Design concept and award-winning engineering? Check. Meticulous project management and dedicated customer service from start to finish? Check. Expertise in rigging, welding, piping, insulation, control wiring, and turnkey installation? All checks. Innovative Refrigeration does it all, a one-stop shop for all of your industrial refrigeration needs. Leo Rommel reports how this family-owned, one-time garage shop quickly morphed into a nationwide powerhouse in the cold storage and food processing industry.
It all started in Michael McGinnis’s one-car residential garage.
Innovative Refrigeration was his idea, back in 1993. That’s when he founded this industrial refrigeration business, and it was his hard work that got the wheels turning and the business flowing.
Look at it today, an evolving Goliath in the cold storage and food processing industry throughout the petrochemical markets, a renowned manufacturer, supplier, and servicer in the mechanical, electrical, controls, power distribution, and refrigeration engineering sectors.
How fast it has grown in merely two decades.
The company now employs about 275, McGinnis says. Its commitment to excellence in manufacturing, workmanship, and service has given it an industrial footprint from coast-to-coast in the U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico. The onetime “garage shop” remains an innovational front-runner in a constantly competitive industry.
Looking back, it’s been quite a remarkable road to industrial prominence, McGinnis says.
“When I started the company, I was working for a union contractor,” he recalls. “We could only work in the city of Philadelphia, which was very difficult because we could not work outside that area.
“There was a tremendous amount of opportunity in the open shop arena, and I could not compete in that arena in the company I was working with as a union contractor.”
Instead, he spun off, jumpstarting Innovative Refrigeration as an open shop while still working for said union contractor as a commission salesman “for several years,” McGinnis says. “Then once it was up far enough that I could support myself,” he says, “I went 100 percent just working for Innovative.”
The company has experienced substantial growth in a relatively short time span thanks largely to its unique ability to align itself with team-oriented customers and vendors while establishing team members proven as top-of-the-line producers.
The staff’s goal, day in and day out, McGinnis adds, is to offer the highest-quality, most energy-efficient refrigeration systems on the market. His award-winning company does just that.
Just take a stroll inside the privately-held company’s state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot facility, located in Lyndhurst, Va., where it relocated to from Philadelphia in 1997 to take advantage of Virginia’s right-to-work laws.
“We’re basically a final assembly shop,” McGinnis says. “Like how Ford Motor Company would buy the sheet metal, the door brackets, the engine, and the upholstery, and assemble it inside their own building. That’s exactly what we’re doing at ours.
“We’re buying the coil, we’re buying the insulated metal panels, we’re buying wall steel, and we’re assembling everything in our operation,” he adds. “We have 37 workstations in our building. We can build 100 mini penthouses at a time. As you can see, we build a lot of pieces of equipment at one time.”
We’re talking about equipment with sophisticated technology, energy-saving solutions, and innovative design, he says, all the while providing the best service available.
“It’s our ability to provide a single source responsibility for the customer’s refrigeration solution that is one of assets that makes us stand out,” McGinnis says. “We’re going to do what’s best for the customer.”
There are many others. Allow us to give you something of a tour.
Total Solution Provider
Innovative Refrigeration, according to McGinnis, provides “the whole gamut” for refrigeration systems. It designs, manufactures, assembles, and sells the most advanced refrigeration technology, courtesy of an expansive supplier network comprised of a who’s who in the refrigeration industry.
“I don’t know of anybody who does everything turnkey,” he adds. “You go to other companies and you can find out, yes, they do three of the five major services that we provide but subcontract the others.
“But not here,” he adds. “We do it all.”
That includes rigging, welding, insulation, power wiring, piping, commissioning, equipment, control writing, plus project management, engineering, design, installation, and around-the-clock aftermarket customer service.
“It all happens underneath one roof,” McGinnis says. “We don’t subcontract. The electrical, the refrigeration, the manufacturing, the engineering, the training – it’s all done inside our company.”
Here is what else happens under that same roof, surrounded by the sprawling Blue Ridge Mountains: they design, engineer, fabricate, install, and maintain cost-effective, customized, computer-controlled industrial refrigeration systems.
“The main components that we sell are screw compressors, evaporative condensers, chillers, heat exchangers, pumps, and vessels – anything required to do with industrial refrigeration,” McGinnis says.
Using the wide range of top-of-the-line, brand name products –think Frick, GEA FES, Guntner, and Evapco, among several others – Innovative Refrigeration assembles clean air units, hygienic units, penthouse units, and mechanical skids.
“We also provide all of our own condenser platform materials,” McGinnis says. “We are a UL panel shop. We make our own control panels. We’re also a section 9 ASME weld shop.”
After assembly, the company makes use of about 190 field personnel that installs the turnkey equipment.
“We have our own certified welders, certified electricians, certified insulators, and millwrights that are on our payroll that install the equipment after it’s manufactured,” McGinnis says. “All of our assembly process is obviously all-American made.”
