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FPT increases cold treatment capacity for citrus exports

By Ilana Koegelenberg

When FPT Group decided to upgrade cold rooms at its facility at the Port of Cape Town, they approached MRE to retrofit the cold rooms in record time.

Prior to the upgrade, FPT’s facility in the Port of Cape Town had eight chambers on the ground floor and three on the first floor that could be used to cool and store produce before it is loaded into containers / conventional vessels in the port.

FPT00 2
The vessel’s crane lifting the citrus pallets onto the ship, ready for shipment to the US.

“We always had holding rooms on the first floor but they were never used to cool down fruit. We usually rented them out to customers who export flowers and other products,” explains Brendin Madaramoothoo, the technical manager at FPT.

Due to the increased requirement for cold treatment capacity in the port, FPT decided to upgrade the cold rooms on the first floor. The capacity of the eight chambers on the ground floor is 4 600 pallets, but additional space was required to accommodate close to 5 200 pallets in total.


They were on site within 10 days and completed the entire upgrade in only two and a half months.


The upgrade included recommissioning of the existing three chambers and the addition of five more chambers to a total of eight chambers.

Client brief
The client knew exactly what they wanted on this project. MRE had an existing service contract with FPT for the existing plant room. Thus, MRE was the preferred choice when it came to handling the upgrade.

FPT simply specified how many cold rooms they wanted to cool and the temperature they required — the rest was up to MRE. MRE’s Dennis van der Westhuizen designed the system and Gershwin Cornelius coordinated the project on site, ensuring everything went according to plan.

Expanding the plant
As mentioned, the installation comprised upgrades and extensions to the existing plant room while also upgrading the five cold stores. This project included the supply, delivery, installation, and commissioning of refrigeration equipment and piping to the plant room and five cold stores.

The upgrade consisted of the following capital equipment:

  • An existing Sullair C20 screw compressor coupled with a 225kW Siemens motor is installed with running conditions at -10°C suction temperature and +35°C condensing temperature.
  • An existing suction accumulator has been modified to suit the upgrade of the five controlled cold chambers.
  • Ten stainless steel coolers have been installed with new valve stations.
  • Each stainless steel/aluminium cooler has been supplied with three AMS fans with airflow of 3.1m3/s.

Tight deadline
The team worked under extreme pressure with very tight deadlines. MRE quoted by the end of February 2017 and were awarded the job by the end of March. They were on site within 10 days and completed the entire upgrade in only two and a half months.

It was crucial that the upgrade would be complete by the end of May 2017, as FPT had signed a contract and was getting extra product in.

Catering for a cold treatment market
Now, with the added chambers in place, FPT’s entire operation runs more smoothly.

The pallets are first inspected according to the stringent US regulations and then taken to cold chambers on the ground floor. As the US is a cold treatment market, this means the pallets must be under cold treatment pre-cooling conditions for 72 hours before they can be loaded on the vessel. Oranges are normally shipped at 3.5°C, but not for the cold treatment programme. Product comes in at ambient temperature and is then cooled to -0.6°C. For the last 24 hours of the 72-hour pull-down, it is crucial that the product maintains that temperature. There must not be any deviation or the cold treatment cycle will have to start over.

All the cold treatment cooling gets done on the ground-floor chambers, but when the ground-floor chambers are full, the excess pallets for a specific vessel can be taken to the first floor and can now be kept under cooling until space becomes available.

New headers fabricated by MRE. These headers run from the modified suction accumulator vessel to the cold rooms. FPT Group at the Port of Cape Town recently upgraded its cold room facilities to increase capacity. One of the new HC blowers installed in the upgraded chambers. The control panel for the five new chambers. Citrus pallets in the upgraded chambers on the first floor. A shipping vessel at the Port of Cape Town, ready to load citrus pallets. The signage for the ammonia installation. The result of the modified suction accumulator vessel as per MRE’s modifications. The vessel’s crane lifting the citrus pallets onto the ship, ready for shipment to the US. One of the five new valve stations fabricated by MRE for the new cold rooms.

Once the pallets have been inspected for the first vessel, the producers bring in more pallets for the second vessel. These will also go up to the first floor.

Now FPT can store 4 600 pallets in the ground-floor chambers and a further 1 500 in the first-floor chambers.

The citrus is produced and arrives from all over the Western Cape, predominantly Citrusdal, and also some from the Northern Cape. Interestingly, to the US, there used to be about 12 local exporters, with various producers supplying them. Now, producers are getting more sophisticated and starting to export their own product.

When loading the vessels, the palletised product is taken from the cold room to the quayside and then onto the vessel with a crane. During this process, the temperatures can fluctuate. The vessels are quite large and each deck is loaded and closed off one by one (from the bottom up), endeavouring to keep the products at -0.6°C. Only once all the decks have stabilised and the ship temperature probes are at the right temperature, will the vessel be allowed to sail. This is a massive operation and loading a 16-deck vessel with +4 220 pallets, for example, takes about two and a half days.

For the US cold treatment programme, the sterilisation period is 22 days. It takes less than 22 days for the vessel to sail from Cape Town to Philadelphia. However, the vessel cannot be offloaded unless the 22 days of sterilisation cycle is complete. If at any point there is a failure during the 22-day period or any temperature fluctuations, the cycle will have to start all over again.

Once the product is at sea, the stringent temperature regime is controlled by the vessel crew.

About FPT Group
FPT Group offers a broad range of landside and port logistic services. It offers a complete integrated suite of logistical solutions, from point of origin to point of destination, for all cargo types. It owns and operates three multipurpose terminals in southern Africa, situated in the ports of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. These terminals handle close to 500 000 pallets of fruit and a million tons of general cargo every year. 

Click below to read the September/October 2017 issue of Cold Link Africa

CLA Sept-Oct 2017

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