UK: Toshiba UK has announced an immediate switch to lower GWP refrigerant R32 across its entire residential and light commercial air conditioning ranges.

Toshiba Air Conditioning’s UK MD David Dunn announced to distributors on Tuesday that, with the exception of VRF equipment, there would be no further shipments of R410A splits, multi-splits and light commercial units from Japan.

In their place is the introduction of an expanded range of more efficient R32 units across its Mirai, Shorai and Daiseikai mono splits, multi splits and Digital Inverter and Super Digital Inverter ranges.

Small R32 units are available now, larger units will ship in June. The company says it still has significant stock of R410A units but this is expected to run out before the end of the year.

R410A supply concerns

The increasingly high prices and the unforeseen supply restrictions on R410A as a result of the European F-gas phase down have caused consternation amongst contractors this year. It’s also caused concern amongst manufacturers where there is currently no safe alternative, interim or otherwise, for R410A in VRF systems.

Explaining its rapid move to R32 at a press conference, yesterday, Toshiba Air Conditioning’s UK MD David Dunn admitted the R410A situation with regard to VRF was a big concern. For Toshiba in the UK, VRF sales accounts for nearly 50% of its business. For other manufacturers the figure could be higher.

“Unless we start cutting back on the use of R410A….the general consensus is that most manufacturers are going to actually hit a brick wall middle 2019, if not earlier,” David Dunn warned.

Agreeing with the generally held view that R32 is only a transitional refrigerant, he maintains that that has created an unsettled market. Contractors are cautious and realise they’ve got to spend time and money on training while waiting to see if there was a better alternative around the corner.

“R32, it may be a transitional refrigerant but as of today it is actually the best alternative, and I think most people in the industry would agree,” Dunn said.

“Every order that I have placed on our factory we have changed to R32. Anything that is not shipped will come into the UK as R32. I’m not bringing in any further R410A product into the UK where we have an R32 alternative,” he added.

Improved range

Toshiba first introduced its R32 Mirai split into the UK in 2016. The new expanded range includes a number of improvements and modifications. While the flammability of R32 requires all electrics to be contained in a steel enclosure this can cause problems with overheating of the PCBs. “The benefit we’ve got with redesigned systems is that we’ve put a cooling system in to keep the printed circuit boards cool and improve the longevity of the system,” David Dunn revealed.

Its Super Digital Inverter (SDI) and its high tier Daiseikai RAS system feature a completely new system. The SDI, in particular, features leak detection and energy monitoring.

In all, a new fan blade design provides a 30% improvement on airflow and a redesigned heat exchanger, with its iIncreased surface area, achieves 30% higher efficiency. This enables Toshiba to claim “market leading” SEERs of up 9.4 and SCOPs of 5.51.

In addition, the expanded R32 range operates to -27ºC in heating, compared to the current -15ºC and, more importantly, thanks to the PCB cooling, up to +52ºC in cooling mode.

Training

One of Toshiba’s main concerns with the switch to a flammable refrigerant is training.

David Dunn insisted that Toshiba wants to make sure customers have the right information and fully understand the implications of using R32.

“Under the wrong circumstances it is dangerous. So you have to do it right,” he said. Now, if you don’t have a leak it’s the safest thing in the world but, unfortunately, we do have leaks and, unfortunately, we do have cowboys installing equipment.

“There’s a multitude of things that can create an environment where an accident could happen. So we want to make sure we’re doing it right.

“If people are aware of the dangers then they make sure they do it right. We’ve got to make sure we don’t scaremonger too much but people have go to walk into this with open eyes and say, look, if we do it right it is very limited risk but if we do it wrong there is a big risk.”

Toshiba has been talking to a number of training providers and will be offering a subsidised scheme which could be effectively free if contractors use their Toshiba reward points.

Seeking to encourage all to undergo training, David Dunn said: “We will subsidise training and the engineers will only be charged £250 as an upfront cost but, more importantly, and this is where we see the true benefit of what we do as a business, we have included it in our awards scheme.”

Contractors buying Toshiba equipment can claim the training against their reward points, and effectively obtain their training free of charge.

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