Innovation Refrigeration also has its own controls division. “We use PLCs – what we call Programmable Logic Controllers – and we do all of our own in-house programming,” McGinnis says. “We supply all our own controls systems and controls logic for the refrigeration systems.”
He adds: “Again, we haven’t used any external sources for anything once you give us an order to date. Everything is done in-house.”
Innovative Refrigeration requires – and maintains – the highest standard of training and preparation for all of its employees. “We regularly make certain they get the best training available,” McGinnis says.
That training, he adds, comes from the Industrial Refrigeration Technical College, the top ammonia refrigeration education facility in the U.S. The vocational school, also based in Lyndhurst, offers educational opportunities for current and aspiring ammonia refrigeration technicians and operators.
Through a variety of methods, such as classroom and hands-on, real-life training in the school’s hi-tech training facility, IRTC is a RETA-certified testing center.
So, too, is Innovative Refrigeration, McGinnis says.
“We have an 18-seat training lab for hands-on training,” McGinnis says. “We’re a RETA-certified testing center. We can test at our facility for RETA certification at the CARO level and the CIRO level of training.”
That’s another must-underline difference maker, McGinnis says: Innovative Refrigeration’s training regime is like no other.
“We have a full-blown, in-house training center that none of our competitors have,” he claims. “We have hygienic units in the training center. We have a CO2 blast freezer with a CO2 compressor and piping and heat exchangers. We have a high-temp and low-temp recirculator with open drive and canned ammonia pumps. We have a dispersion tank. We have a falling film chiller. We have an evaporative condenser – all in this 4,000-square-foot training lab.”
He adds: “Everything is full-sized, full scale. There’s nothing miniaturized. It’s all full scale.”
Technicians are given annual IRTC HAZMAT and operator refresher training, McGinnis says. They are also administered annual safety examinations to make certain all essential safety provisions are adhered to in every step of each operation.
“We take great pride in our service technicians remaining incident-free,” he says, adding that because of the always-changing EPA, PSM, OSHA, and RMP guidelines, company technicians are provided 40 hours of ongoing classroom training annually to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies in the industry.
McGinnis says another company motto is that a job is never complete after turnkey equipment is installed.
“We realize that service is another element that sets us apart,” he says. “We always provide timely, 24/7 support and service to our customers with minimum systems downtime and interruption. The fact that we have our own in-house controls department is a big reason why we provide this type of service.”
Technicians, he adds, provide preventative maintenance, emergency service, repairs, and retrofits for all systems.
And since the majority of ordered refrigeration systems are custom made, Innovative Refrigeration provides:
- Training on how to operate the new system;
- Maintenance training onsite and in the classroom;
- Turnkey installation;
- Operation manuals, as-built drawing, sequence of operations, and digital pictures;
- Process safety management training;
- HAZMAT responder training.
“We are really a one-stop shop for all industrial needs, parts, equipment, training, engineering, design, assembly, and service,” McGinnis says. “Not a thing is subcontracted. Customers sign on with us. And that’s what they get.”
Knowing The Customer
There’s little question that Innovative Refrigeration, like all businesses of varying sizes and industries, rely heavily on repeat business, which requires giving the customer what they want, when they want, how they want, and at the price they want.
McGinnis says his business does all of the above – and then some.
“Mainly we provide repeat competitive pricing,” McGinnis says. “We’re always competitive in pricing, year after year, project after project. We’re very competitive in repeat competitive pricing.”
Just ask his clients, all of whom are big-time giants in their sectors. SYSCO Food Services, United Natural Foods, U.S. Foods, United States Cold Storage, and FreshPoint spring to mind.
“They are constantly up there in the repeat business area,” McGinnis says.
Pricing is imperative, of course, but here’s another advantage Innovation Refrigeration has that the bulk of its competitors don’t: “We provide a one-stop solution to their problems,” McGinnis says. His firm’s constantly-upgraded machinery, equipment, software, and skill set are the primary reasons why.
“We are continuously changing and upgrading our systems,” he adds. “We are now moving to SAP-based software to enhance our engineering capabilities and our manufacturing capabilities. We are constantly evolving as far as our procedures and our practices to increase reliability and productivity, for pricing reasons and for reliability in delivery of equipment materials to the field.”
That’s another plus, he adds. His company’s lead time is among the best in the industry. Even better, he says, is that “we’re constantly on time with our schedules.”
The company’s excellent project management staff is continuously providing a strong, reliable chain of information to its customers, McGinnis says, adding that there are never too many hands on the wheel. “The customer gets one project manager,” he says. “From the time the project starts until the project is complete, he or she had only one person to talk with. I really think that the customers like that, having just one person to deal with throughout the entire process.”
Because ultimately, it’s the customers who are in the driver’s seat. They’re the reason why the company continues to flourish, why it’s expanded so quickly, and why it continues to grow even during the most turbulent of economic times.
“Our customers are why we are the single-source supplier and manufacturer for refrigeration turnkey projects,” McGinnis says. “They make us who we are.”