Cubes of ice harvested from frozen lakes once sufficed as refrigeration technology, but in the last 45 years, one company in particular has advanced the industry into the digital age, in particular through its unique Co2 Cascade system that none can imitate. The company, M&M Refrigeration, controls its systems as it controls the market, freezing everything from food to dirt. Lorie Greenspan tells the Maryland company’s story.
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M&M: From a van to state-of-the-art. Duffy McConnell founded M&M Refrigeration in 1969, having previously worked in construction as a member of the Seabees during two tours in Vietnam, gaining expertise in both the electrical and refrigeration trades. After he left the service, McConnell drove home to Maryland from California, bought a used van and went to work for farmers.
Today the company offers both cutting edge digital control networking for its customers’ most advanced refrigeration systems and freeze technology through its innovative Carbon Dioxide and Ammonia (Cascade CO2/NH3) system, reducing their clients’ electric utility costs and carbon footprint while also reducing the pounds of ammonia necessary for the freezing process. Most importantly, it can freeze almost anything, from food to rocket fuel for transport into space, or return melted permafrost to its frozen state for northern mining operations.
From that original van, the company expanded into a 160,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and corporate offices spread over 10 acres in Federalsburg, Md. Expansions completed in 2002 added another 7,000 square feet of production area for the assembly of reciprocating compressor packages and chiller packages, a state-of-the-art paint room that can accommodate skid packages up to 50 feet in length, and an additional 15,000 square feet of warehouse. This growth has complemented the company’s expansion from regional service provider to the foremost international manufacturer of industrial refrigeration equipment and controls.
Along with the Maryland site, the company maintains two additional locations. Its controls division, M&M Systems, is in Ormond Beach, Fla. That facility has more than 10,000 square feet of office, manufacturing, assembly and warehouse area located on two-plus acres in the Ormond Airport Industrial Park. Meanwhile, its service and rebuild center, located in Montgomery, Ala., has 7,000 square feet of office, service and warehouse space. It is equipped to handle compressor rebuilds, field service support, parts sales and a variety of maintenance services.
M&M also offers the largest selection of screw compressor and reciprocating compressor packages in the world, pressure vessels of all sizes and configurations, chiller packages, skid-mounted refrigeration packages, and microprocessor equipment controllers and system controls. M&M also offers forced and induced draft evaporative condensers; steel, stainless steel and copper evaporator coils; rooftop critical process air systems; and open or closed circuit cooling towers; along with a complete line of refrigeration components and services.
More Than Just Controls
The refrigeration industry may have entered the computer age, but M&M led the way with its technological advances in the systems themselves. Specifically, M&M’s innovative Carbon Dioxide and Ammonia (Cascade CO2/NH3) system.
“M&M has been an innovator in the industry,” said M&M’s CEO, Duane Marshall. “The buzz today is reducing the amount of ammonia. We were one of the first companies to implement the CO2 Cascade system in the United States, an environmentally friendly system that reduces power consumption. Today, we have more CO2 installations in North and Central America and the Caribbean than any other company, making us the most experienced CO2 company around.”
With the phasing out of Freon in the United States, manufacturers first turned to ammonia as a replacement refrigerant. However, ammonia has its own problems: if released, it is toxic to humans in high concentrations, and the distinctive smell can permeate certain foodstuffs, contaminating them. “Imagine a spill and 50,000 pounds of ammonia letting go,” said Marshall. “No one wants a large ammonia system in their backyard.”
As a toxic substance, ammonia is highly regulated in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturers began to look for another, less risky, alternative.
The trend toward using CO2 began in Europe, which is where M&M discovered it. The company then came up with its own CO2 Cascade system. This premier system has been able to “dramatically reduce the ammonia needed for refrigeration down to 10 to 20 percent,” explains Ole Christensen, M&M’s vice president of engineering. “If you’re using 40,000 pounds of ammonia, and can drop to 4,000 to 8,000 pounds, that’s significant.”
Charles Toogood, M&M’s vice president of business development, relates his own experience while working at another company that specialized in refrigeration warehousing. “Many areas in which we built refrigerated warehouses were excited to have the business in town, but when they found out the facility could have 30,000-50,000 pounds of ammonia, they changed their tune,” he said.
