MD Aircon & Refrigeration

MD Aircon & Refrigeration is a local company specialising in service and innovation in air conditioning, refrigeration and heat pumps. Robyn Grimsley sat down with the company director and founder, Derick Gomez, to find out more.

Started in 2011 by Derick Gomez, MD Aircon & Refrigeration specialises in the supply, fitment and maintenance of air-conditioning, refrigeration and domestic heat pump systems. The company also offers the patented RetroPump heat pump system, designed to minimise cost and maximise energy efficiency.

Derick, who has OTTC diplomas in electrical, refrigeration and air conditioning, previously worked for Air Cuadrado, Concord Air, Climatron and Raya Engineering. Together with his uncle, retired mechanical engineer Chuchi Cenizo, Derick is also co-inventor of the RetroPump system.

Derik Gomez 1 webDerick Gomez started MD Aircon & Refrigeration in 2011.
Image credit: Robyn Grimsley

“I started out working for my father’s duct-erecting company, Air Cuadrado, where I learnt plumbing and ducting. When he passed away, I discovered that my true passion and calling was air conditioning, which I then expanded to include the closely related field of refrigeration. I am very passionate about what I do, and I felt that I was being pressured to do work that I considered substandard — I would rather give the customer product that is beautiful, functional, and showcases quality workmanship, than focus only on function,” he explains.

Vision and mission

MD’s mission is to achieve service excellence through quality workmanship and dedication to upholding customer relations. The company’s vision is to capture 10% of the South African water heating systems market within the next five years, and in so doing step away from the all-too-common unrealistic claims on performance by providing substantiated claims for their products.

Innovation: the RetroPump

The energy-efficient RetroPump came about as the result of difficulties Derick experienced when trying to enter the heat pump market. “I met a gentleman from ThermalWise a few years earlier who introduced me to heat pumps. I was keen to get into the market because I could see that heat pumps were selling and there was a need for energy saving. He guided me, showed me how to do the calculations on energy saving and how to sell the product to the customer. Unfortunately, the customers I was dealing with perceived the end cost of the pumps as being too high,” he explains.


Our passion for the industry is definitely our competitive advantage.


So he started thinking about ways to streamline the product — to make it simpler and more cost effective. He consulted his uncle, and Cenizo came up with the unique idea of using thermal syphon technology for hot water. And after three — expensive — years of R&D, they achieved a working prototype. The RetroPump has been on the market since November 2015, and already a number of clients, including International Plumbing House (IPH), have seen a tangible benefit from the heat pump since implementing it in early 2016.

The RetroPump uses the same principle as conventional pumps, but with a different system. Like a conventional pump, the RetroPump has a compressor, a fan, and a thermostat that will switch off the unit. The uniqueness of the system lies in the coil, fabricated by MD, which replaces the traditional heat exchanger or condenser. MD also produces the flanges for the geysers to suit the PCDs. The company keeps additional stock on hand for use as spares and back-ups.

Mykail and Derik webDerick Gomez (right) and his brother Mykail (left) have been running MD Aircon & Refrigeration together since Mykail joined the company in 2013.
Image credit: Rory Macnamara

Derick explains that with conventional heat pumps, the water is pumped from the tank or geyser to the heat pump, where it is heated and then pumped back again. In contrast, the MD RetroPump replaces the electrical element of a geyser, increasing efficiency by heating water in the tank where it is stored. This also means that there are fewer opportunities for things to go wrong, which also lowers cost and increases energy efficiency.

He has received a lot of criticism from the industry for his product. “They say that the RetroPump is too simple and that it will never work. They’re accustomed to the complex safeties, sensors, and functions of the conventional heat pump. But the conventional heat pump has been around for over 40 years, and the only thing that’s changed in all that time is the safeties.”

According to MD, the RetroPump uses an average of 3.18 Amps for a 150-litre geyser, versus the 5.8 Amps used by a traditional heat pump, giving it a COP of 5.6, compared to the average COP of conventional heat pumps of around 3.3. These figures are based on testing by independent commercial tank specialists, Multi-Tech. While the heating system has not received SABS approval yet, each individual component is SABS-approved. The RetroPump can be retrofitted to domestic geysers from 100 to 300 litres, as well as commercial geysers up to 1 500 litres. It can also be made to spec.

The Future

In 2013, Derick’s brother Mykail, who has a marketing background, joined the company with the initial goal of helping to introduce the RetroPump to the market. Over the past few years of working together, the brothers have complemented each other’s fields of expertise and learnt more about all aspects of the business — a perfect symbiosis.

Derick explains that they plan to take the heat pump national, selling it in all major metropolitan areas in South Africa, before looking to the international market, particularly developing economies like China, India and Brazil. “Within the next five years we expect to see significant growth and to get an investor on board to help us expand our business. We would like to move the product to areas that need a product that’s cheap, reliable, and affordable to the masses; one that can help with the grid and the water issues.”

RetroPump 1 webThe patented RetroPump heat pump system offers increased energy savings at a lower cost than conventional heat pumps.
Image credit: Robyn Grimsley

“We’ve only just started to explore the possibilities of the RetroPump,” he continues, “and with a little bit of R&D we can incorporate a way to capture the water that is produced as a by-product of the machine’s function. If we add a filter, we can supply the household with about 2–3 litres of cold drinking water a day. No one’s thought about these things, so why don’t we actually help the community by giving them a product that’s cheap and reliable and, at the same time, potentially provide them with clean drinking water?”

In addition to the two brothers, MD Aircon has six permanent employees: two air-conditioning technicians and four apprentices, all of whom receive on-the-job training from Derick. “I like to teach and to pass on my knowledge in an area I’m passionate about,” he explains.

Ultimately, the company plans to recruit and train unemployed people who possess the necessary technical aptitude, and to invest in skills and development. “We don’t want to just employ people who are qualified,” says Derick. “We want to employ people who are not qualified and train them. Then they will do the work the way we want it done, and there is loyalty to the company as well. Just because someone is not academically qualified does not mean that they are not intelligent. This product has the potential to create literally thousands of jobs in South Africa.”

Clients

MD’s clients include Nando’s and Mercantile Bank Lisbon, both of which have used the company’s air-conditioning and refrigeration services since its inception, as well as IPH, which is the company’s biggest customer for the RetroPump.

Says Derick, “Our passion for the industry is definitely our competitive advantage — we don’t advertise, it’s all word-of-mouth referrals, and we’ve grown exponentially over the past five years. It’s all about how you treat the customer. We’re not perfect, we do make mistakes, but in any industry service is about how you deal with mistakes. We are committed to sorting out any problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, without making the customer wait around. It’s something that I pass onto my workers — I encourage meticulous work and attention to detail, and I always check their work. Many people in this industry see what they do as a job; it’s not something that they enjoy, but for me it is my passion, and I believe that this is what makes the difference.”

Speaking of their success, Derick puts it down to a combination of passion, hard work and the help of key people. “We couldn’t have done this without certain people who helped us — and are still helping us — expand into the market and reach our potential clients. Vinesh Naidu and Craig McIntyre from Franke Geysers hosted us at their stall at WPC and gave us the opportunity to showcase the RetroPump. Rudie Gelderblom has been our technical advisor and has been instrumental in exposing us to the industry and helping us meet customers. And Kevin Thysse, who is the director of Reliant Insurance Brokers, has been helping us get approval from Hollard and Renasa insurance companies.”


Click below to read the February 2017 issue of Plumbing Africa

PA FEB2017

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