Food safety, product quality, and processing efficiency — these have been three core themes in all of our conversations with food processors and suppliers over the past two years. And while there are many factors that affect all of these themes, a big one is temperature control.
Efficient heating is required for several processing activities, including raising temperatures high enough to kill pathogens and melting ingredients to use in other products. On the flip side, efficient chilling helps food manufacturers ensure that their products are of consistent quality, while also reducing spoilage and extending the shelf life of food.
To learn more about what’s new in temperature control equipment for food processing, we spoke with Jochen Naujokat, President of Delta T Systems, a Wisconsin-based company that has specialized in temperature control for nearly three decades.
Delta T Systems is unique in several ways. First, since the company’s founding in 1990, it has maintained a singular focus on temperature control systems — either heating, cooling, or a combination of the two. Today, Delta T Systems has customers spanning the food industry, from dairy processors making cheese to candy makers melting chocolate.
They also partner with various OEMs to provide turnkey solutions to end users. For example, one partner makes distilling equipment for alcohol, which requires precise temperature control, especially during fermentation. Another partner manufactures industrial mixers, and Delta T Systems provides heating or cooling for the contents of the jacketed vessel.
Recently, the company has been working on a new chiller, which they plan to debut at PROCESS EXPO later this year. The chiller is designed to meet the needs of processors today — namely, reducing manufacturing costs and decreasing downtime — as well as into the future, via wireless monitoring and the Internet of Things. Rick Holzhauer, Delta T Systems’ Chief Mechanical Engineer, gave us the scoop on this new product and how it will revolutionize how processors think about chilling.
Keeping costs down via energy efficiency
As we all know, profit margins in the food industry are very slim, and companies are on a continual quest to cut their costs. At the same time, consumer demand for quality has never been higher, meaning food processors must find ways to keep manufacturing costs low without sacrificing quality.
One of the best ways to boost processing efficiency is by optimizing energy efficiency, and a key target for that effort is the compressor in your chilling system.
“What makes a difference is the compressor,” Holzhauer says. “This is the main energy usage component in a chiller.” And that energy usage can really add up. Take, for example, a 10-ton chiller (120,000 BTU), which, according to Naujokat, is a middle-of-the-road portable chiller. Depending on the runtime, this chiller can consume between $5,000 and $16,000 in electricity a year. If you have a bigger chiller, or multiple chillers, that dollar value can escalate quickly.
One of the reasons for this is that, in a typical system, the same energy is used regardless of the load. This is because most chillers have a fixed speed compressor, which runs at the same speed all of the time. To compensate during low-load conditions, some chillers use a hot-gas bypass system to bypass part of the refrigeration system. But since the speed remains the same, the result is wasted energy.
The problem is especially pronounced in food processing, Naujokat says, because processors run at different loads throughout the day and low loads most of the time. It’s common for processors to size their systems for peak demand, but then run at only 30% of peak on a regular basis. This amounts to a lot of energy being wasted to run an oversized system all of the time.
Delta T Systems’ new chiller will solve this problem by becoming the first in the industry to use a variable speed compressor, which automatically adjusts the compressor speed to the process requirements. This technology has been widely used in the residential and commercial refrigeration markets for 20 years.
“With a variable speed compressor, you can control the temperature precisely to meet your exact needs,” Holzhauer says. “There are ways to attain precise temperature control without the variable-speed compressor, but they aren’t as accurate or as efficient. This is important because if your temperature is off even just a small amount, it can affect your product. Our system can meet temperature requirements within 0.5°F, which translates into better consistency and increased throughput.”
To achieve the functionality of automatically adapting to the process conditions, Delta T Systems partnered with a control manufacturer that developed an algorithm to control the compressor. Holzhauer explains: “There are many sensors around the compressor to monitor the temperature, pressure, and electrical parameters. The controller will take these inputs and feed them to the compressor, which will adapt itself to the environment to make sure it’s running at the most efficient point for the current conditions.”
Using this technology, processors can reduce the amount of electricity used by the compressor by anywhere from 30% to 50%. What this means, Naujokat points out, is that the chiller will pay for itself within two to three years.
Harnessing the power of the Internet of Things
In addition to helping processors reduce their energy usage today, the new chiller sets them up well for the future by helping them harness the power of the Internet of Things.
In a previous article, we explored the myriad benefits food manufacturing has to gain from Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). From monitoring temperatures across the supply chain to tracking inventory and keeping an eye on equipment performance, the IIoT promises to be a powerful tool in initiatives ranging from tracing products from farm to fork to implementing predictive maintenance programs.
Naujokat notes that as more processes become automated, there is a greater need to collect, monitor, and communicate data. The future will only get more and more digital, and this data will help processors save money mainly by minimizing downtime.
Here are a few benefits of the IIoT as it relates to the new chiller:
- Processors can access their process data, including temperature information, tank level, pump pressure, and much more. If there’s a problem with a product, they can look at the data history to see what might have caused it.
- The chiller can immediately send, via email or text message, any alarms or signs of trouble to the plant manager, who can then fix the problem before it has a chance to result in product losses or necessitates a full shutdown.
- Process data can be used to develop a predictive maintenance program to identify and solve small problems before they become big ones.
While the IIoT is still pretty new for the food industry, it will soon become standard practice. And processors who invest in the technology today will find themselves with a competitive advantage in the future.
Delta T Systems’ new chiller is slated to begin production in July and will be available in seven sizes ranging from 1 to 15 tons of cooling capacity. To see it for yourself, be sure to stop by their booth at PROCESS EXPO in September. If you aren’t registered yet, you can take care of that right now by clicking here.