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How food processors can keep their cool this summer

24 July 2015

Now summer is here, many food processers, manufacturers and distributors face a double whammy when it comes to the challenges of cooling and freezing perishables. Here are five steps food processors can take to ensure optimal seasonal cooling.

The concurrence of peak harvest and hotter weather can overburden cooling systems at food processing and storage sites. For every extra degree in ambient temperature over a designed specification, the cooling kW output of refrigeration equipment will reduce.  This means it can often struggle to maintain required temperatures and kW cooling capacity as the weather warms up. This drop in efficiency comes at a time when the equipment may need to work harder to cope with increased production demands. 
 
As a result, cooling equipment can be prone to breakdowns, in particular on sites with older equipment and where servicing and maintenance is not as robust as it should be.  System failures can lead to a halt in production, spoilt goods, damaged supplier relationships and consequential financial losses.
 
With the stakes so high, Chris Smith, Head of Temperature Control for Aggreko Northern Europe offers the following advice to maintenance managers looking to optimise cooling performance and reduce the risk of system breakdowns this summer.
 
1.   Don't neglect preventative maintenance 
 
New chillers are, in general, rated to handle ambient temperatures at 30/35 °C in European Countries. However, system efficiency can swiftly decline, especially if you fail to keep on top of your service and maintenance regime and do not look after the refrigerant, circuits and condensers in particular. 
 
If your maintenance schedule involves little more than an occasional oil change, there could be trouble ahead!  
 
Maintenance should include thoroughly cleaning and regularly maintaining your condensers to ensure that they operate efficiently.  Higher ambient temperatures will put a huge strain on your condensers as they work harder to reject excess heat.  They will need special attention if, over the year, attempts have been made to increase cooling by spraying water over them.  Over time this destroys the fins resulting in major capacity loss, even during the cooler winter months.
 
Regular, general equipment maintenance schedules should also include preventing system leakage e.g refrigerants, control calibration, electrical checks and water treatment.
 
2.   Examine historical data and learn from the past
 
It's important to reflect on experiences from previous summers and learn lessons from the past. If there were any minor issues last summer, chances are that these will magnify and become major issues again.  Examine historical system efficiency data and trends to check how your refrigeration equipment coped with peak demands and higher ambient temperatures. Use this to analyse risk and build a robust risk management strategy. 
 
3.  Upsize your refrigeration capacity to match business expansion or peak demand
 
You may have expanded your production lines, manufacturing facilities or cold storage areas without upsizing your refrigeration capacity. During winter months the existing cooling infrastructure might suffice, but higher ambient temperatures and spikes in demand over the summer may highlight your lack of cooling capacity. It might be time to consider investment in upgrading or extending your cooling infrastructure to deal with these annual peaks, but with these occurring only  approximately 20% of any given year, it may be difficult to justify the expenditure.  Alternatively, you could plan to supplement your existing plant with temporary cooling equipment to manage exceptional summer demands. The latter will avoid capital expense and also means you can be flexible in reconfiguring the production site to provide extra space for seasonal peaks.  An initial site survey to understand your potential requirements will ensure additional cooling plant can be onsite quickly when required.
 
4.   Have a well-rehearsed contingency plan in case disaster strikes
 
If your chilling equipment breaks down leading to a halt in production or an inability to maintain perishables at the required temperature, every minute counts before you are faced with dumping valuable stock, letting customers down and sending staff home.  It's critical to have a robust, well-rehearsed emergency plan in place. This will include reactive maintenance and repair procedures to cover every eventuality and a 24/7 on-call process for engineers. 
 
It is also essential to have considered what temporary back-up equipment you may need to procure in order to continue production whilst your on-site equipment is out of action.   Consider discussing your needs with a rental temperature control equipment supplier so you can build a contingency plan should the ‘worst case scenario’ occur.  A reputable supplier will spend time with you on-site, understanding your needs, identifying the most suitable equipment to meet them and producing a detailed site plan. This should take into account specific technical, logistical, safety and training issues, so everything is considered and planned for in advance. In this way you can ensure fast and effective installation and commissioning to minimise downtime. 
 
You should also agree appropriate lead times and costs for installation and delivery, maintenance and refuelling requirements, as well as decommissioning. 
 
5.  Persuade your directors of the business risk of cooling problems
 
It's important to take time out to analyse the true implications and risks to your businesses if your RAC equipment fails. Recognise that this is business critical equipment and understand the potential productivity, reputational and financial losses that could occur. It is necessary to quantify and illustrate the bottom line risk to ignite boardroom discussions around investment in preventative maintenance, contingency plans involving temporary temperature control equipment, or making a capital investment in upgrading your current cooling infrastructure. 


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