Cape Fruit Coolers’ new facility in Richmond Park

By John Ackermann | All images by John Ackermann

In just 258 days, a bare patch of ground had a state-of-the-art cooling facility of international standards erected on it for the export of fruit from Cape Town to markets across the globe.

The new cold store of Cape Fruit Coolers in Richmond Park was completed in record time ahead of the start of the 2019 citrus season. Of the 4 000 pallet capacity, 2 300 can be under forced cooling or in the sterilisation programme as required by certain destination markets.

With a daily sterilisation capacity of only 600 pallets at their store in Killarney Gardens, Cape Fruit Coolers (CFC) needed extra capacity to handle, in particular the 10% annual growth, in the export market of citrus. Markets in Europe do not require such sterilisation while the expanding markets in the Far East and China all have different sterilisation protocols.

Richmond Park was chosen for the new site because of its good infrastructure, double roads, and easy access to the N7 highway, which closely links to the N1 highway. Large volumes of citrus arrive from the Citrusdal area on the N7 highway and so does the table grapes from the Orange River area and Northern Cape.

Cape Fruit Coolers, with its major shareholders in the fresh fruit distribution chain, cools, stores and dispatches a wide variety of fruit, starting with table grapes in November, followed by deciduous, apple and pears, citrus of every variety, avocados, sub-tropicals, pomegranates, blue berries and small volumes of vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

For at least 11 months of the year, the store needs to operate 24/7 to meet sailing dates of conventional refrigerated vessels with citrus for the US or container ships taking a variety of fruits to foreign markets.

CLAOct Project8The inspection room for PPECB, US inspectors, and other inspection agencies.

At the heart of the new CFC complex in Richmond Park, are three Mycom screw packages connected to an ammonia circuit of two evaporative condensers (BAC CXVE 628), receiver, accumulator drum, two horizontal pumper drums and 74 flooded evaporator blower coils.

All coils are of stainless-steel tubes and aluminium fins. Two of the compressors are Mycom 250VLDs fitted with 450kW motors and the third a Mycom 250VSD with a 315kW motor. The sterilisation programme for the US requires the palletised citrus to be under cooling for 72 hours and during the last 24 hours the fruit is to be held at -0,6oC.

When maximum cooling capacity is required during pull down, all compressors operate and as the cooling load diminishes, the compressors are cycled to optimise the performance efficiency of each compressor. A sophisticated Scada electronic plant management system automatically monitors and adjusts operating parameters to maximise plant efficiency. The plant room layout has been designed with the provision for a 30% increase in the cooling load at a later stage.

CLAOct Project20Two water storage tanks and a pump house are a legal requirement for compliance with fire regulations.

Cooling of products is done in forced air-cooling tunnels with vertical fixed galvanised steel racking. Each tunnel has three centrally mounted suction fans of 1 000mm diameter, with 5,5kW motors. Each fan motor is fitted with a VFD to vary the fan speeds according to the specific cooling programme and to optimise power usage.

From the cooling tunnels, the cooled pallets are transferred into five regular atmosphere cold rooms. Rails for mobile racking have been included in the floor of one holding room for possible installation of a mobile raking system at a later stage.

Cooled products are received and dispatched thruough 10 insulated loading bays with vertical roll up doors, docking seals and docking levellers. Four of the loading bays have been separated from the others to handle the dispatch of pallets under the sterilisation programme.

Tautliners with un-cooled fruit are off loaded in an undercover drive-thru bay. Compliance with fire regulations required that sprinklers had to be installed in all the cold rooms dispatch/receiving air lock and offices. A further costly requirement of the fire protection system was the installation of two 500 000ℓ water storage tanks and a pump room with two high pressure pumps – one driven by an electric motor and the other by diesel engine to start automatically in the event of loss of grid power during a fire.

The sprinkler system is of a two-stage design to prevent a full discharge of water at the start of what could be a small trace of smoke and cause costly and unnecessary damage. In the event of the intensity of the smoke increasing the discharge changes to full capacity.

A containerised diesel driven 1250kVa generator, in close proximity to the plant room, powers the refrigeration plant to maintain temperature room temperatures in the event of a loss of grid power. During the Eskom load shedding in July, the daily diesel cost went up to R80 000.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented its own problems, while having to cope with increased volumes of citrus. Additional management has been employed to check staff periodically for Covid-19 symptoms during every shift.

Each operational shift has a staff complement of 35, who come from different areas, for example Du Noon, Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. To minimise the risk of infection during public transport, CFC have hired dedicated transporters. “Our staff have shown resilience and a high level of commitment during these challenging times. We also have a WhatsApp group to alert us to any of our staff being infected. With this system we can be sure that each staff member is taken care of and receives medical attention in the shortest possible time. The WhatsApp group also keeps staff updated of any changes in lockdown regulations. All these interventions have prevented any interruptions in our operations and has kept all our staff employed and healthy,” says Steve Oosthuizen, managing director, Cape Fruit Coolers.

“Our choice of Richmond Park was a wise move and we also enjoy our unspoilt view of Table Mountain.”

According to Oosthuizen, “The construction of our new Richmond Park facility was by far the best project that we have undertaken and largely due to the expertise, co-ordination and performance of the engineering team. Each played their part and had no hesitation to go the extra mile. Without their co-operation the tight schedule would not have been met.”

The reception area, entrance, administration office, surrounding gardens and paved driveways of the new CFC complex is in keeping with the upmarket image of the Richmond Park development.

Based on growth predictions for the fruit industry, particularly citrus, the vacant area of the CFC site will probably be developed further, in the not-too-distant future.

CLAOct Project14Managing director, Steve Oosthuizen, is proud of the new state-of-the-art complex in Richmond Park.

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