As the first EnVisioneering Symposium to focus on the industrial refrigeration and cold storage industry, “Paths of Food,” focused on the trends impacting the cold food chain.

Danfoss’s 23rd EnVisioneering Symposium expanded the company’s nine-year series program and built upon a workshop convened in 2014. From safety regulations and refrigerant concerns to global sourcing and emerging technologies, the event addressed the key opportunities and challenges redefining performance, quality, system configuration, liability and best practices.

“Evolution of the cold chain is changing the landscape for players throughout the chain — food producers, warehouses, retailers and consumers — and creating new opportunities and challenges across the industry,” said Brian Davis, senior director of global sales, industrial refrigeration, at Danfoss. “Our expectation is that industry innovation will be required on multiple levels, but the concern is that the biggest risk may be failure to grasp the depth and breadth of innovation required.”

Addressing the impact of regulations on facility operations and safety, Doug Reindl, professor at the University of Wisconsin and director of the Industrial Refrigeration Consortium, explained that “43 percent of facilities with catastrophic incidents either never reopen — or they close within two years,” making safety critical for any refrigerated facility.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) program has been in place for 23 years, but still incidents continue. While resources to address facility safety have expanded, a tension has developed between culture of past practice and growing economic pressure on the one hand and the PSM priorities on the other. Industry organizations, too, are working to expand resources to the industry to improve safety.

But to comply with PSM and see dramatic changes to industry-wide safety, participants suggested, industry needs to change the fundamental design of facilities and systems and retrain workers — rethinking the approach and going ‘outside of the box’ to create a new industry culture. Creating a culture of safety will require close collaboration with regulators and continuing to move toward the use of low-charge ammonia refrigeration systems.

Beyond facility and worker safety is food safety and shipping considerations — both imports and exports, particularly as the trend toward a more globalized food chain increases.

Jerry von Dohlen, president of Port Newark Refrigerated Warehouse, predicted how, for example, the expansion of the Panama Canal might affect traffic at ports on the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. He suggested that ports will need to improve their ability to handle larger ship sizes and increase the speed at which they load and unload as more containers come aboard each ship. Even today, the pressures of managing the transfer of goods from large, high-volume ships have changed the dynamics of port-warehousing operations.

Expansion of the food chain and growth in foreign-sourced food has food safety consequences as well. It is now necessary for the U.S. food industry and food safety regulators to be concerned with the "other end of the chain." That means both investing in foreign source countries — in equipment, facilities and training — and in monitoring performance. Providing an example, Mike Lynch, vice president of engineering at United States Cold Storage, described the complexities of building and operating cold storage facilities in China.

And, globalization of the food chain will require the refrigerated warehouse industry to understand and prepare for a variety of complex regulations, standards and refrigerants as regulators and industry stakeholders innovate to meet new challenges.

Shifts in globalization and regulation are already transforming the industry, which is moving to larger building footprints — driven by the need to handle more goods and by the rising cost of land near ports. But the adjustments required to remain competitive will be more far-reaching, requiring new strategies and technologies.

Stephan Shaub, refrigeration system specialist at Webber/Smith Associates Inc. and Brad Moore, vice president, AGVPick, at Swisslog Logistics Inc., presented examples of the potential for automated storage, including automation in high-rise refrigerated facilities.

Constructing facilities with these systems requires a new approach to design — considering the order in which products move, the size of pallets and accessibility of the rooftop system and can help to minimize safety concerns about the refrigeration system because of the limited number of people required to work within the warehouse.

Changes — including those to design, practice and regulations, participants concluded — are emerging within the industry and will likely have wide sweeping implications for the business decisions facing industry.

The symposium was held immediately following the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses Convention in Orlando, Fla.