Bloomington, MN. Thermo King Corp. dedicated its revamped—to the tune of $7.1 million—R&D Center here Monday to Frederick McKinley Jones, the pioneering African-American mechanical genius who, among other notable accomplishments, helped create not only Thermo King but the transport refrigeration industry itself.

Jones (1893-1961) was a self-taught engineer whose formal schooling amounted to four years of elementary school. Yet he designed electronic innovations with wide, even global, impact-- including in 1938 the first transport refrigeration unit.

That innovation led the same year to the founding of Thermo King (www.thermoking.com). Jones, who held some 60 patents, is also credited with key inventions in such fields as motion picture theater sound, automatic ticket machines and portable X-ray machines as well as a/c for military field hospitals in WW II. He served for many years as Thermo King’s vp of engineering and was with the firm up until the time of his death

Ted Fick, president of Themo King Americas, said the multi-million investment in the company’s quality and reliability testing capabilities, including facility updates and new equipment, is a fitting tribute to Jones’ dedication to creating innovative, reliable products. “Fred Jones exemplified the values of Thermo King,” said Fick. “He was a man with integrity, courage and was respectful of others. He was a team player who focused on being innovative. These are values Thermo King strives to uphold today through its products, services and commitment to customers and the transport refrigeration business.”

Fick told FleetOwner that Thermo King moved manufacturing operations out of the facility to expand its engineering operations for product quality, reliability and lifecycle verification and validation. He noted there is room for further expansion of R&D activities at the site as well.

According to Fick, the investment to date includes over $5 million put into new testing equipment and capabilities, including a $2.2-million electro dynamic “shaker”, $1.2 million for a calorimeter and environmentally controlled chambers for compressor life testing, $1 million for unit endurance testing cells and $300,000 for environmental chambers. In addition, just over $2 million was put in updating the existing building to better service both the new and existing testing capabilities.

The electro-dynamic shaker is perhaps the centerpiece of the center. According to Thermo King, it is a multi-axial shaker table—it can move in three directions independently-- that increases the ability to perform vibration testing for reefer units systems. It provides constant, oscillating and random shock loading from 10 to 2,000 Hz frequency, the company said.

Thermo King said the investment in calorimeters and environmentally controlled chambers gives it the ability to understand the environmental effects in the compressor while under different operational modes, and improves testing capabilities at several compressor capacity levels.

The company said the unit endurance environmental test cells offer the ability to test complete systems, subsystems or components under different environmental conditions in order to simulate actual field conditions easily. The cells offer the ability to test larger samples in order to achieve statistical significance of the results, and are capable of ambient temperatures ranging from -20 degrees F to 130 degrees F. Fully automated data acquisition systems can be operated 24/7 for accurate data measurement and recording, said Thermo King.

“Today, our customers make buying decisions based not only on price and quality, but also on the perceived reliability of the product,” noted Richard DeVaughn, vp of global engineering & product development. "The investment in the Frederick McKinley Jones R&D Center is a demonstration of our commitment to grow our business in an increasingly competitive environment by delivering reliable products with more features and superior performance."