Refrigeration – It's Not That Simple

Refrigeration – It's Not That Simple

Fact: The average value of the contents of the average -86° freezer averages $150,000.

 Question: What is the value of the contents of the refrigerator where you store your reagents or specimens?

 Fact: Although refrigerators are built to last 10 – 15 years and are the second biggest source of power consumption in the lab (#1 is your fume hood), most labs buy based on the lowest price as the primary consideration.

 Question: Is buying cheap refrigeration / freezing equipment really a good decision? 

The Manufacturers

The Thermo Scientific Revco and Jewett brand names are most likely the most popular brand names. Thermo has bought up most of the U.S. manufacturers (Barnstead, Labline, Jewett, etc.) and nearly all of these brands are manufactured at their Asheville, NC plant.

Helmer Scientific is an Indiana based maker known most widely for their blood bank and pharmaceutical refrigerators.  They have recently expanded their product line with -86 freezers.  Helmer's pricing is at the very top end of the scale.

 Eppendorf sells Innova and CryoCube freezers.

 American Biotech Supply is a large U.S. manufacturer located in South Carolina, USA.  ABT is a large, private label supplier to many of the large distributors and LPS is an authorized distributor of thier products.  

So-Low Environmental Equipment is located in Cincinati and makes a full line of products. They have been in business since 1959 and do best in the University market.

 Who is the "big dog" in the refrigeration marketplace? A company called Haier. The Haier Group is the world's #1 major appliance brand as ranked by Euromonitor International 2013. Haier employs more than 70,000 people around the world, and distributes products in more than 100 countries and regions with global revenues reaching $29.5 billion in 2013. Haier private labels under many brand names. 

Then there are the makers of "food grade" refrigerators. And there are home / dorm room quality refrigerators and then there are foodservice grade products. (If you want something for your break area, Lowes or Home Depot should be considered.)

 The "big dog" in the foodservice industry is True manufacturing. True makes most of the private label chromatography refrigerators that VWR and Fisher sell. We can provide True products as a reseller for one of their largest stocking distributors in the U.S. located here in the Knoxville area.

Why not buy a Thermo Revco or a Private Labeled Item from a Big Distributor?

Refrigerators and freezers – especially the -86° freezers - are mostly plug-and-play. If you can manhandle them to their final resting place, you plug them in and forget about them. But what if something doesn't work right? What happens then? Does the serviceman come right over?

 Thermo, like many other vendors, have contracted with local refrigeration repair shops around the U.S. to service their equipment. So your very expensive laboratory freezer is being serviced by a guy who spends most of his time pumping Freon into refrigerators at the local grocery store. Good luck with that.

The single biggest problem with refrigerators is the door. If it does NOT make a good seal, it will leak. And your alarms will go off, your samples will melt and it will be a disaster. What makes it leak? It warps. And it is a very expensive thing to fix. It is not field-replaceable. And from personal experience, I have seen firsthand one of my customers have to hire an attorney to get a manufacturer to replace the unit after months knowing that the problem was a warped door. This is an experience you should do ANYTHING to avoid! This customer had to discard three sets of very valuable reagents worth thousands of dollars as a result. Needless to say, they learned the hard way.


Energy Consumption

I think most everyone knows about "Energy Star" ratings. They seem to be on everything electrical.

Energy Star Certified Products

As you can see, the Energy Star specification only compares model to model. What this does NOT provide is a metric you can actually use. For example, in normal operation, this freezer/refrigerator would cost you $$_________ per month, year, etc.

 The fact is there is no metric in the industry to make this determination. We were involved with Oak Ridge National Labs a few years ago and we uncovered this. What was determined was that none of the manufacturers provide this information and it was only someone like the D.O.E. who with our help was able to get Thermo/Revco to publish this information for the D.O.E.

 The point here is that just because something has an Energy star rating as of today only means that it is 10% more efficient than "non-qualified models that simply meet the federal minimum standard for "energy efficiency," which means pretty much nothing to you. This is why you won't find an Energy Star rating on very many of these laboratory and food grade refrigerators and freezers. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't be concerned about energy consumption! You should. It only means that you will have to compute this value on your own. Or, we can help figure it out for you when you are ready to buy.


So have I convinced you yet that buying refrigeration or freezers isn't an easy job? As with many processes in the lab, it's far more complicated than you would think. LPS has a lot of expertise in this area. Before you purchase any refrigeration equipment or freezer, contact us. We can help determine the most overall cost-effective model to fit your requirements, taking all of these factors into consideration.