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SPS: Plants struggle with seasonal demand

09 November 2012

Food and drink companies risk overloading their effluent treatment plants to meet seasonal demand, warns Siltbuster Process Solutions (SPS).

SPS, the water and effluent treatment specialist, predicts that many companies could be coping with production throughputs that are significantly higher than the norm during October through to December, creating a major peak in production which rapidly drops away in January. However successive years of productivity improvements mean many plants don’t have the effluent treatment capacity to cope with such an increase.

Figures for last year from the Office of National Statistics appear to bear out SPS’ prediction of a spike. It reports that 9.9% of 2011 annual food sales took place in December. This fell back by a third in January.

According to SPS, factories typically find themselves with an effluent treatment plant which was designed and built at a time when production volumes were lower, or where the product being manufactured was different. Whilst some installations have capacity for storing excess flows and loads on a diurnal basis, or even over a few days, this is not often the case, with predictable consequences.

Year-on-year improvements in production plant throughput, combined with a sustained period of increased activity such as during the build-up to Christmas, mean there is no treatment ‘headroom’ available. This is when effluent treatment plants become overloaded, resulting in risk to compliance, much higher operating costs, and difficulty in maintaining a stable treatment operation.

Clwyd Jones, Business Unit Manager, Siltbuster Process Solutions elaborates: “Whilst a boost in production operations is often anticipated and so coped with on the factory floor, a sustained production surge can often create significant problems behind the scenes, on the company’s effluent treatment plant – and the increased levels of production can start to happen as far back as July or August depending on the product. Effluent treatment often doesn’t get the same attention but is just as important as production. That’s why steps should be taken ahead of time to create some capacity.”

Some companies are anticipating the problem. SPS has worked with a number of major food manufacturers who have asked it to install one of its packaged lamella Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) plants on a temporary basis just to ease the pressure on their effluent treatment operations. The DAF units help by removing solids, fats, oils and grease and the associated chemical oxygen demand (COD), typically reducing the COD loading on the biological treatment stage by around 30%. In many instances the client decides to purchase the unit or to install one permanently, whereas in others, the additional capacity is only required on a temporary basis.

Clwyd Jones concludes: “If the issue isn’t anticipated companies could find themselves in a position where their treatment capacity can’t cope or they will struggle to comply with discharge consents to river or sewer.”

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