“At that time I was looking for an alternative to ammonia,” he continued. “I heard about what they were doing in Europe and that CO2 was used fairly consistently there, and then I learned about M&M and began researching the CO2 system. M&M met me in Europe and we toured a facility that Ole built, and I came back here, convinced this was a viable alternative. I had a lot of confidence in M&M, even though everyone I knew told me it wouldn’t work.”
Not only did it work, Toogood added, “but it proved to be more efficient than the ammonia system we operated, about 5 to 7 percent more efficient. “An extensive study conducted by a third party has shown savings of 5 to 7 percent annually for a Cascade CO2 /NH3 Refrigeration system, compared to a conventional two-stage Ammonia system. That’s when you’re impacting your bottom line.”
The next innovation, the company asserts, will be for M&M to offer a refrigeration system that eliminates the use of ammonia altogether, although M&M will continue to offer customers complete ammonia systems; it just depends on the size and scope of the project. If the company doesn’t require storage temperatures below 0°F to -4°F (-17.8°C to -20°C), there is no blast freezing involved, and there are minimal room freezing requirements, the company maintains the most cost effective and efficient refrigerating system, assuming no restrictions on the use of ammonia, is still a single stage and single stage economized ammonia refrigeration system.
Head in the Cloud
You could keep yourself up all night worrying about your refrigeration system or you could stay connected via M&M Refrigeration’s cloud based Energy Initiate (EI) Dashboard and their advanced control system. These products give you access to your system via the internet from anywhere in the world.
It’s up to you, but M&M doesn’t see why you should waste a good night’s sleep when you could put the controls in your own hands – and theirs. While mechanical refrigeration hasn’t changed dramatically over the years, M&M founder, Duffy McConnell, said digitization in the form of controls has altered the refrigeration universe. “It used to be you turned a valve manually – now it’s done over a computer,” he explains.
The experts at M&M will be the first to tell you that the complex refrigeration systems they work with require advanced controls. In this arena, M&M leads the pack with a Cloud-based system that allows the user/operator to monitor various facets of the system – from usage and cost to performance and monitoring – all from the convenience of an iPhone, whether you are onsite or off.
“One customer with 100 locations can view status of all facilities on a single display screen – it allows the customer to monitor facilities in real-time and reduce utility costs,” Toogood said. “Because we can remotely monitor, we can solve problems by bringing their system up in our control room and making recommendations/adjustments. We’re the only ones who have this capability.”
With the next generation of computing and data storage in Cloud technology, M&M and its customers have the ability to tap into a vast array of computational and information technology resources at a second’s notice. M&M offers customers the ability to manage all this data by addressing two major costs: labor and power consumption.
M&M Refrigeration developed its Energy Initiative (EI) Dashboard as a Cloud-based monitoring and alert system. EI promotes better power and facility management by consolidating information from multiple locations into a common platform, accessible through a standard web browser.
From a “Global View” screen, owners and managers can view costs, power usage, specific energy consumption, ambient conditions, which facility is best – or worst – and which are meeting their efficiency targets – or not.
The design and development of the EI Dashboard continues to evolve. The latest additions have been to include detailed alarm information and refrigerant leak detection information. The company’s next steps will enhance historical prediction algorithms, expand the facility page to include historical ambient conditions and continue to expand the global alert system.
More to Offer
As the scope of the company’s international work grows (currently comprising 30 to 40 percent of business), M&M has maintained its focus on being a high-quality equipment provider. Superior customer service is a part of that business acumen; as proof, the company still supports the first control system it installed for a customer 27 years ago.
“Everybody claims to believe in customer service, but M&M delivers service 24 hours a day, and we’re still supporting the first control system we ever installed.” The company will even service systems with which they weren’t initially involved, regardless of refrigerant, installer or manufacturer.
Another plus for customers who partner with M&M: the company designs, builds and installs all of its own equipment. Most manufacturers do not.
In addition, M&M stocks a massive inventory, totaling more than 6,000 different parts, from bare block compressors, couplings and pumps to electrical controls, valves and all types of compressor oil.
One unusual product offering from M&M is a specifically designed and built, self-contained and totally portable chilling system for the purpose of ground freezing. An emerging demographic for this technology in mining, due to climate change and the disappearance of permafrost. “Imagine a mine on permafrost that is no longer permafrost,” Christensen said. M&M’s technology enables the mine to continue operations.
“We can freeze ground 3,000 feet down and more to help companies when they build new mine shafts, to avoid water coming in and prevent the shaft from collapsing,” Christensen said.
The technology can also go into space, freezing rocket fuel to -40°F.