Cooling Business of the Year: Runner-up – Gel-clear!

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Gel-clear describes itself as providing ‘complete HVACR condensate management and our judges were so impressed at the sheer range of projects by the four-person company in the pursuit of this mission that they awarded it the Runner-up award for 2019.

Gel-clear is a good example of the breadth of the cooling industry – and indeed the variety in the Cooby awards – in that it is a small company dedicated to the niche area of condensate and preventing blockages. The company started out providing condensate removal tablets for display cases but has since expanded to include complete systems for the prevention of condensate. Our judges were particularly impressed with the wide range of supporting evidence that Gel-clear endeavours to provide with each new innovation.

Mr. The battle against ‘biofilm’, which has long been the scourge of owners of refrigerated equipment, because it blocks drains and causes a whole host of headaches, from leaks to slip hazards, has been a career-long crusade for founder and owner Paurick Gaughan.

started out in civil engineering, working on projects including the Channel Tunnel, but moved to retail drainage and by 2004 he was taking on national contracts, working directly for food retailers as a contractor and supplying reactive drainage maintenance services nationally.

That’s when the condensate crusade began.

He saw the disproportionate upheaval to refrigeration activities that were being caused by the blockages, particularly the downtime of the cases and the resultant call-outs of maintenance engineers required – on average, 30 percent of refrigeration reactive maintenance call-outs are for drainage problems, the company stresses.

Mr. Gaughan says: ‘As a qualified drainage surveyor, I had a useful understanding of food retail operations and sensitivities, which led me into working with design teams and providing consultant support. Not only was this for troubleshooting and feasibility, but also value engineering and cost management.’

The development of the first Gel-clear condensate tablets followed on from this experience, with Mr. Gaughan scouring research papers and seeking out the chemists who could talk about the formation of biofilm and how it could be eradicated. He says that the tablets were ‘quietly launched’ in late 2012, complete with the significant incentive of a year’s free trial of the product. After a few years of market development, in 2016 the tablets drew the attention of the Cooling Awards judges, and they were awarded Refrigeration Product of the Year. Gel-clear followed this up in 2017 with the Innovation Award at the Blackburn and Darwen Business Awards.

Gel-clear has some compelling case studies to back up the effectiveness of the tablets: on one trial in Boscombe, Hants, at a retail store with 20 HT cases, the branch reported 12 call-outs in ten months due to blockages and leaks – or 0.6 call-outs per case. Following a deep clean, a half Gel-clear tablet was added to each of the cases. During the six month trial, the store reported no water leak call-outs at all.

 

Big savings.

The company says that excluding the cost for absorbent strips to soak up leaks, the store would save £1,700 in call-outs alone. The cost of adding the tablets was just £75.60.

As Mr. Gaughan points out, that figure doesn’t take into account all the other elements involved with case leaks and blockages: “We cannot measure, but only use the reference point of 100 percent to estimate the reduction in slips, trips and fall claims and time spent managing the water leaks. Then there is the impact we can’t measure or estimate, such as the negative merchandising impact; fabric damage to the display chiller; fabric damage to the building; energy savings; and the customer perception of seeing mopping up and cases out of use.”

Following the demonstrable success of the technology, Mr. Gaughan found doors opening around the world. “I was approached by companies from as far away as China and Australia, all experiencing the same problems for condensate drainage in foot retail refrigeration,” he says.

But a key reason for Gel-clear being recognised in this year’s Coobys is that the company didn’t just rest on its laurels but sought to develop the concept further.

“2018 and 2019 were devoted to ideas I had toyed with for many years – solutions to the problems common to condensate drainage,” Mr. Gaughan continues, listing the host of associated problems:

“Discharge hoses on condensate pumps always let the pump down – if they did not kink, the open connection would leak water during ‘backwash’; the ‘open’ connection method was in breach of building regulation for sanitary water, and EN 120566; the case plumbing beneath the chiller was by far the highest cost impact area along the dispersive route from the coil, to the sewer.”

A big factor in this, he says, is the simple fact that case plumbing is laid flat to the floor.

Funded by a European grant, he took his ideas to the University of Central Lancashire’s ‘Innovation Clinic’. It was with this collaboration that the prototypes were turned into a production reality. The result was brought to market in October and Mr. Gaughan is proud that they were “conceived, developed, and manufactured within a 25-mile radius of our premises.”

The technology itself is a “complete solution” to those common pump and drainage problems, he continues.

“The header drain connector is EN 12056-compliant, with a built-in air intake valve, and quick release ‘anti-kink’ connector for the hose; and the pipe chairs are designed to be retrofittable to existing case plumbing, giving an adjustment range of 95mm and delivering the capacity of a positive fall of 1:80 over a range of over 7.6. Both products received OEM specification by global HVACR manufacturer before they were even on the market.”

These drain elements have been packaged together with the condensate tablets and a condensate pump to create a plug-and-play system called Bio-beta. This was greeted with praise at the 2019 Cooling Awards, where the judges awarded a Highly Commended that noted “the holistic approach to the thorny issue of condensate blockages.”

The marketing push was ramped up another notch when Gel-clear signed a contract for its tablets to be sold by pump giant Sauermann at its outlets globally. For 2020, the company will be offering a range of cold chain condensate pumps manufactured for Gel-clear by Sauermann, to be sold alongside the tablets and ancillary products and offered with a five-year warranty.

Mr. Gaughan reports that Gel-clear is currently involved in R&D projects at nine sites in the UK, with three different retailers and four different contractors to improve condensate wastewater handling systems in a food retail environment. Add to that collaboration with three different OEMs on HVACR drainage solutions and it spells an ambitious workload for a small company.

Transparent business.

As well as developing the technology, the company has been busy developing the business and Mr. Gaughan is proud of the open, transparent structure where everyone can develop themselves professionally with training and mentoring. The company took on a placement student, Emma Stevens, from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) to help with its social media marketing, and she proved so successful that she is now working for them in a full-time capacity. This year, they will be joined by a business strategist under a UCLAN Knowledge Transfer Partnership in a bid to streamline Gel-clear’s global ambitions for the next five years.

As Gel-clear faces the new decade, it is seeking to reposition itself as a provider of holistic condensate management, taking in the tablets, pumps and ancillary technology, together with deep cleaning services and surveying and consultancy for the whole condensate area.

With one national supermarket pointing to water leak call-outs being reduced by over 60 percent, and a year on year reduction of over 35 percent in fan motor replacements – and estimated savings of around 1 tonne of CO2 emissions per week – it’s clear that this small company is having a big effect.

RAC Plus – January 2020

Full digital issue: https://digitalissues.racplus.com/2020/Jan/index.html

 

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