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Improving supermarket fridge efficiency with robots

UK: A programme aimed at improving the energy efficiency of supermarket refrigeration cabinets is employing robots to emulate the real-world opening and closing of fridge doors. 

The innovative R&D initiative is being carried out by aerofoil shelf strip companies Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) and Aerofoil Energy with Surrey-based Inovo Robotics. It could see the Aerofoil technology, which has proved so successful on open display cases, bringing improved efficiencies to cases with doors.

Based at WAE’s site in Grove, Oxfordshire, the tests see Inovo’s collaborative robots – called cobots – repeatedly opening and closing the doors of test fridges to emulate real-world supermarket trading conditions. These fridges feature the F1-inspired Aerofoil shelf edge technology along with Aerofoil Energy’s new Vortex energy efficient fridge technologies.

The aerodynamic Aerofoil device channels the cold air that falls from the top of a fridge down the front, preventing it from spilling out into the aisle, saving up to 30% of a supermarket’s energy costs. While it has been adopted by many of the UK’s supermarkets to increase the energy efficiency of open-fronted cases, the Aerofoil’s developers are convinced it can have benefits for fridges with doors. 

The project launched in 2019 by Aerofoil Energy and Williams Advanced Engineering sought to carry out an in depth study to understand everything they could about doors on fridges, how they work and their real benefits. The project then tested Aerofoils with doors and several of its Vortex technologies, which have been developed to improve such things as air distribution, air velocity and air return.

“The results were that Aerofoils significantly increase energy savings from doors, and by also adding Vortex technologies the energy savings were increased even further. The final data showed that we were able to almost double the energy savings achieved by doors,” said Aerofoil Energy founder and technical director Paul McAndrew.

Henry Wood, Inovo Robotics co-founder, said: “Inovo’s cobots are designed for batch manufacturing. They are modular, versatile, collaborative robots with a user friendly interface which makes configuration for new tasks extremely easy. They are ideally suited to support the latest round of Aerofoil tests which require a repeatable and reliable system to open fridge doors, emulating in-store conditions and supporting round-the-clock testing.”

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