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Biscuit Factory Worker Inspecting Freshly Made Biscuits On Production Line

2023.10.05 Aggreko

Losing a commercial cooling tower can be devastating in Food & Beverage – here’s how you can bridge the gap


For most food and beverage production facilities, an ammonia cooling tower is indispensable.

They’re essential for ensuring your products are produced and maintained at safe, efficient, carefully controlled temperatures. And in turn, for protecting your reputation and guaranteeing your ability to meet the standards set by the USDA or FDA.

So anything that puts your commercial cooling tower out of action – whether that’s a fault, an upgrade, or a full-scale replacement – probably makes you feel quite anxious. You know that sometimes unavoidable circumstances force you to shut down your cooling tower while it is repaired, upgraded, or replaced. But you also know that shutting down your cooling tower can mean losing significant revenue, productivity, and product. Not to mention risking the safety of your products.

Many Food & Beverage companies assume that these negative effects are unavoidable. Just part of doing business.

But some companies are using engineered solutions to avoid these problems. By pairing the right temperature control equipment together, you can keep production running safely and efficiently when your cooling tower is out of action.

Before we explore this solution further, let’s take a moment to understand the circumstances that force Food & Beverage plants to take cooling towers offline.

How do commercial cooling tower maintenance, faults, and factory shutdowns leave Food & Beverage plants without cooling towers?

Ammonia cooling towers are used in a wide range of F&B applications. But they’re particularly important for the production of dairy products, frozen foods, meat products, prepared and processed foods, and other foods that are created using low-temperature processes.

Losing your cooling tower essentially means losing your ability to effectively control the temperature of your plant, or of other crucial production processes.

So it’s hardly surprising that most companies would prefer to avoid shutting down their cooling towers wherever possible.

However, some circumstances take the decision out of your hands, forcing you to work without your cooling tower for an extended period of time.

Cooling tower repair

When your cooling tower breaks, it needs to be shut down immediately for repairs, before the fault worsens. Faults in cooling towers can take many forms, from a corroded condenser to a failed compressor or a leak in the system.

Cooling tower maintenance and upgrades

Regular cooling tower maintenance keeps your equipment running better for longer – and helps you avoid the kind of catastrophic faults we talked about above.

Apart from day-to-day maintenance, you might also occasionally need to perform upgrades that make your cooling tower more efficient or sustainable, or take the cooling tower offline for a full-factory shutdown.

There are, of course, ways to minimize the need for maintenance and upgrades: Predictive maintenance schedules or a remote monitoring service can help you target your maintenance interventions more effectively and minimize downtime. But you’ll still need to shut down your cooling tower occasionally.

Plant expansions

Business is booming for food and beverage companies: Total global food demand is expected to increase by 35% to 56% between 2010 and 2050.

This growing market is pushing many companies to significantly expand their production – which means increasing the capacity of their factories.

Increasing production capacity will pay off in the long term, but it means significant disruption in the short term. These large-scale plant expansions often require taking the cooling tower offline for an extended period of time while the plant’s footprint is altered, or while new equipment is installed.

Are cooling tower repairs, replacements, and upgrades damaging your profits and reputation?

We’ve referenced the negative effects of shutting down your cooling tower already, but let’s explore them further. What exactly is at risk when a plant loses its ammonia cooling tower?

Disrupted processes and ruined product

Producing food products is always a delicate process – but some food products require such careful temperature control that even a carefully planned shutdown could be risky and expensive. Fragile processes could be heavily disrupted, putting the facility behind on its production schedule.

For one of our brewery customers, a complete shutdown of its cooling tower would mean completely destroying the fermentation schedule of their products. If the timing wasn’t perfect, they could find themselves losing a significant amount of product and profits.

Many Food and Beverage companies find themselves in a similar position when they lose their cooling towers, with millions of gallons or pounds of product on the line. That lost product can add up to a major financial hit – especially if production has stopped because the cooling tower is broken and they must pay to repair it.

In some cases, a damaged ammonia cooling tower could shut down an entire factory. If the cooling tower in a meat processing factory goes down, the plant manager can’t just get it fixed and start production again straight away. The entire system will need to be sterilized and all workers sent home. Only then can they begin to investigate the cause of the issue with the cooling tower. For one Aggreko customer, this whole process cost them around $25,000 to fix.

Lost revenue

Food & Beverage is a high-volume industry. Which means that, for the biggest Food & Beverage companies, every process represents millions of dollars in potential sales. Every process must work faultlessly and seamlessly together to get a product to market – and one chink in the chain can mean delayed deliveries and potentially enormous sales losses.

The result is that, for F&B companies, every shutdown and pause in production puts millions of dollars in profits at risk.

Reputational and legislative risk

Temperature control issues don’t just threaten profits. Losing your cooling tower could also mean you risk breaching USDA regulations for food safety.

In the worst instances, you could risk being shut down by the USDA, or find yourself subject to a USDA-ordered product recall – both of which can cause real harm to your profits and sully your reputation with customers. Considering that a poor reputation can also cause a dip in sales, it’s easy to see how the cost of losing your cooling tower can grow rapidly.

Even if you’re not subject to a product recall, poor temperature control could still risk your reputation. Disposing of contaminated food is the right thing to do, but it can cause real harm to the environment which, in today’s climate, might affect customers’ perception of your business.

A new solution: How can Aggreko help customers bridge the gap with specialized solutions?

For a long time, Food & Beverage plant managers have been faced with a difficult challenge.

As we’ve outlined above, losing an ammonia cooling tower can be potentially devastating, so plant managers want to minimize cooling tower downtime as much as possible.

But that’s almost impossible when there’s no technology to bridge the gap. The problem becomes even more significant when the cooling tower needs to be entirely replaced; in some cases, plants could be waiting up to 50 weeks for a replacement tower.

There is, however, a new approach that could give Food & Beverage companies exactly what they need: the ability to bridge the gap when their ammonia cooling towers are out of action, or provide more capacity when a facility has an undersized ammonia cooling tower.

The answer? Providing a customized temporary temperature control solution to achieve the set points needed.

It’s an approach that we’ve used to help many of our food and beverage customers keep things running when they’ve been without an ammonia cooling tower.

And it doesn’t just help to bridge the gap in these situations. It can also be particularly helpful when:

  • Cooling and temperature control demands fluctuate. Say, for example, that you need a little extra cooling capacity during the summer months; in these situations, a temporary solution allows you to increase your cooling capacity without driving up your CAPEX. And, when the cooler months come around again, you can remove the additional rental equipment until you need it again.
  • Your cooling tower is undersized. If your cooling tower can’t keep up with demand, you might need some extra cooling capacity – but it might not be enough to justify the cost of installing another cooling tower. In these cases, an Aggreko temporary customized solution can provide extra cooling power, while keeping your capital expenditure low.

We’ve developed this approach using our years of experience in the Food & Beverage sector, combined with our expertise in heating and cooling applications. And it’s already paying off for our customers.

Are you interested in speaking with one of our Food & Beverage experts about how Aggreko can help support your plan needs? We’re here to help. Just get in touch with our team to find out how we can help you bridge the gap, protect your product, and keep production running smoothly.

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