Only the best for Karan Beef abattoir

By WSP Industrial

A state-of-the-art, fully automated robotic cold storage facility was recently completed at the Karan Beef abattoir in Balfour, Mpumalanga. 

KB002 coverOutside of the high-rise facility.

Karan Beef is a proudly South African company that uses the country’s rich natural resources to produce quality, Class A beef. The Karan Beef abattoir, located in Balfour (Mpumalanga), has been upgraded to comply with the strictest international standards. It was the first abattoir in South Africa to be hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) certified and has been awarded the prestigious FSSC 22 000 certification. It is also Halaal-approved and has export status (ZA-71).

From their humble beginnings in 1974, managing a herd of less than 100 head of cattle on the Karan family farm outside Heidelberg, they now accommodate a herd of over 150 000, situated on 2 330 hectares of farmland, making it the largest feedlot in Africa.

Based on the comprehensive controls that they have implemented at their feedlot and abattoir, they are able to offer customers full traceability on all meat purchases.

The majority of their product range is distributed directly from their abattoir in Balfour to customers throughout South Africa and abroad. They also distribute to their sales depot in City Deep to focus on delivering smaller quantities to local customers and to encourage direct pickups.

Designing a flagship

Karan Beef’s wish for this project was to build a flagship facility that would be the first of its kind in South Africa. As such, WSP Industrial was appointed as the mechanical consultant by GCP Projects in March 2016 for the project that continued until September 2017.

WSP offered the client the following engineering services:

  • Insulated panelling layout and detailed design
  • Refrigeration plant detailed design
  • Facility ventilation detailed design
  • Product transfer tunnel detailed design
  • 2D CAD drawings and 3D modelling
  • Specialist studies on product freezing
  • Tender documents and specifications for the refrigeration plant, insulated panelling, and automatic carton freezer
  • Engineering management of the above scopes.

About the plant

The plant had to be sized for:

  • 150 tons per day automatic carton freezer (ACF) of 380m²
  • Freezer store of 2 000m² / 40 000m3
  • Chiller store of 1 000m² / 20 000m3
  • Airlock store of 3 100m².

The ACF is the first of its size built within the country. The carton freezer design was refined in consultation with WSP to operate at -35°C at the evaporator coils and still achieves the design’s throughput. This gives a 23% increase in coefficient of performance (COP), resulting in an electrical consumption reduction over the -40°C that this system was originally designed to use.

Both the freezer and chiller stores are equipped with fully automatic robotic racking systems that require no human intervention within the stores.

The freezer and chiller stores are both close to 20m in internal height, each with a total volume of 40 000m3 and 20 000m3, respectively. Given these dimensions, it is said to be one of the highest freezer and chiller stores within South Africa.

The freezer and chiller stores are fitted with an oxygen suppression system used for fire prevention. This eliminates the need for any sprinkler system within the facility.

The facility has been built with Kingspan QuadCore insulated panels and is the first store to be built with this type of panelling in the country.

Dehumidification is achieved in the airlock with ammonia hot gas reheat coils. This method was selected due to its efficiency in terms of power and also its effectiveness.

Both the freezer and chiller stores are equipped with fully automatic robotic racking systems that require no human intervention within the stores.

The refrigeration plant is designed as a dual-stage plant, with the freezer store and the ACF on the -37.5°C (low-stage) circuit and the chiller store and airlock on the -10°C (high-stage) circuit.

The installed refrigeration duty is 1 122kW on the low stage and 1 776kW on the high stage.

One low-stage and one high-stage compressor are each fitted with insulated motor bearings and oil coolers suitable for 60Hz operation in future. This will allow for improved energy efficiency.


Careful thought and design went into selecting the most suitable compressors for the application, as the load turndown on this facility is quite substantial. The ACF accounts for about 80% of the low-stage refrigeration load, and with this load offline, it is important to ensure the low-stage compressors do not cycle on and off continuously, as this is inefficient and leads to poor plant control and it increases machine wear and tear.

The rational fire design on the facility called for fire prevention in the high-rise building as opposed to a traditional sprinkler system. WSP, together with Karan Beef, went to Europe to inspect an installation done by Wagner, a German company specialising in hypoxic systems. Wagner uses technology whereby nitrogen and oxygen are separated by compressing ambient air through active carbon. The oxygen is absorbed in the active carbon and the nitrogen introduced into the protected area to reduce the oxygen concentration. The lower concentration of oxygen prevents a fire from starting. Both parties were impressed with the quality and performance of the solution, and after extensive negotiations, Wagner was the chosen supplier for this system. The hypoxic system installed at Karan Beef is also the first of its kind in South Africa.

As part of the rational fire design, fire-rated insulated panelling was specified for the entire facility. Going through a vigorous adjudication exercise, Kingspan was selected as the sole supplier of the panelling. Further to this, their new QuadCore panel was selected for use.

WSP, together with Karan Beef, went through a detailed exercise on which method of carton freezing to make use of. Critical issues such as product movement, power efficiency, floor space, and manning requirements were considered and the best possible solution for this site was adjudicated to be the ACF. Blast freezing and plate freezing were also considered as options initially.

The ACF supplier designed the evaporators to defrost by way of water but due to the water scarcity in South Africa, an alternative solution had to be put in place. As the refrigeration plant is running in any event, WSP designed the system in such a way that the ACF evaporators are defrosted with hot gas, which in turn is how the rest of the evaporators in the facility are defrosted.

The last hurdle to overcome was the plant control philosophy. A decision between an electromechanical, black box controller/PLC or a bespoke PLC-driven plant had to be made. With WSP’s extensive experience on bespoke PLCs and the benefits it offers in terms of flexibility, reliability, expandability, and maintenance, a Siemens PLC with bespoke software was recommended and implemented.

Throughout the project, the team had to ensure the best possible technology was selected, which also correlates directly with Karan Beef’s slogan: “Now quality has a name”. It was made very clear at the start of the project that only the best would be acceptable.

List of professionals


*Photos by WSP

Click here to read the November 2018 issue of Cold Link Africa


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