17 October 2017

The future of Refrigerated Display Cabinets

Left in the cold? ebm-papst explore how supermarkets buying strategies have affected their cold aisle.

Over the past 25 years, ebm-papst have worked with numerous Refrigerated Display Cabinets manufacturers throughout Europe; helping advise and design the most efficient model for Refrigerated Display Cabinets (RDCs). These partnerships have given ebm-papst vision and knowledge into the refrigeration market, which has enabled them to design specialised fans for Refrigerated Display Cabinets. Smaller, controllable, more powerful, energy efficient fans have been engineered by ebm-papst to fulfil the increasing challenges faced by RDC Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

The design of Refrigerated Display Cabinets has always been a fine balance between meeting the demands of the major supermarkets (more space for produce, less downtime, longer life expectancy, less noise and higher energy efficiency) and - the driving factor in many markets - price. Ensuring that the units are competitive, whilst maintaining space and performance has proven difficult. In recent years, the quality of components in many cases has fallen; as certain suppliers have been forced to compete on price alone. This has led to an increased risk of RDC failures in stores.

This article will explore the true cost of RDC failures to supermarkets in the UK.

The real cost of failure – The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

The Total Cost of Ownership Iceberg is a metaphor representing a visual interpretation of how the initial purchase price of a product may not represent the total cost to the buyer during their time of ownership.

When applying this allegory to supermarket RDCs, the purchase price of the RDC is characterised as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the ownership costs (i.e. maintenance, repair etc.) are the ‘body of the iceberg’. The initial cost is often the focus of the purchaser, however in this article we would like to explore the danger of solely focusing on the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

In recent years, tightening budget constraints and increased pressure from supermarkets for lower prices has led to RDC OEMs using cheaper components; simply to ensure their products remain competitive. However, this short-term perspective is not as cost effective as supermarkets would like to believe. Using cheaper, basic fans reduces the life and performance of the components in the display cabinets (which in most cases are designed to last 10 years); this increases maintenance costs and the risk of equipment failure. The reality is, the upfront penny saving plan proves more expensive!

We explore some of the costs associated with poorer quality fans below.

Repair cost

If a single fan within an RDC fails, the unit won’t be able to maintain a low enough ambient temperature. The workload placed on the remaining fans often proves too much and the unit will be turned off until it can be repaired. The average price for an engineer call-out can be up to £200 per visit. Many supermarkets have predetermined fees in place with service companies, who get the RDC back up and running. Engineers often need to make repeat visits. With this, the cost for repairs and replacement fans starts to escalate. These costs are not accounted for when purchasing the RDC, however can be avoided all together.

Loss of produce

Dependant on produce, an RDC could hold on average £1000 worth of stock; with individual product prices ranging from as little as 80p up to £30 (your Sunday topside of beef). When a Refrigerated Display Cabinet fails, the supermarket will need to dispose of the stock due to health and safety standards, unless the cabinet is emptied within 20 minutes. In the initial procurement process, it appears that the risk of disposing £1000 worth of stock is not accounted for when choosing new RDCs. The price difference between a budget fan and ebm-papst’s EC* axial fan in the RDC could equate to roughly £15 (that’s less than a joint of beef).

Trading loss

When an RDC fails, the produce stocked within it is removed and the cabinet is out of action. This merchandising space is then lost and any produce which would have been displayed, is now unavailable. This loss of trading should be considered when purchasing an RDC. If, due to ‘down time’, you can’t use the RDC for 10, 11, 12… days a year, the cabinet isn’t doing the job it was purchased for. Retail space is expensive and supermarkets know better than most, the value of optimising merchandising space.

Public Liability

For any supermarket, the safety and comfort of their customers and employees is a high priority. However, some accidents still occur; so many businesses have public liability insurance and legal requirements dictate that Employer’s liability insurance is a must. It is the supermarket’s responsibility to ensure that their premises are as safe as possible for their customers and employees.

When an RDC fails, the condensation from the unit can cause flooding onto the aisle floor; this then becomes a potential health and safety hazard. The risk of a customer slipping on the wet floor and injuring themselves is a moral and economical dilemma.

