Case Studies

Summit Refrigeration Group Inc.

Climbing to the Peak of Performance in Industrial Refrigeration

Since 1982 Michael P. Conti, now president and CEO of Summit Refrigeration Group Inc. (Summit), has been living and breathing refrigeration. “I started as an apprentice in a service truck and did that for about 11 years,” Conti recalls. “I eventually moved into project management, sales and after a few employers I decided it was time to do my own thing.”

Alongside his partners, Rick DeGroot and Fred Anderson – vice president of business development and vice president of operations, respectively – Conti established Summit in 2004. After only 10 years in business, the industrial refrigeration contractor has emerged as a national competitor, with clients nationwide.

Multiple Industries and Nationwide Service

Summit’s commitment to performance and solid solutions to any refrigeration need allowed the Milwaukee-based company to grow into a national contractor. From food and beverage manufacturers and distributors to global corporations, Summit offers comprehensive and cost-effective answers for even the most complex industrial refrigeration applications.

“You want to keep it cold, you call us,” ensures Conti. “As a design-build contractor we offer turnkey project delivery for a wide range of clients. We serve national food and beverage manufacturers and distributors, such as Nestle, Aldi, Americold and Ryder, and we market to large-scale general contractors that specialize in cold storage construction.”

“Industrial refrigeration is a relationship-driven, specialized industry,” DeGroot explains. “Most of our customers’ largest assets are the products stored in temperature-controlled environments and they need a trusted partner they can count on to design, build and maintain their multi-million dollar investments. We have customers we have serviced for over 20 years and that doesn’t happen without a focus on the customer and responding to ever-changing system and industry needs.”

Summit also enters the petrochemical field and specialized ground-freezing operations. “Ground freezing is a niche that I was involved in at a previous company and it’s carried over to Summit,” reveals Conti. “We performed a deep freeze to make way for a water storage tunnel in Milwaukee and since then we have also assisted in a large tunnel development in Manhattan. Summit froze the ground so crews and equipment could dig below the Hudson River without the tunnel caving in. The company has bid on mining and gold exploration jobs, as well, in this niche.”

Today, Summit covers numerous industries across the country with three main locations in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Louisville, Ky., as well as Jacksonville, Fla. “We’re based in Menomonee Falls, which is a suburb of Milwaukee,” explains Conti. “We now have approximately 55 employees and are capable of serving just about every state in the U.S., but the majority of our business is east of the Mississippi.”

Turnkey Project Delivery

From Wisconsin to Florida, New York to Kentucky and everywhere in between, Summit promises fully turnkey project delivery, providing reliable, cost-effective and efficient design with a full understanding of the current and future needs of each individual system.

“Our design process starts by simply listening closely to our customers,” imparts Conti. “In the end, it’s about meeting their goals, thus seamless communication between our customers and our design team is highly important.”

Summit offers full design and scope development, including partial design assist, computerized load profiles and piping analysis, AutoCAD drafting services, mechanical integrity audits, energy analysis, process safety management, risk management programs, concept and composite design services and 3-D modeling.

“Oftentimes we’ll design, build, test, commission, perform employee training sessions and sign preventative maintenance contacts on-site,” notes Conti. “It’s all part of our turnkey delivery process.”

“Our service department is one of the largest in the Midwest, priding ourselves on quick response times and accurate system diagnostics,” says Anderson. “We are always looking toward the future by hiring new apprentices in service and construction to ensure a well-trained team for years to come.”

The team is currently building a skid package for a petrochemical plant in Mississippi. “The project has been prefabricated, wired, tested and shipped to the location, where we’re sending a crew to offload it, coordinate additional piping and provide maintenance and service after the sale, but most of the time we’re on site for complete installation,” Conti continues.

With an extensive range of capabilities, Summit does it all in-house. “The only services we subcontract are electrical, mechanical insulation and structural design,” adds Conti. “The rest we do ourselves.”

Extreme Environment Experts

Not only is Summit often required to completely design, build, install and maintain a refrigeration system, the company is also approached to design and engineer extreme environments for various applications. “In North Carolina we’re building a 90-foot-tall storage freezer,” reveals Conti. “Once completed the storage site will stock $1 billion in product.”

Also in the health care realm, Summit has engineered a negative 75 degree environment for a 10,000-square-foot storage freezer for enzymes. “We have also designed special environments for military purposes,” details Conti. “In Illinois, Conti developed a test chamber reaching negative 65 degrees to test military vehicle engines. The specific conditions were designed to test the engine’s ability to start and run in the harsh environment.”

Upholding High Safety Standards

Working in any extreme environment requires high safety standards that keep employees and customers out of harm’s way. “Our newest addition is our safety compliance division,” shares Conti. “This branch of Summit develops process safety management programs and offers training. Any facility that has more than 10,000 pounds of ammonia needs this and before now, we would subcontract the service to other organizations, but since August 2013, we’ve been doing it all in-house.”

Summit’s safety and continuing education programs offer project management integration, general project and site specific safety programs, ammonia awareness testing, fall protection, rigging, material handling and first aid training.

“We also offer Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] 10-hour and 40-hour courses to further our employee’s safety knowledge,” adds Conti.

“Our employees’ safety is the most important thing to us, we are a family here at Summit and our employees need to return home to their families safe and sound each and every day,” notes Anderson.

The Importance of Critical Systems

Implementing a new safety program with higher standards coupled with the recession has presented challenges for Summit over the last few years. “There are always regulatory challenges, because we’re licensed in so many states and the rules and regulations vary from state to state,” explains Conti. “From an industry standpoint, it’s difficult to compete with smaller companies who charge less but don’t have the capabilities we do. They may bid lower on a project, but lower isn’t necessarily better, because they don’t have the design and engineering power we do.”

“Fortunately, Summit is in a perishable industry,” DeGroot says. “While we’ve seen the larger construction projects dry up a bit, we work with critical systems and people can’t say, ‘Well, I’m just not going to fix that today.’ They have to fix or maintain, because it’s just not an option to let their refrigeration system go. We’ve seen more small expansions and remodels going on, but things are picking back up and there are larger development projects on the horizon.”

The partners are glad to see the economic situation looking up, because the first priority is Summit’s employees and their families. “We get up and go to work every day because we know that we have 50-plus families that are relying on us to make sure we run things the right way,” says Conti.

“For years Conti has hosted the company Christmas party at his house and when we hit 50 employees he asked everyone if they wanted to have it at a new larger venue,” continues Anderson. “Everyone said, ‘No’, they wanted to keep it at the house. It may be cozy, but that’s how we like it, because we’re all close.”

Summit’s commitment to a family-oriented culture and top performance has allowed the company to reach new heights over the last 10 years as a national industrial refrigeration contractor. Turnkey project delivery, quality control and a dedication to safety have positioned Summit Refrigeration Group Inc. among the industry leaders.

Published on: August 5, 2014

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