Process cooling providers seeking to develop and grow revenue streams typically think about expanding their services with maintenance contracts, an in-house parts department or overhaul services. These services are helpful for their processor customers, of course. Choosing an industrial refrigeration professional and service firm that provides significant non-traditional opportunities (e.g., outside their typical core competency) can help processors boost their bottom lines.
Generally, however, processors view the various elements of a facility as the job of distinct service providers. The refrigeration system and power plant get handled by one team while facility lighting, air and humidity, doors and insulation etc., are taken care of by unrelated vendors. Yet these elements and more are all in place and functioning to support the same mission: keeping food, whether stored or being processed, preserved and unspoiled.
It is possible for a processor to improve his refrigerated facility performance and efficiency by seeking out a refrigeration provider that provides knowledge of and services related to the other mission-critical elements that impact facility performance and other building features that surround or support the refrigeration system itself.
Those who provide the design, engineering and construction for refrigerated food facilities have begun to broaden their approach to consider the entire interconnected, interdependent cooling system. This provides benefits to customers such as food processors. Expanding the knowledge and expertise of refrigeration system providers to include interrelated key facility elements will deepen the intrinsic value of their core expertise — refrigeration — along with the processor’s bottom line.
Cooling Is the Means, Not the End
The process cooling equipment, power plant and related equipment are the heart of any food storage or processing facility. They also are the means to accomplish the broader end goal of preserving and protecting food products from spoilage and contamination. That is the core concern for processors. The more a refrigeration system provider can contribute to that mission, the better for the processor.
For example, over the last decade, one engineering firm has grown its business by expanding what “green refrigeration” means for the company. Its more inclusive definition of a “food preservation system” includes equipment that contributes to the energy efficiency of the refrigeration system: lighting and critical process air units. Modern LED lighting helps ensure plant safety and reduces heat input into the system. Critical process air (CPA) units improve air quality, decontamination and humidity control to eliminate pathogens. Providing facilities with LED and air processing units — included as a component part of larger industrial refrigeration design and construction bids as well as standalone retrofits — can boost the processor’s bottom line and provide other benefits.
LED Lights to Reduce Heat, Energy Loads
These days, incorporating LED lighting should be an automatic choice for industrial and commercial facilities, yet many continue to use older halogen or fluorescent systems that can tax the refrigeration system. LEDs provide benefits to food processing or storage facilities:
- Better low temperature lumen output.
- Lower heat input.
Both these factors also benefit the processor’s bottom line due to reduced energy use. According to government statistics, LEDs use 75 percent less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.
The savings scale up along with the size of the facility. In addition, LEDs provide more value by further reducing costs due to reduced maintenance and replacement requirements. They also improve workplace safety: LEDs illuminate workspaces better with sharper light that distributes better to cover dark corners.
For food plants, the more accurate color rendering from LEDs promotes efficiency to detect product discoloration and contamination for employees performing inspections. Certain LED types can be better (and even further reduce spoilage) for specific food types. An LED professional can offer recommendations specific to a facility.
Other benefits of using LEDs include reduced employee eyestrain fatigue. Also, because LEDs last so long and do not shatter as glass bulbs do, they generate safety and manpower savings. Maintaining a halogen or fluorescent system requires replacement work at sometimes-dangerous heights. Making the switch to LED reduces maintenance requirements and can potentially result in fewer workers’ compensation expenses.
Finally, because they immediately reach full illumination, LEDs are better suited to refrigerated facilities. Older lighting often requires continuous operation because it takes so long to warm up. This also means they cannot use motion-sensor activation or other automated controls that reduce energy costs and heat input.
Critical Process Air in Food Processing
Addressing the air quality of a facility might seem completely outside the scope of an industrial refrigeration service provider. Incorporating modern critical process air (CPA) units, however, provides benefits to a food processing facility, and the refrigeration system provider is well-positioned to incorporate them. CPA units purify the air by removing and — using ultraviolet technology — destroying airborne pathogens. They also are efficient in dehumidifying the air and drying facilities more quickly and thoroughly after spray-wash cleaning.
More attention was paid to workplace air quality once the COVID-19 crisis started, and that includes food production/processing facilities. While CPA units do scrub airborne human pathogens, they provide their greatest value in reducing shutdowns and spoiled food stock from pathogens specific to food processing plants.
Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria along with other airborne funguses and pathogens can travel via the air to contaminate all parts of a facility. They land on exposed products such as fruits and vegetables and accelerate spoilage. Listeria is probably the worst of these three, and it thrives in damp conditions such as high humidity food processing plants. It can be very hard to eliminate. A Listeria outbreak has the potential to shut down a facility. Even after cleaning, it can reemerge by surviving in small, unseen pools of water. The costliest pathogen danger is facing a large product recall or lawsuits from actual consumer illnesses. Technology such as CPAs helps avoid that most-feared scenario for a food company.
The drying ability of CPA units can help facilities get up and running faster after regularly scheduled cleaning shutdowns. Also, worker and workplace safety may be improved after the installation of CPA units. Clean air protects workers as much as it does the food products. CPAs clear out odors, grease and other particulates in facilities where those are potential health-and-safety issues.
In conclusion, industrial refrigeration professionals can better serve companies and discover new opportunities to grow their own business by considering the process cooling system as part of a broader food prep/safety/spoilage prevention system.
It is a fact that the more a customer trusts you and believes you understand the challenges they face day-to-day, the more likely they will stick with you for the long term. By working to expand your knowledge and awareness beyond your particular area of process cooling expertise or service, you can provide more value to customers (internal or external). Also, by demonstrating knowledge and advising on other services or beneficial equipment, it paves the way to increasing your own profitability. The upsides are obvious and many: more revenue coming in, a diversified range of services or products to help weather tough economic times or slow business cycles, and the chance to grow your business while contributing even more to your customer’s success.