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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.

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Addressing the air quality for a facility might seem completely outside the scope of an industrial refrigeration service provider; however, adding critical process air (CPA) can help a food processing facility improve dehumidifying and drying operations as well. Source: suravikin/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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.

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Preserving and protecting food products from spoilage and contamination is the core concern for processors. Source: Smederevac/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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.

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The process cooling equipment, power plant and related equipment such as LED lighting and the critical process air systems are at the heart of any food storage or processing facility. Image courtesy of PermaCold Engineering Inc.

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.

For the Refrigeration Providers: Increase Your Value While Increasing Your Revenue

While lighting and air purification are two examples of how to expand professional expertise and services, others exist within the process cooling universe.

Sometimes, they can appear when a new team member brings in unique expertise or product knowledge that can be put to use in developing a new service. Other times, it may be as simple as deciding to offer customers a vital component or ancillary system. For example, your company could offer facility controls or a proprietary line of premium lubricants.

In addition, rapidly developing opportunities are emerging for the industrial refrigeration industry in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other natural refrigerant technologies. The new equipment, engineering processes and reduced environmental impact on the planet are accelerating like never before. While this expansion in “green refrigeration” is more about new approaches to the refrigeration function itself rather than an extended service, the opportunities in this field are similar. It is about gaining new knowledge/expertise to provide new or alternative options to your processing customers, which bring their own set of positive benefits and ROI.

To launch a new service or product, if you do not have the necessary expertise (or staffing) to handle it in-house, you can readily contract or partner with reliable vendors. No matter how you approach it, the key to profitability and success will be to educate and train your sales representatives and relevant customer-facing company professionals to understand the nuts and bolts of the new product.

But, more important than functional knowledge, they must know how to explain the value to customers. They should be able to clearly communicate the ways in which it will provide ROI and make their jobs easier, have their facilities run better or more reliably, and any other financial and practical benefits your extended expertise will provide.

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