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RETA: sharing expertise with Africa

Written by Eamonn Ryan

Visiting South Africa and attending the second annual GCCA African Cold Chain Conference on 2-4 August in Cape Town were Bengie Branham, current national president of the US-based Refrigerating Engineers Technicians Association (RETA), and Jim Barron RETA executive director.

Bengie Branham, current national president of the US-based Refrigerating Engineers Technicians Association (RETA), and Jim Barron RETA executive director. Image supplied by ©Eamonn Ryan | Cold Link Africa
Bengie Branham, current national president of the US-based Refrigerating Engineers Technicians Association (RETA), and Jim Barron RETA executive director. Image supplied by ©Eamonn Ryan | Cold Link Africa

One of his main takeaways from the event, says Branham, was the recognition of the struggles faced by the industry in this part of the world. “However, it was also evident that there is a great deal of passion and dedication among professionals who are committed to providing excellent products and services, while looking for ways to cut costs.”

He described one of the key factors contributing to these struggles as being the infrastructure failures. “Many organisations in Africa are seeking to expand their energy capabilities and engage in intercontinental trade, but the lack of reliable infrastructure poses significant challenges. This is particularly disheartening considering the vast amount of resources and opportunities available on the continent. Unfortunately, high unemployment rates and other barriers prevent this potential from being fully realised.”

RETA is a US-based training organisation aiming to upgrade the expertise of already qualified operators and management in industrial refrigeration. It is a non-profit organisation that relies on membership support to fulfil its goals. Barron notes that during the conference, local industry leaders recognised the importance of addressing the skills gap in Africa. It is crucial to provide training and education to individuals entering the field to ensure that they have the necessary skills and knowledge.

“To tackle this issue, RETA advocates for skilled professionals to take on the role of educators. By having experienced individuals teach others, the knowledge base can be enhanced, resulting in better prepared technicians. It is essential to establish proper training materials and certification programmes to ensure that the necessary knowledge is transferred effectively to the next generation of professionals. By implementing these measures, accidents can be reduced, and the overall quality of work in the industry can be improved,” says Barron

RETA was invited out by Gerhard Koch, and Andrew Perks at the IIAR conference held in the US in March, which is one of RETA’s coalition partners in industrial refrigeration. Branham says: “RETA prepares individuals to operate and use refrigeration systems, ranging from small to large systems. They receive our certifications, which are the gold standard ISO and NAB accredited. We are the only organisation in the world with that accreditation, making us that gold standard. Our sister organisation focuses on compliance and proper building of the system, as well as the engineering component. They provide guidance for the industry, and we respond based on their engineering.

“Regarding standards in the US, we comply with two government agencies, OSHA and EPA which both recognise us as the standard for training industrial refrigeration technicians. The reason we’re here is because we see the headlines and news feeds regarding incidents involving anhydrous ammonia, CO2 and even Freon. These incidents have significant effects and costs on individuals, their families, and the organisations they work for. We believe that we should not limit our efforts to the US; it should be addressed worldwide. While systems may be designed differently in various countries, our common goal is to have a better way of life, take pride in our work, and come home safely to our families at the end of the day. We aim to prevent injuries, ecological disasters, and neighbourhood evacuations. We want to promote a culture of safety and responsibility in the industry worldwide, and we have the organisation, material and support of the industry to achieve this,” explains Branham.

“In the US, the refrigeration industry is known for its close-knit community and collaborative spirit. Despite competing for project work, industry professionals come together and coalesce to improve the industry as a whole. This sense of unity in a competitive landscape is something that impressed Gerhard and Andrew, who were amazed by how well industry professionals in the US got along in comparison to South Africa, where the industry has a more reserved attitude when it comes to sharing figures and turnovers,” says Branham.

Barron reinforces that one of RETA’s core values is collaboration. With over 50 chapters nationwide, the organisation facilitates communication and knowledge sharing among professionals from various companies. During chapter meetings, industry professionals set aside their affiliations and focus on discussing refrigeration-related topics, such as new equipment and important industry updates. By placing the interest of the industry ahead of any company’s agenda, RETA encourages a cooperative and supportive environment.

A segment of the audience attending the GCCA Cold Chain conference in Cape Town on 3 August. Image supplied by ©Eamonn Ryan | Cold Link Africa
A segment of the audience attending the GCCA Cold Chain conference in Cape Town on 3 August. Image supplied by ©Eamonn Ryan | Cold Link Africa

“RETA’s recent proceedings have highlighted the importance of conservation in the refrigeration industry. One exciting topic discussed was system recommissioning, a concept unfamiliar to some attendees. System recommissioning involves adjusting equipment settings to ensure optimum performance. Often, different shifts in operations may make adjustments without proper communication, leading to inefficient equipment operation. By sharing experiences and practices from the US, RETA can introduce innovative solutions to challenges faced by the South African industry,” says Branham.

He noted that throughout the GCCA Africa conference, participants showed a willingness to embrace new ideas and solutions. “This collaborative mindset bodes well for the future of the industry in South Africa, as professionals are eager to learn and improve. RETA’s energy conservation programmes, particularly in industrial refrigeration, have also garnered interest. The organisation has developed an examination specifically geared towards conserving energy in industrial refrigeration systems, further highlighting its commitment to sustainable practices.

“One thing I noticed today was a lack of emphasis on training operators and techniques. It was barely mentioned at all. However, if companies truly want to save energy and money and do things right, they need to invest in training their people.

Without proper training, their efforts won’t be effective. This is where RETA can make a difference: we have been providing training programmes since 1909, and I have been involved with our certification programme for the last 22 years,” says Barron. “Being considered the gold standard in the US, we want it to be the same globally. Our bylaws state that our jurisdiction is worldwide, but unfortunately, we haven’t made much progress beyond the US. It’s time to expand and be a part of different cultures and show them what we can offer.”

He also described RETA’s training material as being designed at a 10thgrade education level so as to be easily understood by any individual. It achieves this by breaking down complex collegelevel processes into simpler terms, making it accessible to the average person. This makes it comprehensible, “and if I can understand it, then it can surely benefit the majority of people worldwide”.