The workplace has changed immeasurably over the past two years. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend for remote working, but companies in key sectors such as food and waste processing have had to alter working methods to ensure staff can remain a safe distance from their colleagues during the working day. For instance, fewer people might be able to work on the facility floor at one time. Going forward, staggered start times, changing shift patterns and remote working will continue to impact the workplace. What is also clear is that in a post-COVID world, every inch of floor space must be maximized if processors are to maintain their pre-pandemic production capabilities.
Besides the COVID-related staff safety benefits of floor space optimization, there are also financial gains to be made. According to a Cummings construction market analysis on commercial construction costs, the average cost per square foot for a U.S. manufacturing facility is $363. From a purely economic standpoint, companies cannot afford to let any floor space remain underutilized. Food and waste processors are therefore having to think smarter and reimagine their factory footprints to remain competitive.
Save Floor Space when Cooling Foodstuffs
One processing stage where footprint savings can be made is cooling. A key step in many food processing facilities, cooling is required because hot materials such as powders and mixes must be cooled to ambient temperatures after the cooking step. Once cooled, they are ready for safe handling in the next stage, whether that be packaging, moving, storing or loading. Cooling also delays the fermentation process when working with warm, organic materials with high moisture contents. If such products are packed or stored while warm, mildew and mold growth can occur, which may lead to material waste.
Replacing a separate cooling station with an enclosed system that can safely transfer and cool hot and warm food powders and mixes in a single step can help food processors reduce capital equipment expenditures and floor space costs. One-step cooler/conveyor technology also can help lower operating costs, decrease maintenance charges and reduce material losses from product spoilage.
Eliminating the effect of annual rises in energy fees also can help achieve operational cost savings. Instead, treated and untreated municipal water or recycled water from elsewhere within the plant is used as the cooling fluid. If the products are cooled while they are conveyed — thereby removing a cooling stage in the process — food producers can experience increased productivity.
Increasing Staff Safety
One example of a combined cooling and conveying system is a tubular chain conveyor with jacketed pipes containing cooling fluid. As the product is conveyed, the fluid cools the material from 500 to 110°F (260 to 43°C) in an enclosed, sealed pipe assembly. Gases and moisture emitted from the hot material during transfer are contained and vented through the internal pipework using either vacuum, forced air or inert gases. This helps protect the food and the workforce.
One such system can convey and cool up to 1100 ft3 of hot food products per hour. Examples include organic powders and mixes with high fat content, roasted nuts and snacks, pet food kibble and precooked food products. As the product is conveyed and cooled in a sealed pipe, work areas remain clean, dry and dust-free.
In another example, a tubular chain conveyor with cooling capability can be used by waste processors. Due to environmental concerns and pressures on land use, waste companies are increasingly incinerating trash rather than landfilling it. A cooling conveyor unit can transfer and cool hot ash and biochar materials from 700 to 110°F (371 to 43°C) in a single step.
Biochar describes the ash remaining after any organic material such as biomass, wood chips or food waste has been carbonized under high temperatures in the absence of oxygen: a process known as pyrolysis. It has an inherent value as a biofertilizer due to its ability to sequester carbon in soil, making it a potentially lucrative soil improver/enhancer and a key product in efforts to reduce global warming. In 2019, the global biochar fertilizer market was valued at $97.8 million and is anticipated to increase by 18.6 percent from 2020 to 2027.
Suitable for incineration and pyrolysis plants processing organic and non-organic waste materials, including biochar, a single-step system can save waste and biowaste handlers money and floor space by eliminating the need for an additional cooler or chiller station. Replacing three lines of hot ash cooling with a cooling conveyor can result in capital cost savings of more than $1 million because separate coolers or chillers are not required.
Maintaining Product Integrity
For food processing, a cooling conveyor system also can help preserve product integrity. It glides food powders through the custom-designed chain and disc conveyor without pinching or crushing. With carbon steel, stainless steel 304 or 316L low-carbon stainless steel construction, it also comes with the option to specify glycol cooling chillers for applications with high inlet-to-outlet temperature differentiation over short transfer distances.
Designed to save food and waste processors money and floor space while keeping the work area — and therefore the workforce — safe and free from dust, cooling conveyors eliminate the need for an additional cooler or chiller station. This helps ensure workers can remain at a safe social distance and helps to maximize a food or waste processing facility’s footprint. PC
1. “Commercial Construction Cost Per Square Foot in the U.S.,” BigRentz Inc. Retrieved April 1, 2022. https://www.bigrentz.com/blog/commercial-construction-cost-per-square-foot
2. U.S. Biochar Market Size, Share, Industry Report, 2020-2027, Grand View Research. Retrieved April 1, 2022. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/us-biochar-market