Suddenly, a failing RDC becomes a growing financial burden.

ebm-papst solution – Prevention rather than cure

As previously mentioned, ebm-papst has some 25 years of experience working with OEMs. Throughout the years, ebm-papst has been at the forefront of development for fan technology; providing OEMs access to reliable, energy efficient, space-saving fans.

Below are some key factors as to why ebm-papst are the leading fan manufacturer in the refrigeration market and why our products are unique.

Smart Technology

ebm-papst have developed modulated fans with variable speed technology. This gives supermarkets the increased controllability of how hard the fans work within an RDC. There are two speed control variations available: a 2 speed, auto-programed fan which can be connected to the Building Management System (BMS), so the fans will run at different speeds depending on the time-period it is programmed to. The second is an external 0-10 volt control, which can be controlled automatically by the BMS or manually.

New technology means alarms can be triggered by ebm-papst’s fans, enabling their users to be forewarned if a fan is struggling. Coupled with the speed control, it allows the end user to be informed and change the speed of the fans. So if a fan was to fail, the RDC can remain operational for longer, or until the engineer arrives.

Energy Efficient

Our GreenTech philosophy states that each fan we produce must be economically and ecologically superior to its predecessor. This has led to ebm-papst having the most energy efficient fans on the market. Being more energy efficient, these fans require less electricity to run – thus reducing your energy bills! The payback period seen through switching from AC to EC* fans is compelling, as these fans quickly pay for themselves.

‘EC fan and motor technology can show significant TCO benefits to retail end-users. Results are repeatedly positive in our post implementation studies of various field trials in the sector.’ – AB Group


ebm-papst fans are made from high quality components, which ensures that the life expectancy of the fan is much longer than a cheaply made fan; as the components have been rigorously tested to ensure they are the best suited for their intended purpose. These German engineered, German made fans set the standard when it comes to reliability and performance.


Many cheaply made fans are only suited to function under an ideal environment. A small change in their climate (such as additional moisture, or change in temperature) can cause them to fail. Alternatively, ebm-papst has made their fans more robust and allowed for ‘headroom’ within the fans durability. This ensures that if, for example the fans were to become more stressed due to another fan failing within the RDC, the cabinet would still maintain the correct temperature; as the other fans are capable of ‘picking up the slack’ in the short term, without causing them so much stress as to all fail as well.

Reduced Noise Levels

Keeping in line with the GreenTech philosophy, ebm-papst continuously challenges themselves to make fans quieter. So even when they run at their highest rotational speed, they are almost silent. This provides an improved experience for your customers. Long gone are the days of noisy chiller aisles.


Due to growing demand, ebm-papst have engineered smaller, more compact motors to put into the fan’s housing unit. This created more space within the RDC, so supermarkets could fill them with more produce. With more produce being added, it was essential the fans could keep up with the increased demand - so fans with increased power have been added to this design series.


When purchasing the RDC, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) may not be accounted for. Price driven buyers have resulted in a market where sacrifices have been made to stay competitive. Cheaper components have gradually been making their way into new RDCs. This has resulted in a reduction in the overall quality of RDCs; due to a shorter life expectancy of the parts within it. As a result, there are a number of ‘hidden’ costs which supermarkets are paying for.

Considering the right RDC with high quality, technology driven fans, would save supermarkets the expense of: the engineer, the new parts, the new stock and prevent the loss of trading and dangers to customer safety; all of which add up over time. These costs can be avoided completely by having the foresight to invest in longer term solutions.

*What is EC technology?

EC stands for Electronic Commutation: EC motors are essentially brushless DC motors powered by AC mains. EC fans use permanent magnet motors, running on high voltage direct current (DC) electricity, with built in AC to DC conversion, allowing them to run direct from single phase or three phase mains supplies. This means that ebm-papst EC gives you high performance, lower noise, speed control and long life expectancy in a product which is the same size as the old, power hungry AC products it replaces.

.Interested in finding out more?

For more information about EC technology, visit our new EC Upgrade page.

For more articles like this, visit our Blog page.

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Hannah Morphew
Office Administrator