Refrigeration manufacturer Adande has launched a £500,000 R&D facility in Lowestoft to accelerate the development and commercialisation of its Aircell technology. FEJ editor, Andrew Seymour, headed to Suffolk to find out how the company is bidding to help foodservice operators and retailers trouser some major energy savings.
Tucked away on a busy industrial estate in Lowestoft, a short walk away from the factory that makes the refrigerated drawers for which it is best known, Adande’s new equipment testing facility provides a glimpse of a different side of the business — one that is commercially nascent but which harbours huge potential to change the face of retail refrigeration.
The test rooms are part of a £4.2m investment to help Adande and its consortium partners take its acclaimed Aircell technology to new levels and meet retailers’ specific merchandising requirements in the UK and abroad. Aircell is a unique and patented air flow management system, which has been designed for the improved performance and reduced energy consumption of refrigerated displays used for grocery retailing — a “smart alternative to glass doors” is the term the company uses to describe it.
While some retailers and equipment manufacturers have employed glass doors on open front multi-deck refrigerated display cases as a means of making energy savings, it has become increasingly apparent that glass doors are not necessarily the solution for all grocery retailing environments. The frequent opening of doors in high traffic areas, especially in convenience retailing outlets, severely compromises the efficiency of doors as an energy saving solution, it is argued.
There is also evidence to suggest that glass doors act as a barrier to shopping and, in particular, impulse purchases. In today’s competitive market, no operator wants to be introducing barriers that might deter sales, insists Adande.
Aircell, on the other hand, works by dividing the refrigerated display case’s merchandising envelope into separate air flow managed cells with small, low pressure air columns. Each cell has its own air curtain, which is more efficient than a full case height air curtain on a conventional multi deck case. The net result is less pressure on the air curtain of each cell and a substantial reduction in cold air spillage from the case.
Crucially, Aircell does not require back panel flow to support the air curtain, so it does not over cool and freeze food at the rear of the cabinet. Adande claims the tests it has carried out against the cabinets of various manufacturers demonstrate energy savings of between 25% and 50%.
Last year Adande entered into a manufacturing agreement with the Bond Group and Plas-Tech for the production of cabinets incorporating Aircell and associated components. This year, a Bond Dallas 100 cabinet, fitted with the Aircell system, is due to achieve Enhanced Capital Allowance accreditation under the government’s Energy Technology List initiative.
The beauty of it all is that cabinet makers can incorporate the technology into their equipment with only minor modifications. “There are no new moving parts in what we are doing, it’s changing the air flow systems,” says chairman Nigel Bell.
While the Bond cabinets are the first truly commercial product lines to feature Aircell, Adande has no plans to make the technology exclusive. Bell compares it to the aviation industry, where an airline would define the type of engines that are fitted into the aircraft they order. In the same way, Adande wants the cabinet makers to specify its solution.
“The technology is available to anybody who wants to buy it,” he says. “We are talking with most cabinet manufacturers and they know about us and it is up to them where they go from here. We have introduced it to the market and then expect to see a pull from the retailers because if there is a real alternative to doors — and there is because doors are a barrier — there will be an interest for it.”
The testing facility, therefore, serves as a crucial vehicle for Adande to prove the performance of Aircell and drive further innovation. The investment is being funded by a £2.1m Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI) grant and an AMSCI loan of £380,000, together with private equity investment. Adande expects to see a rapid return on its planned outlay: according to bosses at the firm, the development of Aircell is forecasted to contribute to the growth of the company’s current turnover, of in excess of £5m, to between £20m and £30m by 2018.
The investment programme has also led to the recruitment of nine new employees in technical, engineering, management, sales and administrative roles, some of which, FEJ learns, come from the automotive industry and can offer a unique perspective on energy efficient design. Adande reckons that in the next eight years, the additional employment opportunities that Aircell will generate will create close to 100 extra jobs, spread between itself, consortium partners, cabinet manufacturers and sub-contractors.
The new facility includes three environmental chambers for testing to BS EN ISO 23953, which it cites as the accepted industry standard for the testing of refrigerated display cases. It also provides the resources to meet and exceed future test standards.
The test centre incorporates the latest design features, including a single control system to regulate humidity, temperature and fan speed within the chambers, backed by sophisticated data acquisition and monitoring systems for logging results.
In addition, Adande has established a dedicated facility housing CAD resources and a computational fluid dynamics suite for the numerical analysis of complex issues relating to fluid flows and simulation scenarios, such as turbulent flows.
“We have made a significant investment in the design and development of Aircell, with recent laboratory tests and in-store trials bringing the technology within the realms of commercial viability,” explains Adande’s managing director, Ian Wood.
“We are now well-placed to work with refrigeration equipment manufacturers and grocery retailers to deliver solutions, which meet the specific needs for sustainable refrigeration, tangible energy savings and an improved shopping experience.”
Aircell facilities overview
The three environmental test chambers were designed, installed and commissioned by ECH Engineering specifically for refrigeration testing. Features include:
• Intuitive touch-screen control with algorithms tuned to react to refrigerated cabinet loads.
• Dual water loops for precise temperature control.
• Adiabatic humidification.
• Novel bypass de-humidification system to improve stability.
• Perforated wall air distribution system.
• A-rated efficient heat pump re-heat system to reduce energy consumption.
• A-rated efficient water chiller.
• A-rated air handlers with EC fan.