Cool Prefab Innovation

Exterior view of insulated metal panel walls with fully attached membrane roof walls with an access ladder, safety railing, ventilation system and suspension tank.

If you are going to name a company “Innovative,” it had better be, well, innovative. Over the near 30 years since its founding, Innovative Refrigeration Systems has repeatedly lived up to its name in providing engineering, manufacturing and constructing, as well as aftermarket service, for refrigeration projects used in logistics/distribution, food and beverage, industrial and process sectors.

The company’s latest innovation: prefabricated mechanical enclosures literally delivered to a customer’s doorstep and even rooftops.

“These are skid-mounted, fully-lit and fully insulated enclosures with removable walls and roof,” explains John Stoklosa, VP of Engineering. “It contains the ‘brains’ of an industrial refrigeration system—all the operating components including the full set of controls. Our standard package can interface with separate evaporators. The Master Series offers more flexibility with customization to house evaporators and compressors in one package.”

Under normal circumstances, and depending on customer requirements, pre-fabricated units can be built and delivered in about 12 weeks. Completely outfitted enclosures are truck delivered, sometimes in sections. “A 30-foot wide enclosure, for example, isn’t going to fit on a truck, so it is designed in two to three parts that we connect on site,” Stoklosa says. ”The prefab enclosure length, however, is always built to fit on a truck bed.”

The customer pours a concrete slab. Once it has sufficiently hardened, the mechanical enclosure is delivered, connected and started- up. “Customers are still amazed that in one day they are looking at an empty space, and the next day there is a fully assembled refrigeration system in place,” Stoklosa says.

In addition, there are roof-mounted mini-penthouse air handling units which are pre-built to standardized or customized specifications for various cooling applications. Mini-penthouses typically contain access doors, interior grating, partitions, ammonia detectors, temperature probes, lighting, stainless steel piping, galvanized steel drain lines, insulation, among other features, and can even be seismic or hurricane rated.

Prefab Advantages

“There are a lot of advantages to prefab construction,” notes company president Mike McGinnis. “It’s built faster, for one thing. You don’t have to dispatch crews to a construction site that gets disrupted by weather, you don’t have to deal with contractors not showing up when they are supposed to or system parts not arriving at time. There is better quality control and system reliability because everything is constructed under one roof by a dedicated team in a climate-controlled environment. All of which contributes to significant costs savings of prefab compared to on-site construction.”

He adds, “A factory-built prefab structure also offers a greater safety factor. “An example is how mini-penthouses are built so that everything is accessible by means of a four-foot ladder. “It reduces the possibility of falls from taller heights as well as the danger of trying to reach for something that isn’t quite within grasp.”

Innovative Refrigeration Systems has a long-established history as a one-stop-shop, single-source for customized and turn-key industrial refrigeration, coupled with a reputation for mastering and implementing modern technology to improve customer interactions, conserve energy and improve refrigeration efficiency. All of which makes it uniquely equipped to successfully provide prefabricated industrial refrigeration systems and solutions.

One example is a project for a major distributor of natural and organic foods that needed to upgrade from a Freon-based refrigeration system to a more environmentally-friendly system. Innovative Refrigeration Systems designed a new ammonia/CO₂ cascade system that included 11 mini-penthouses, four screw compressors, and three reciprocating compressors. The components were assembled at Innovative Refrigeration’s Virginia-based manufacturing facility and shipped cross-country and installed by Innovative Refrigeration construction teams which replaced their old equipment and integrated everything into one new system. This brought the total footprint of the facility to 800,000 ft. Most significantly, the upgrade/expansion took only 16 weeks, from mobilization to commissioning.

Another is the recent installation of nine penthouses on the top of an automated storage and retrieval facility. The challenge confronting Innovation Refrigeration Systems was that the facility is 100 feet higher than a typical facility. This required building stands and installing duct work at ground level before using a crane to lift the penthouse units up to the top. The project also included installing a full ammonia refrigeration system with two low-stage compressors, six hanging evaporators, and an evaporative condenser, as well as redundant evaporators for a new 45-foot tall freezer room.

Growing Prefab Demand

“When we first started out, pre-fab made up about five percent of our business,” McGinnis says. “Now it’s about 65 to 70 percent. There are just so many advantages to it that, in most cases and depending on specific customer situations, prefab is more economical and more efficient.” The popularity among customers led to the company’s recent shop expansion that adds some 40,000 square feet to its existing 182,951 square feet of office and shop space, in part to expanded mini-penthouse manufacturing. To increase the safety and productivity of min-penthouse manufacturing, the company also acquired a remote-controlled straddle carrier Combilift system, capable of lifting 95,000 pounds over 16 feet high. The new facility also added 35 manufacturing workers and six engineers, helping to eliminate weekend and overtime work for full-time employees.

McGinnis points out that while imitation is the best form of flattery, almost no other vendor offers the same range of capabilities as Innovative Refrigeration Systems. “There are a few companies that are starting to offer prefabricated industrial refrigeration units, but they typically rely on other entities to fulfill the project. They don’t have the capabilities to provide complete end-to-end service.”

A key selling point for Innovative Refrigeration Systems, in contrast, is that it is the single-source for prefabricated construction. McGinnis notes that, “We’ve been offering full-service, in-house design and engineering, manufacturing, construction, project management and aftermarket support performed by experiencing professionals since our inception. As design-build contractors, we’re fully competent in every step of the process. Which makes it easy for us to apply these same disciplines to build our prefabricated units.”

Which is why Innovative Refrigeration prefabricated enclosures are so cool.

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