The Alliance Between RETA and NIA

April 1, 2009

It was by good fortune that Ron King happened by the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association’s (RETA’s) display booth at the Northwest Food Processors Association convention and exposition in January 2008. We met after the exhibit hall closed to talk about our respective associations.

Ron stated that the purpose of the National Insulation Association (NIA) is to provide education and training to the installers and end users of insulation systems. This is a good fit for RETA in that our mission statement is: “To enhance the professional development of industrial refrigeration operating and technical engineers.” RETA is all about education for its members.

RETA is 99 years old. The association organized as the National Association of Practical Refrigeration Engineers in 1910. In 1963, the membership voted to change the name to RETA. From its inception, the goal of the association has been to educate the membership to improve their command of the art and science of operating and maintaining industrial refrigeration systems. In the early days, there was an annual data book published that had articles and presentations on emerging technologies that the members would read and apply in their work situations. In one of these early course books, there was discussion about the insulation value of ice built up on a pipe surface. The book said that the insulating effect was equivalent to insulation that was half as thick as the ice. However, the book did not declare what the insulation was; that’s because when the book was written, almost all insulation was a combination of tar to protect the pipe, horse hair, and cork. The book assumed that the reader was already aware of the nuances of insulation, but that was a wrong assumption then, and it is especially wrong these days.

Early Insulation Experience

I began in the trade in the mid-1980s as an operator doing rounds in the engine room and cold rooms. The operation provides refrigeration effect for precooling fresh fruit and vegetables. The saturated suction temperature at the compressor inlet was approximately 8°F, and the evaporators operated at 20°F. The actual suction temperature was considerably warmer than 8°F. It was not uncommon to see inlet temperatures reaching 63°F in the afternoons. This was because there was not a stitch of insulation on the piping that crossed over that nice, hot roof from the evaporators.

The consequence of running at these conditions was greater than was realized at that time. The compressors were reciprocating type, and the discharge temperature usually climbed to above the breakdown point of the refrigeration oil. The temperature at the sump never got that hot; the high temperature occurred at the point of compression where the rings sealed against the cylinder wall. The oil was always disappearing from the compressors. It was leaving the compressor as smoke and would not coalesce in the oil separators. We would find the oil as a sludgy muck at the oil drain points of the low sides. This sludge also caused the control valves to hang open and shut periodically.

Chasing these gremlins, because the operation worked with such high suction superheat, was costly in energy terms, manpower repair efforts, achieving temperature for customers, and resulted in a shorter life of the shaft seals of the compressors. Plus, we had to add compressors to move the necessary British thermal units (Btus). It was not understood that extremely superheated refrigerant vapor occupies more volume than slightly superheated vapor. The compressor only pumps cubic feet of refrigerant vapor; the amount of heat energy in the cubic foot of vapor depends on the operating conditions.

Therefore, the money saved by not insulating was most likely being spent to a greater amount by added horsepower (and capital equipment); equipment repairs at shorter than necessary cycles; excess oil purchases; and labor spent to chase the problems around the plant. Plus, there were all those times we had to dodge ice falling from pipeways or the everlasting accumulation of mossy water on the concrete below the pipe runs. Ah, the joys of undercommitting the first dollars on a project.

Superheat effects are more extreme when refrigerating colder facilities, such as storage freezers and process blast freezers. We see more facilities with insulation installed on the low-temperature lines. At times, we see insulation systems that have moss growing out from beneath the liner jacket. Also, shrubbery is sometimes seen, and many times huge balls of ice envelope the pipe and insulation. It makes one wonder just how strong the support system is for the pipe and all that added weight.

A New Source for News

I could go on anecdotally about the application of insulation in refrigeration systems for many more paragraphs. The better choice is to let Ron King write about it from the hands-on, practical perspective that comes with his 30-plus years of experience. Fortunately for RETA members, that is exactly what is going to happen.

RETA has a newsletter, the RETA Breeze, which is published six times per year. In the first issue of 2009, the newsletter will introduce Ron King’s year-long standing column, which will reach more than 3,800 of our members. I look forward to learning from Ron’s articles, and I really look forward to the days when the wisdom and advice that come from his articles are applied in the field. Ron has spoken to some of our 34 chapters in meetings held in the Southeast, and he has been very well received and appreciated.

Understanding what an insulation system is and how to properly maintain it is a great need in our trade. Many times, the operating personnel are not involved in the decisions of insulation but are then thrust into the responsibility of maintaining it and periodically having to compromise it to prove the corrosion rate taking place below the insulation surface. A great insulation installation can be swiftly destroyed by an uninformed operator or maintenance technician. RETA now has a relationship with NIA that will allow the education forum of the NIA to be delivered directly to the end-user base.

I look forward to a long and rewarding relationship with the NIA. This October, RETA will be celebrating its 100th annual conference in Monterey, California. If you are an NIA member and would like to come experience our refrigeration family, download a registration form at Indicate on the form that you are an NIA member in good standing, and we’ll accept RETA member rates for your registration. You can tell the registrar that “Don sent you.”

You also are invited to become a RETA member. Our association is growing, and we feel there is a potential for our association to grow to 30,000 members as industrial refrigeration facilities continue to be constructed. As this happens, those who don’t know about RETA will come to learn that there is an alliance that stands ready to help them improve their understanding and skills in operating and maintaining an industrial refrigeration system.