The Big Chill

by Adam Ledlow

TORONTO, Ont. – Reefer technology has come leaps and bounds over the past several months, with manufacturers boasting some of their cleanest, quietest and most user-friendly models to date.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) deserve much of the credit for enforcing cleaner units, due to heightened emissions regulations.

“(Those associations) have basically forced the industry to improve their product lines,” says Mike Rickert, trailer product manager, Thermo King.

The EPA uses a “tiered” system which requires manufacturers to gradually reduce pollutants produced by new reefer engines. The system is similar to the EPA’s program to reduce particulate matter and NOx emissions produced by diesel engines by 2007.

Both Carrier and Thermo King’s units are EPA-compliant to beyond the next 2008 deadline. CARB, however, is taking regulations one step further. Unlike the EPA system, CARB does not allow older equipment to be “grandfathered,” or exempt, from current emissions standards. CARB regulations will require a retrofit of late models to bring them up to speed with the latest emissions requirements. All equipment entering California will be required to meet CARB standards, not just California-based equipment.

“The emissions levels get more and more stringent as the years go by,” said Mike Murdock, trailer product manager, Carrier Transicold. “In 2008, we won’t be able to operate without having a particulate drop or aftertreatment device.”

Though CARB’s system is strict, it does leave a few doors open for possible alternatives. One such option is operating the unit on electric standby instead of idling; a feat now possible with Carrier’s Vector 1800MT. Using Deltek hybrid diesel electric technology, the award-winning system allows the driver to use the electric standby feature when waiting at the dock which eliminates emissions altogether.

“If you look at cost of operations, it’s about a 50% savings by plugging it in on standby versus running it on diesel,” Murdock says. “We look at this as the platform for the future because…down the road, we could envision the possibility of removing the diesel engine entirely.”

Besides running on cleaner, electric power, the hybrid unit is also able to limit unnecessary fuel consumption. On a traditional unit, the driver would select either a ‘continuous run’ or ‘auto start/stop’ option, where the unit would run steadily even if the ambient temperature was very close to the box temperature. Such needless operation is an obvious fuel-waster, something that the Vector 1800MT’s Advance microprocessor works to eliminate.

“The Advance microprocessor will monitor the box temperature and the ambient temperature and it will make the decision for the driver. It will automatically be able to switch in the most efficient operating mode it can to help save you fuel,” Murdock says. “Customers are able to both maintain product quality and temperature, but also save some fuel at the same time. And with today’s fuel prices, it’s a huge benefit.”

The system also uses electric heat instead of hot gas, which Murdock says simplifies the refrigeration system and ensures constant heating capacity at any ambient temperature.

Apart from air pollution, noise pollution has also been a matter of concern for reefer manufacturers, and both Thermo King and Carrier have taken steps to tone down the notoriously noisy unit.

“Our rural areas are no longer rural anymore and the cities are expanding outward rather than inward and noise is becoming a critical issue,” says Thermo King’s Rickert. “There are a lot of things we can do to make the unit quieter, rather than just slapping insulation on it. Not only do we use sound-bending components and a specific acoustical grille, we have a tune-intake resonator incorporated into the unit design. We have special exhaust and muffler components that we’ve added to the unit.”

Carrier’s technology also zeroes in on the source of noise rather than packaging or sealing the noise in the cabinet.

“Our philosophy has been to develop technology that allows us to bring the source noise down. We’ve put a lot of work into that technology with quieter engines, quieter fans and quieter mechanical drive systems,” Murdock says. “If you look at the X-series’ units, we changed the airflow through the condenser to reduce the noise level without any sound abatement kits installed on the equipment.”

Murdock says running Carrier’s Vector 1800MT on electric standby is also a much quieter alternative to the traditional diesel engine.

In addition to creating cleaner and quieter units, both Carrier and Thermo King have taken steps to make their latest units the simplest possible.

“We’ve rolled out our new SR2 control system and we’re confident that it’s making it easier for new drivers and existing drivers to operate reefer equipment,” says Thermo King’s Lenz.

Lenz says the SR2 controller, which has been offered with the single-temperature systems for about two years now, offers more diagnostic capabilities and is more diagnostic-friendly for the technicians; as well as being more application-friendly.

The new, larger display shows all the zones within the unit at the same time and also features selectable languages and text messaging. The display even comes with an angled view, a much more convenient position, according to Rickert, since accessing the trailer unit is often awkward for drivers.

“It (now) angles down so the operator or the driver can program it without having to get up on a ladder to look at the microprocessor itself,” he says.

With a simplified controller and wiring, improved reliability and load protection, and larger knobs and buttons to help make it easier to operate, Lenz says he hopes the system will help retain drivers in the reefer industry.

“Because of the high turnover the industry has with drivers, we wanted to make sure that our system was as easy to operate as possible,” he says.

From Carrier’s standpoint, Murdock says the company has tried to do everything in its power to simplify the Vector unit.

“This is really a departure from mechanical drive systems that reefer manufacturers offered over the last 50 years,” Murdock says. “What we’ve done with the Deltek technology is we’ve basically tried to eliminate maintenance on it.”

The streamlined design eliminates about two-thirds of serviceable mechanical components for found in traditional systems, including idler pulleys, vibrasorbers, most belts, fan shafts, the compressor shaft seal and clutch. In all, Carrier estimates Deltek technology can reduce lifecycle costs by as much as 30%.

While the simplified system may reduce maintenance, the Advance microprocessor helps reduce information the driver needs to know. Instead of memorizing a set point for any given commodity, drivers will be able to simply scroll through a menu and select the product from a list (for example, strawberries, lettuce and ice cream) and the computer will initiate a pre-programmed temperature.

For the technician’s benefit, the microprocessor helps zero in on specific problems with the unit, where older systems would only provide a general idea.

“This actually pinpoints it and speaks it out in plain English exactly where to look,” Murdock says. “It’s a very thorough, but very simple interface.”

The new, simpler designs are due in part to the company’s customers, who Murdock says were constantly after Carrier to provide a more reliable unit.

“I guess the main thrust behind the Deltek technology was that any of the customers we talk to always say, ‘Give me a unit that doesn’t break. Give me reliability,'” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve done with Deltek: we’ve really eliminated the things that break on refrigeration units.”

Thermo King has also felt the push from customers to constantly produce better and better units, but that push has also come from the strong competition – however healthy – with Carrier.

“We have good competition; let’s face it,” he admits. “They have instilled in us a desire to improve our units even more. It’s been a healthy competition. I can easily say we’re building the strongest unit we’ve built in a long time; it’s a phenomenal unit.”

For more information on Thermo King and its products visit For more information on Carrier Transicold and its products visit

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