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2 May 2022
Quality refrigeration – what is it?

You sell fruit by truck, produce millions of plastic buckets or vaccines. You are an expert in your field. You are expanding the company. You erect a new building, equip it with all installations, set production paths, organize the incorporation of a new production, commercial or logistics facility into the living tissue of an operating enterprise.

It is a beautiful and complex task. A task that, in terms of the required expert knowledge, exceeds the competences of one person, and there will certainly be areas in which nobody in your company is an expert. There are many methods from the Project Management handbook that allow you to deal with issues in which you are not an expert. There are tables, plans, ranges, external consultants. There is, however, a field that in my experience is often overlooked. Too often!

I am talking about QUALITY. The most difficult feature to define.
So what is quality in the implementation of refrigeration installations?

according to Wikipedia:

Quality (Greek poiotes, Latin qualitas) – a philosophical concept defined by Plato as “a certain degree of perfection” [1].

“Level of perfection”, i.e. not only whether a given functionality exists, but also how it is implemented:

By the term “quality” I understand what and how was actually realized vs what was promised. Regardless of the contracts, preliminary arrangements and whether the client controls it or not. To achieve it at the right level, there must be time, money and positive commitment from all parties.

Further on to Wikipedia;

In this context, the most frequently mentioned features of technological quality are:

Whether a given function is:

  1. Possible to obtain (e.g. set temperature, under different conditions)
  2. Practical, easy to implement by the customer (can it open the door, is the control system understandable)
  3. Reliability (failure-free)
  4. Durability (will the functional features be maintained over time, also after the end of the warranty)
  5. Safe to use (does not pose a threat to employees, the performance of a given function may not void the warranty)
  6. In the further part of this study, I will try to explain what I think is a high-quality refrigeration system.

The multitude of choice is often associated with the possibility of choosing the best quality for the best price. In reality, however, the customer should look for the best quality / price ratio he or she is looking for. Preparation of an offer for large projects contains thousands of elements, is time-consuming and requires the involvement of people from companies other than the potential contractor (equipment suppliers, etc.). Contrary to appearances, the refrigeration industry is small and the competition will know about itself. If the competition is too high, the suppliers, seeing a low chance of winning, will not add to the offer. They will count it as a factor and “fast”. As a result, all submitted bids will be imprecisely counted, usually too expensive and technically ill-considered. The optimal number of bidders should not exceed four companies, even for the largest projects.

Part of the tender should also be a contract that defines the various possible situations that may arise on the site. An agreement that is too restrictive will result in too high a price or too much risk being taken by one of the parties. On an appropriate scale – and there are hundreds of thousands of cooling installations in Poland, millions – big problems will happen for sure!

The project consists of a number of documents resulting from the engineer’s work. The most important of these is the cooling balance. In order for it to be correct, all heat gains given by the customer, those resulting from experience, the required safety buffer and possibly a reserve (1.1 to 1.5), should be taken into account. A properly prepared balance is always a balancing act between too low power and so high that the implementation cost will be unacceptable.

The cooling balance is then translated into specific devices that are to provide cooling. The most important of them is the refrigeration unit. The boundary parameters (evaporation temperature, outside temperature, etc.) should be selected so that the appropriate cooling capacity and temperature in the rooms are ensured under all conditions that may occur in a given location.

Most of the “quality loss” occurs already at the stage of the balance sheet and the selection of basic devices. The engineer has a number of devices at his disposal, which, with a slight change in the selection parameter, will significantly differ from each other – and thus will have a different price for the customer. Other criteria are the selection of specific manufacturers of components and series of types of devices better or worse suited to the given requirements. At this stage, the quality and price discrepancy can sometimes be as high as 100%. This means that the same installation can cost X or 2X while still theoretically meeting the customer’s requirements.

Further design items affecting the quality are routes, diameters and material of pipelines, gas-coolers / condensers, automation, control system, etc. All very susceptible to selection parameters and all indistinguishable in poor tender specifications, which are not rarely encountered.

Construction preparation, construction location
Recent years have shown that the availability of materials and their prices vary a lot over time – even for a short time, in the order of a few days. In order to maintain sufficiently high quality, the contractor must be able to purchase materials in the right quantity, price and time. To achieve this, it must have financial resources (e.g. advances, own stocks) and human resources. The material collected from suppliers will vary on a case-by-case basis and the quality may be random from time to time. I mean, for example, Inox pipes, which are actually galvanized, or control without some (not described in the specification) features.

Another element susceptible to quality differences is the construction location. We answer the question of whether the contractor will have a storage container, will it work under controlled conditions, or “squatting” on the lawn. Inadequate working conditions will obviously tend to produce poorer quality, leaking welds, loose bolts. The location of the construction site costs about 2% of the works carried out. If the customer does not agree to bear this cost – he automatically accepts the risk of losing quality in this field.

Prepare for the unforeseen. Most of the construction sites are complicated activities consisting of hundreds of commuting employees, transports, the use of many specialized tools, work in difficult construction conditions, etc. The contractor must have a financial reserve that, in the event of “breaking the screwdriver” or having to go around the pole with the other side, will allow him to carry out this work with financial and technical success. Too tightly calculated cost estimates are prone to major problems (technical, financial, timely) in the event of unforeseen circumstances. So a Contractor who agrees to “too much” de-facto exposes the Client to the above-described problems.

Implementation of works
This stage is clearly very prone to loss of quality. Starting with the careless placement of cooling units, ending with the lack of tidying up after the work is finished. A contractor under too much financial pressure will carry out the work quickly, with carelessly selected staff. It will also save on the construction manager and the personal commitment of the management / owner of the company. The implementation will be full of deficiencies such as “too short tube for pressure sensor”, carelessly glued, too thin insulation, rubbing sling elements, too thin cables, etc. These are all indefinite items in the tender specifications. To avoid this, the client must be sure that the work will be carried out by dedicated, adequately paid personnel. No matter what auditors, project managers and lawyers you have. If you haven’t taken care of it earlier, high quality is very difficult to enforce at this stage.

As-built documentation and acceptance
There is nothing wrong with the fact that the work carried out differs slightly from the initial assumptions. After all, it is for this reason that there is such a concept as “as-built documentation”! It is too often a stage of work that is neglected. Meanwhile, properly prepared as-built documentation is the basis for careful servicing, future reconstructions and acceptance of UDT, SANEPiD, etc. Omitting the “as-built documentation” item in the cost estimation will result in the Customer receiving reprinted, sometimes even accidentally, documentation of manufacturers of parts of components, carelessly folded into one binder or what is even worse, handing over only the documents required by the Office of Technical Inspection.

In this case, I like to refer to the analogy. A new car under warranty must undergo paid inspections. Must have oil and brake pads changed. There is no such thing as free service during the warranty period. If the client does not pay for it, he has paid for it in the construction costs, accepts the fact that the contractor takes the risk of overpriced defects or something in between.

As can be seen above, “quality” is a difficult term to define, especially in very bureaucratic proceedings. Most corporate tenders do not have a position such as “quality of execution” at all or blindly assume that all bidders have it at the same level. Unfortunately, the reality is that contracting companies approach it on the basis of their previous experience and competences, and the shortcomings in it will “sort out” during the implementation. Unfortunately, there is currently a very bad tendency to accept good quality as fulfilling only what is written in the documents.

In my opinion, as a consultant, auditor and executive company, nothing can replace the individual commitment of decision-makers in the company and fair, partner relations. There is no substitute for fair payment of technical, personal and financial risks as well as wise Contractors and Clients. Ultimately, all parties work to ensure well-being and a good night’s sleep.