Maintaining the Contractor, End User Relationship

Building and maintaining a strong relationship between the contractor and the end user of an ammonia refrigeration facility is one of the most valuable things both parties can do for project success. Communication, organization and a detailed understanding of what each side offers are essential ingredients for a smooth and beneficial partnership.

Contractors outlined and discussed five principles contractors and end users can apply to get the most of their relationship . . . Before a project begins, the contractor should clearly understand the end user’s longterm plan.

“As a contractor, we need to define our customer’s goals by asking the right questions to understand their budget restrictions and assemble the proper design,” said Bill Sauer, sales engineer at Refrigeration Design and Service, Inc., Fairless Hills, Pa. “You need to understand their business plan regarding their short and longterm goals.”

For example, he said, if the end user plans to sell the facility within 10 years, it might be in its best interest to install a less-expensive system even though it consumes more energy and may provide a shorter service life. Conversely, end users who are looking deeper into the future are better served by a more efficient system with a longer service life that reduces energy and operating costs, allowing them to sell refrigerated space and process at a lower cost, increasing their profit margins.

Failure to understand the end user’s goal can fracture the relationship. “There are multiple designs for refrigeration systems,” Sauer said. “A contractor should evaluate what is in the best interests of the end user so he can make the most solid investment in his facility. Therefore, as contractors we need to inform our customers of all available options and the impact they each have.”

Presenting the various options to the end user makes for informed decisions on both sides. For example, two systems that cool the facility to the same temperature might perform differently. The first may have a smaller up-front cost, but is less efficient, while the second design, although initially more expensive, could provide energy savings. Identifying the return-on-investment to the end user will help determine the length of time needed to recover the added expense of a more costly system.

“Each side needs to be upfront and honest about what they are looking for and what they can provide,” Sauer said.

A long-term relationship is beneficial to both sides. 

If equipment is sold and installed under warranty and the end user later hires different contractors to handle preventative maintenance, the warranties could become null and void. Furthermore, a new contractor will not know the history of the equipment or be part of the management of the system.

“The end user will get a better bang for their buck when they have a long-term relationship with the contractor because the contractor will be more knowledgeable about the facility’s equipment, the system operations and expectations,” Sauer said.

The contractor and end user should work together to manage documentation and compliance requirements associated with the refrigeration system.

It is imperative that the installing contractor maintain and update all process safety management regulatory and required compliance documents so that they provide an accurate depiction of the refrigeration system. The end user plays a valuable role in this process by maintaining a library, a check-list and an organized set of closeout documents when a project is completed. This will ensure that any audit, whether in-house or by a government inspector, is thorough and accurate.

The end user should maintain and document a PSM program so that it is easy to track all work in the event of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration audit. “It’s important to have one contractor working with the facility so that this documentation is being presented in the proper format,” said Kevin Thomas, director of project engineering at RD&S. “OSHA not only wants to walk through a facility, but also wants to see all the owner’s documentation and make sure it is both accurate and complete”.

Contractors should be intimately familiar with the end user’s system in order to provide a timely response to service calls and emergencies.

“The more we know the plant system, the more effectively we can satisfy the end user’s needs,” Sauer said.

By maintaining a close working relationship, the contractor is able to respond quickly to a service need or to an emergency, mitigating down time and cost for the end user. That familiarity with the system also enables the contractor to recommend new products that will benefit the end user. “Because we know what is in place, we can recommend a new product that will provide savings on energy or mitigate maintenance costs.”

End users should work with the contractor to establish a preventative maintenance program.

The execution of a monthly preventative maintenance program ensures that the refrigeration system is operating properly. It also benefits the end user when hiring new employees, who can then utilize the contractor to provide training on equipment, safety procedures, start-up and shutdown, and the best way to safely isolate components.

A solid relationship between the end user and a good contractor allows both parties to continue specializing in what they do best. The end user can focus more on the business and the contractor can continue to provide the end user with a well maintained, efficiently running system.