South Africa’s food and beverage cold chain sector plays an important role in maintaining food security. This is part one of a two-part series.
Conversely, this energy-intensive industry is under considerable pressure from retailers and consumers alike, to absorb ever-growing input costs and help curb rapidly increasing food price inflation.
Associated Energy Services (AES), South Africa’s leading operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, believes that it can help food and beverage sector manufacturers deal with their many challenges.
AES Commercial Director Dennis Williams sums up the sector’s key production-related performance challenges in three words: efficiency, quality and reliability. Consequently – and as one of the country’s largest users of thermal energy – Williams says the food and beverage industry needs an energy management ally.
“One of the idiosyncrasies of the food and beverage sector is that not only is thermal energy a key input in the beneficiation process, but this usually exceeds electricity requirements by two or three times.
Electrical energy is dense and easy to use and – except during load shedding – is there whenever one needs it. But thermal energy has to be converted into a usable format on site. That is where AES comes in,” he explains.
The complexities do not end there. The applications for energy in the food and beverage production sector are vast and can include everything from spray drying coffee creamers, to the heating of raw materials ahead of processing – as happens during beer production. One manufacturer may use steam for cooking and canning vegetables; while another – such as the dairy industry – uses it for pasteurising. Temperature control of work spaces and ‘clean-in-place’ (CIP) processes, which include cleaning and sanitation to meet stringent health and safety standards, are also important. This means reticulating steam throughout the food and beverage processing and production facility to operational areas.
To add to this, different manufacturers and product categories come with their own specific requirements which means creating bespoke solutions for individual clients.
Food for thought
At food processing and production facilities, AES is responsible for the whole chain of control, starting with selection and availability of the right fuel, and continuing on to the actual generation of steam and its delivery to the processing plant.
Strong and longstanding relationships that depend on good communication and education – and include an on-the-ground understanding of exactly how a particular plant and business operates – are paramount in this process.
Williams says that proper design and planning of reticulation systems are crucial: “In older plants, AES often finds that, because of space and time constraints, processes are not ideally situated when it comes to energy supply, and may even include thermally active pipelines which are actually just dead-ends due to haphazard expansions over the years, reducing efficiencies,” he advises.
Addressing such design and operational footprint inefficiencies and limitations needs to be done in partnership with the client.
While AES can generate a thermal energy carrier efficiently, it is down to the client to use it optimally. “We can generate the thermal carrier, but if the client wastes it – or uses it poorly in their production process – then they negate our efforts at the front-end. They will need more steam than necessary, and we will need to burn more fuel to provide it. That is why the partnership between AES and our clients is so pivotal, and why we strive to build a mutually beneficial understanding and synergy at all times,” he explains.
Continued in part two…
AES media release.