Adande opened a new refrigeration testing facility in Lowestoft this year to support the development of its Aircell technology for merchandising refrigeration units. FEJ sat with chairman Nigel Bell to discuss how the site will benefit its business.
What’s the significance of the test facility for Aircell?
It is possible to go out and get this sort of testing done third party but it is going to cost money, you have to get the availability, and it is very hard to make incremental changes. For example, you’d send something in for a test, you’d see what the result is, step back and make a change to the equipment and then you’d send it back in. With our own facility we can do that and know within a matter of hours whether we are getting the results we want. What it will do for us is accelerate development and that, for me, is the cornerstone of it. The second thing is that you’re more able to show customers the testing you are doing and have them come to the facility whenever they wish, whereas with third party facilities that is more difficult to do.
So you’ll have much tighter control over the process?
Yes, and it is about that ease of being able to do prototype work. The whole idea of this facility is that we can make small metal parts, make changes, fit them, and monitor the changes. Also, in order to validate a lot of the tests, particularly with retail display, you have to run them in a stable condition for 24 hours, not just five minutes. We believe our credibility is improved by the facility and our level of competence has gone up.
Why did you build three test rooms? Was there a specific reason for that number?
We could fit three test rooms in and it means we can do more tests in parallel. The whole idea of the grant, which has funded a large part of this, is to accelerate our technology development, so that is one of the reasons why we have three – I’m absolutely sure that if we’d have built one we would have wanted to build another so it was better to do it all at once.
The facility allows you to test other companies’ products. In the retail display world there must be dozens of cabinets…
There is an enormous number. It is slightly different from commercial refrigeration because there are fewer big players in the world. There are global players, such as Epta and Carrier, in the retail display market, which there aren’t in commercial refrigeration — True is probably the only global refrigeration business outside of those. So it is more concentrated. We are not just testing people’s doors and cabinets, we are testing other ways of reducing energy and improving the design. In theory, there is a lot you could choose to do but most of our focus will be on our own developments.
You announced a couple of years back that Tesco was trialling Aircell at a Lincoln store. What happened with that?
If you go to the Lincoln store, you will find it is there. It was a good first-store prototype development and it is still there operating. If you look at the timing of when that unit went in and they started getting results from it, it was exactly when Tesco began facing a challenging period and a new chief executive came in. We are now re-engaging with the engineering team there.
If you go to the [Tesco] Lincoln store, you will find it is there. It was a good first-store prototype development and it is still there and operating”
Do you treat Adande and Aircell as two very separate entities?
Yes, they are part of the same business and we have two engineering teams who will sit in the same complex but operate separately. They have two managers and their activities are different because essentially we are going to be making parts for the Aircell, but we are not making the Aircell cabinet. Whereas with the drawers, we are very clearly a manufacturer.
Will you use the site for any testing on Adande drawers?
Yes. We did quite a lot of our EU labelling in here but we specifically went to third party labs as well, not only to look at competitors’ products but to test some of ours so that we had a validation of our testing — it is all self-certification but we wanted validation because we think that’s a positive thing to have.