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Improving cryogenic freezing efficiency

30 January 2023

Neil Hansford discusses the benefits of cryogenic freezing and explains how digitalisation is improving the efficiency of this process.

Whether fresh or frozen produce, recording and monitoring the efficiency of the way food is manufactured remains a priority. 

Driven both by environmental and economic pressures, the demand for frozen food continues to rise, cryogenic freezing is an integral part of how manufacturers manage this need. Indeed, it is increasingly being recognised as a cost-effective alternative to traditional methods of food freezing because of the way it reduces waste and offers faster food production times.

With a focus on the production of frozen food at scale becoming increasingly important to some food manufacturers, understanding how freezing solutions can best be adapted to meet changing needs is key. 

Cryogenic freezing is already a tried, tested, and efficient way of producing food and the benefits are clear – the speed of cryogenic freezing enables producers to process more product, more quickly. Cryogenic freezers can also be adjusted across a wide range of temperatures at short notice in order to adapt to changing production demands. Both the equipment and the nitrogen can be configured in a way that matches the scale of the food processing operation.

Cryogenic freezing can provide an effective way to preserve the quality, taste, and nutritional value of many types of foods. It works by rapidly freezing the food to extremely low temperatures – typically below -18°C – which slows down or stops the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause food to spoil. The process can be used to quickly freeze raw or cooked foods and can also be used to freeze packaged foods. 

One benefit of cryogenic freezing is that it can increase the shelf life of many types of frozen foods, allowing them to be stored for longer periods of time without significant loss of quality.

Going digital
Today the food sector is witnessing a significant shift towards finding new, digitally-led ways of improving its capability, across all areas, including cryogenic freezing.

A recent global study shows that the adoption of technology has changed considerably in recent years, with almost 75% of respondents to Aptean's Global Food and Beverage Industry Trends Report indicating that their use of digital technology has either been maintained or increased. To really maximise the advantages of the technology available, manufacturers must now examine not just how operational data can be made more readily available, but critically, how it can be used and applied for maximum benefit.

Applying a data-driven approach, such as Air Products Smart Technology (APST) to cryogenic freezing systems enhances the service, to provide and maintain chilling or freezing within minutes. It can also deliver a stable shelf life for the end-product. Systems such as APST work by using diagnostic sensors and wireless communications technology to investigate, record and review freezer performance data and production data. In so doing, it offers improved safety and efficiency, optimised capacity, breakdown prevention and easy operation. It can also play a vital part in helping manufacturers optimise liquid nitrogen consumption. 

Using data to track liquid nitrogen usage in real-time means that efficiency changes can be detected in a proactive and prompt manner, based on gas usage in comparison with historical data. This moves the analysis from retrospective and out of date to current and real time. It is then possible to ensure that anomalies in the production line can be flagged and addressed in a timely way to reduce unexpected downtimes. 

Remote monitoring of the data from cryogenic systems also means that operators no longer need to make regular visits to machines, as they will have the ability to check the health and efficiency of the production parameters remotely. As a result, issues can be spotted, diagnosed, and changes made more efficiently. Importantly, data collection can also be used for future troubleshooting and to compare productivity week on week, year on year.

The data can also provide information to help make key strategic business decisions. In cryogenic freezing, this can include changes such as adjusting a product’s production rate and temperature to improve efficiency or looking at investing in a higher performance freezer to provide extra capacity. Technology can be applied to offer support and highlight opportunities to strengthen productivity and efficiency – both of which are essential in driving a business forward. 

The future will, undoubtedly, be driven by data. The question now should be, not simply how to access it, but how to analyse and apply it to ensure all industries are well-equipped to embrace future challenges. 

Neil Hansford is an industrial cryogenic and food expert at Air Products.

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