Equipment & Technology

Industrial Freezer Innovations Help Manufacturers Weather Covid Storm

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Demand for frozen food around the world has increased considerably for a number of reasons, including the recent surge in home meal consumption due to the coronavirus pandemic. With improvements in quality standards driven by rising consumer expectations, the industrial freezing industry has been innovating its technology to meet market requirements.

“More and more customers are focussing on long production processes and want to be able to continuously measure the output quality of their product,” said Nicole Meierotto, a trade press spokesperson with the Düsseldorf, Germany-headquartered GEA Group. “We can relate this directly to the high desired quality that consumers expect. They are getting more demanding and want to be able to trace back the full supply chain from their consumed products.” 

When it comes to the types of food that are being frozen, the rising popularity of healthy-eating vegetables and plant-based diet regimens has increased demand for equipment that is specifically suitable for the production of vegan and vegetarian options. Digital connectivity and remote tools, as well as heightened automation are also key focusses for production, with sustainability remaining a top priority. 

“The changing legislation regarding energy consumption means that manufacturers like us need to improve energy efficiency continuously,” said Meierotto. “Our developments on process and product quality monitoring are highly contributing in this respect.

“Producers and their customers are challenging manufacturers of processing equipment, such as freezers, to make more efficient equipment with regard to energy, refrigerants and water consumption. Measurement tools have thus been developed to adjust the performance inline and optimize the production process and consumption of, among other things, energy.

A good example of current energy efficiency innovation is GEA’s CALLIFREEZE freezer control system, which senses the condition of products exiting the freezer and automatically calibrates to ensure that every item is frozen to optimum requirements. This is achieved by continuously monitoring the level of crystallized water in the foodstuffs and instantly adjusting product retention time in the freezer, air temperature and fan speed to achieve the precise level of freezing required, with minimum energy consumption. Some products need to be 100% frozen, while for others an 80% level at freezer discharge is acceptable, with full freeze finish-off occurring in the cold storage warehouse. 

Spiral freezers remain the most commonly utilized industrial freezers by frozen food producers around the world, according to the GEA Group. Not only do they have a wide capacity range, but they can service a large number of applications on long production runs – from baked goods, seafood, meat and poultry to fruit and vegetables.

GEA spiral energy efficient freezers and chillers can handle volume at capacities up to seven tons per hour. Using high-efficiency airflow and evaporators, they maximally transfer heat and optimize product quality and yield. 

Heinen’s Clean Machines

Heinen Freezing, which supplies industrial equipment for freezing, cooling, pasteurizing and proofing, is keen on making clean machines. The effort is very much appreciated by frozen food manufacturers.

The Varel, Germany-headquartered company’s highly developed modular cleaning advantage for spiral freezers includes Basic, Extended and Pro systems, which build on one another. Depending on the design, extensive fixed and rotating nozzle elements can be used for the belt, the frame, the interior of the drum, and for the air cooler, through a freely programmable cleaning control.

Numerous models are offered, ranging from the Compact and Compact Duo to the Arctic, Freezelite, Blizzard and Packfrost. Installation of Compact units, popular with start-up frozen food manufacturers, require a small footprint to set up for medium-capacity output.

The Arctic is promoted as a “multi-talent” flexible and versatile spiral system for cooling and freezing all kinds of food products with various belt widths and tier pitches as single or double drum, plus numerous options for medium and high capacities.

The Blizzard fluidized bed freezer is ideal for quick but gentle freezing and cooling bulk products such as diced meat, shrimp, mussels and other seafood, as well as french fries, berries, peas and vegetables of all kinds at capacities of up to 15 tons per hour.

The Packfrost is Heinen’s largest system. The modular multilevel box freezer is designed for products packaged in cartons or plastic boxes in two system widths with various number of levels and numerous options for high capacities.

JBT Meets Toughest Hygiene Standards

“Food safety incident exposure and liability risks are exploding due to the speed and reach of social media platforms,” pointed out Bob Petrie, president of JBT Protein EMEA. “Incidents that were considered minor or acceptable in the past are now transformed into major media-reported events impacting customer sales and reputation. Customers are pushing higher food safety hygiene demands onto manufacturers to protect their brands.”

The devastating novel coronavirus pandemic has made safety and food quality the most important keywords in the food supply chain today. JBT’s range of equipment is designed to match the toughest hygiene demands, while being sustainable, flexible and easy to handle. 

“The global response to Covid-19 is having a profound impact on how we consume food,” said Petrie. “From where we buy food to the type of food we buy, the impact on food supply chains is unprecedented. We are working incredibly hard to create a safe environment for our employees so that we can support our customers’ response to these changes and ensure our communities continue to receive the food they need during this difficult time.”

Remote iOPS Connectivity

Although connectivity already played an important role in the industrial freezing industry for some time, there is now more focus and demand for digital and remote support options than ever before.

“JBT remains focused on the needs of our partners and customers, and we’re making every effort to deliver and support our products to the extent that it is permitted and safe for us to do so,” said Petrie. “For many decades we have worked with food processors to solve their most challenging problems, improve labor efficiencies and help them feed the world efficiently, safely, cost-effectively and profitably. That’s even more important as we face the challenges of the Covid crisis, when even a single positive virus hit can shut down a plant for multiple days or even weeks and cost a food producer millions. More than ever, improving labor efficiencies through automation is an existential necessity for food producers.”

JBT’s Internet of Things offering (iOPS) allows for connected equipment and operation monitoring, providing food manufacturers with new possibilities to ensure sustainable and profitable growth through insights and proactive actions that would not have been possible to achieve in a profitable way before.

“Before iOPS we had to go out to the customer to get performance data, but now we are able to view the data on our laptops through the iOPS Dashboard, which shows us exactly what is going on,” said Petrie. “Instant access to this data is hugely valuable. The technology also enables customers to gain a far clearer idea of the true state of their Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and greater numbers of companies moving to remote working as a result, an iOPS integration can provide an overall, accurate picture of food processing operations without always having to be there in person.” 

New technology has seen the industrial freezing industry tackle the challenges that the worldwide pandemic has presented head on. With focus on food safety and hygiene at an all-time high, big players in the freezing equipment business have proven their products are up to the job. – Reported by Sarah Welsh