Francisco Pascual, one of the pioneers and founders of the company who served as its Sales and Export Manager, recounts its history: In the 1970s, Empresa Casal was part of the Julià Group. We had a top-notch repair facility and as it would get “rather” warm in Seville (laughs), we gained plenty of experience repairing the air conditioning systems of Italian, German and French buses, among others. Any bus that arrived in Seville and had a problem with air conditioning ended up at the Casal bus repair facility. This experience, together with the development of our very own system in the 1970s, drove us to set up a company that specialized in air conditioning for buses.”
In 1977, the partners of the Julià Group decided to go their separate ways and split up the company. It was then decided that the air conditioning systems would be manufactured in Madrid, leading to the creation of the well-known company Iberfrío Carrier. However, the staff that developed the systems, led by Emilio Hervás, decided to continue working under him and stayed behind in Seville, creating a new company – Hispacold – which was founded in 1977.
Who was Emilio Hervás? Well, Hervás was the repair facility manager at Autodistribución, a company of the Julià Group, aside from being the inventor of the earliest system. He masterminded and managed the creation of Hispacold. This was how a separate company that manufactured air conditioning systems was established. “We started out on the premises of Casal, where it all began. When Hispacold took off, we bought a piece of land. This was in 1986. We began manufacturing in the new industrial units in 1989 and later on, the company was incorporated as a corporation,” says Pascual.
Important milestones in the history of Hispacold
As mentioned before, Hispacold began manufacturing air conditioning systems in 1977. In the beginning, these were mainly for private tour buses. However, a few years later, air conditioning began to be introduced in urban buses. “In fact, the earliest air conditioning systems for urban buses made by Hispacold were for a company that was part of the Alsa Group in Asturias, and then for Málaga,” explained Francisco Pascual.
The introduction of air conditioning in urban buses proved to be a huge boost for the company's production. A compressor with a higher capacity was also made for these urban buses, as they needed greater cooling capacity due to the constant opening of doors, larger number of passengers etc. This need for superior service features prompted the manufacturer to develop a special system for urban buses.
Another of the company’s important milestones was the development of brushless motors – around the early 2000s – which was followed by the use of electronic controls. The company then entered the Mexican market, opening a manufacturing plant there in 2002. The launch of its highly successful EcoIce compressor in 2003 is also worth a mention.
Carril Bus: We asked Roberto Recuerda, the company's General Manager, about its inclusion in the Irizar Group.
Roberto Recuerda: "It was in 1997 when Hispacold became part of the Irizar Group. At that time, the company already had a significant volume of exports, particularly to Asian markets – Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia etc. We also made incursions into European markets.
Irizar was an important customer for Hispacold then, and it was looking for suppliers that could support it in its internationalization project. Its takeover of Hispacold gave us the opportunity to expand our business globally much more quickly, as well as make progress in product innovation through new developments that made it possible for us to meet its demand for better performance in its vehicles.
Carril Bus: What is Hispacold's current turnover?
Roberto Recuerda: In 2016, we had a turnover of around €37 million. Nevertheless, our strongest year was 2008, which had a turnover of €38 million. The economic crisis brought a significant drop in sales in 2009, from which we have gradually recovered. I’m proud to say that Hispacold has always been deeply committed to maintaining employment, and this decline in economic activity has not led to any layoffs. There are 198 people currently working for the company.
50% of sales are for export. It is important to point out that much of our sales in Spain are also ultimately destined for export. We are currently present in more than 100 countries on five continents.
Carril Bus: What are Hispacold’s values?
Roberto Recuerda: Customer focus is in our company’s DNA. This means being able to understand their needs and adapting to their requirements. Another aspect of our DNA is being at the forefront of technology in terms of developing components, systems, regulation, after-sales services etc. With regard to the organization, I’d like to point out how much value the company places on the people behind it.
Carril Bus: Which manufacturers do you work with?
Roberto Recuerda: We work with many manufacturers, but obviously not with all of those out there. The world is a huge place and there are manufacturers and markets where we're not present. For example, China is a very difficult market to break into. We made an incursion many years ago, but we ended up deciding not to continue with our attempt. We want to be present in countries where technology is paramount, where they value a different level of performance, comfort etc.
In recent years, we have started to develop HVAC systems for railway applications. Throughout its history, Hispacold has made occasional incursions into the railway sector, as well as others such as the tank industry. But, in this case, as it was a line of business that we wished to continue, we created a solid work team specific to the railway sector in 2009. We started out slowly with a customer that gave us the opportunity to get our foot in the door. We have been gradually developing HVAC systems for this sector over the years and now we already have many systems deployed across five continents. This is a sector where we see great potential for growth.
Carril Bus: There seems to be a strong trend in the bus sector towards electric and hybrid buses, among others. Does this pose a challenge for manufacturers of HVAC systems?
Roberto Recuerda: With regard to the evolution of electric vehicles, we believe that many aspects are still in the process of being defined, making it necessary for us to work on several fronts. There's no clear trend yet as to manufacturers’ and end users’ demands. The earliest systems we put on the market were “air conditioning only” systems for very specific projects. In 2013, we launched an R&D+i project aimed at developing a reversible heat pump for 100% electric buses, in addition to developing battery cooling systems. The aim of the project was basically to develop a highly efficient system that could provide cooling and heating suitable for the warmer climates of southern Europe. It is worth pointing out that the consumption of air conditioning can represent 50% of the bus’s total electric power consumption, which means that the system's energy efficiency (the coefficient of performance or COP) becomes a key factor in making the most of the electrical energy consumed for air conditioning. This makes it possible for the vehicle to have greater range, without drawing on the batteries too much, or for buses to be designed with fewer batteries for more comfort in their interiors.
We are now working on a second project to improve the performance of the system that was initially developed. This is a project that is being carried out within the European Union's H2020 program, through which we are taking down real-time data on the system’s operation in a specific city, to develop a control strategy that will help to further optimize HVAC system consumption.
CB: How many people work in your Engineering and Development Department?
Roberto Recuerda: We have a very young and dynamic team made up of a total of 40 people, who are highly accustomed to collaborating with different universities and organizations both in Spain and further afield. The team is not only dedicated to the development of new products, but also collaborates at an industrial level in a sweeping transformation process that we set in motion a few years ago with the aim of optimizing material and human resources, which meant redefining and rethinking aspects of development and engineering that had already been consolidated within the organization for many years.
Carril Bus: Anything else to add?
Roberto Recuerda: The factory follows the principles of lean manufacturing in order to eliminate unnecessary waste, reduce necessary waste and focus work on everything that adds value to the product. Applying this philosophy helps us become much more efficient.
Now we have dived headfirst into all the challenges that lie ahead, such as Industry 4.0, which will mean an era of change in production processes. What we are doing is defining the initial projects, providing the components of communication, working on maintenance techniques, etc. In short, we are defining how to face the future with changes to our models encompassing all areas of our activities.