee le Roux, based in Cape Town and working at I&J Woodstock branch, commenced working as a general worker on plate freezers, but had a thirst for knowledge and desire to improve himself. He applied and was accepted to an apprenticeship in refrigeration. “I found it fascinating to understand how all the components work, so through I&J I then enrolled myself at college and progressed step by step.

“Then on this course, I’ve learned big time if I look back from where I started. I’ve learned about different refrigeration systems, components and different plants. I  want to know more about this trade. I feel when I get back to work, I can also help my colleagues that don’t have this new knowledge I’ve acquired.”