Maintenance requirement for integrated reefer containers

A container equipped with its own individual refrigeration unit is called an integral system . It is recommended that a maintenance procedure be carried out on reefer container machinery prior to each loading of cargo.

Reefer machinery need cleaning, sterilised washing, painting, welding, refrigeration system repairs and general maintenance for efficient working conditions. Standard repairs include inserts, renewal panels, renew florboards, cornerposts, top rails, bottom rails, doors, lock rods and handles. Also refurbish, respray and rebuilding as necessary .This is not a planned interval exercise, but does ensure the correct operation of other related machinery onboard the ship due to the following reasons:

Unpredictable Schedules

A reefer container running schedule is not fixed or predictable.After leaving its home port, for example New York, it may return after 10 to15 years. It may never return to its home port at all but instead travel to various parts of the world carrying reefer cargo whenever and wherever it is available.

Although the manufacturers specify standard routine maintenance procedures for their service providers around the world, due to local conditions, availability of spares, urgency of the container and local quality anomalies, the work carried out is not of a uniform standard.

Unmonitored running hours of reefer machinery parts

Few components of the reefer container machinery, other than the compressor, have monitored running hours. For those not fitted with a running hour meter, the length of service is not known: for example, it is not known when the expansion valve was last changed or when the oil or refrigerant was renewed or topped up. It is good practice for these procedures be routinely noted.
Refrigerated Container
Fig:Reefer Container

Keeping reefer maintenance records

Most reefer container owners provide a logbook in a pocket on the control panel door along with the circuit diagrams. The log book's use is not monitored and often the last entry may have been made two or three years ago, or the logbook has been lost and not replaced. From the container owner's point of view, the log book is not considered very important, so no record is kept to indicate when a maintenance procedure is performed on the machinery.

Competent person for doing the maintenance job

Authorised service providers are responsible for carrying out reefer container machinery maintenance. Before any loaded passage, the machinery must undergo a thorough and detailed inspection and all maintenance checks must be carried out as stipulated by the manufacturer; the desired result being maintenance free carriage of the reefer cargo. These maintenance procedures are expected to be carried out by shore staff (an authorised service provider, ASP) that have service contracts with the container owners (or the agents).

The ASP's technicians are trained by the manufacturer and their skills are upgraded through frequent training programmes and workshops. Most manufacturers stipulate that 80% of the technicians should have undergone one of their training programmes and that 50% should have attended upgrading programmes in the last three years. The manufacturer's authorisation indirectly guarantees the quality of the job carried out.

An ASP is also responsible for carrying out warranty jobs on reefer container machinery, free of charge to the customer on a priority basis, including the replacement of spares on behalf of the manufacturer. In return, the service provider receives a discount on the cost of spares. An ASP is also expected to keep a minimum inventory of the spare parts stipulated by the manufacturer. The aim is to provide prompt and efficient service to the customer and maintain the manufacturer's reputation in the market.

Exclusivity of the Authorised Service Provider

Service providers may have authorisation from any number of manufacturers such as Carrier, Thermo King, Daikin or Mitsubishi. ASPs do not sell reefer container machinery, they only service it. Spare parts are replaced as necessary. Regardless of the make of the container requiring maintenance, the service provider has to be able to provide the necessary service using the particular manufacturer's spare parts. The service provider signs contracts with different competing container owners (or their agents) for storage space and servicing, repairing and preparing the reefer containers.

Approving Repairs

Once a reefer container has been unpacked at the consignee's premises, the owner's agent sends it to the ASP's depot, where a preliminary inspection is carried out and a report submitted to the owner's agent highlighting any major visible defects. As soon as possible, a detailed physical and operational inspection is carried out by the service provider. A report including a cost estimate is then submitted to the owner's agent.

Authorisation for repairs may be granted subject to the agent's financial authority to accept the estimate and authorise repairs up to a certain limit. The service provider carries out only the repairs authorised by the agent.

The container is stored in the storage depot until needed for the next consignment of cargo. Once a cargo is found by the agent, notice is given to the service provider to carry out the final inspection of the container and prepare it for carriage of the specified cargo. This may involve the provision of additional fittings inside the container. When the container is fully prepared for a specified cargo as per the shipper's requirements, it is inspected by a surveyor appointed by the shipper and then taken to the packing area.

Reefer cargo is usually packed in a refrigerated loading bay where the temperature is the same as that required by the cargo during the passage. After loading the container goes to Customs, and then to the port where it is kept at a site with reefer points. Electric power is connected as soon as possible to keep the machinery running and maintain the temperature.

The service provider is usually contracted to supervise the plugging, unplugging and running of the reefer machinery during the waiting period until it is finally connected to a ship's power supply.

When the designated ship arrives and is ready for loading, the reefer container is unplugged and loaded into its allocated slot on the ship. As soon as possible it is connected to the ship's power supply to keep the reefer machinery running.

Most container owners have comprehensive check lists to ensure that both the requirements of the consignee and the cargo are met.

Related article:

Reefer containers pre-trip inspection

Reefer equipments and machinery maintenance procedure prior cargo stuffing

Related link:

Portland container repair yard got authorized service facility for Mistubishi and Daikin marine refrigeration units and can handle large volumes of running marine refrigeration units.

Allan's reefer and container depot offers reefer and container services to the international shipping industry in southern africa.

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Reefer cargo
Why refrigerate?
We choose to refrigerate commodities such as fruits and vegetables because we want to prolong their “practical shelf life” – the time from harvest until the product loses its commercial value.

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