When a high profile brand decides to shut its production line down for two weeks to upgrade its spiral chiller and freezers, you know it has not taken that decision lightly. To stop their production takes years of planning, and, it needs a high level of trust in their suppliers to deliver a better solution on time and within budget.
That is what EJM Engineered Systems Ltd. had achieved when I went to visit the project for Quorn, the meat-free protein foods manufacturer based in Stokesley, North Yorkshire on a chilly day in May.
Quorn is a big consumer brand and makes several thousand items of its food products every day via the four production lines. Once made, the food is cooked in continuous ovens then has to be chilled first, then frozen before being packaged and shipped to customers.
The cooling/freezing process happens in spiral chillers and freezers which bring the product down from approximately 90°C to -18°C in under an hour. The production rate for this particular line is in the order of 3000 kg/hour.
End of Life
Quorn realised that they needed to change their evaporators which were coming to the end of their life-cycles. The spiral chiller had four evaporators, and the freezer had six connected to the patented LVS units supplied initially by FMC FoodTech. Over time they had worn out, and Quorn needed to ensure they would continue to be efficient and hygienic to enable them to maintain the high quality of their products.
But, replacing the evaporators would mean halting production.
EJM is no stranger to Quorn's production facility in North Yorkshire. The company has worked with Quorn for several years, supplying them with numerous refrigeration solutions for their different processing lines and storage chambers. EJM’s in-depth knowledge of the customer, the site and the technology made the challenge easier, but no less daunting.
The original plan was to remove and replace the evaporators during daytime hours which would take a month. Removing them was a complex task which involved taking down walls and ceilings to be able to bring in plant and the replacement units, detaching the electrics and controls from the spirals and refrigeration system.
Before the EJM team began removing the heat exchangers, they had to evacuate the refrigerant (ammonia, in this case) from the chiller and freezer plants into the high-pressure refrigerant receiver to make the area safe for the team. Once the area was made safe, EJM implemented their detailed plan to replace the heat exchangers, which now required a double shift system working 24 hours each day to cut the total time needed by half.
In the meantime, EJM had designed and fabricated new, stainless steel heat exchangers manufactured to exacting standards and dimensions, which they shipped to the Quorn site. The team prepared the units outside in readiness for a quick turnaround.
Attention to Detail
When I visited the site, the team removed the evaporators from the spiral freezer section. The lift and shift team had had to build two platforms to extract the coils. The spiral chiller had a different configuration where the coils were much higher up than the coils for the freezer.
With all of the challenges of the project, EJM replaced the new units on time and within the budget, which meant that Quorn could get production running again quickly.
The practical aspects of the project are impressive in themselves. What is more impressive is the trust that the EJM team has developed with their client. Stopping a production line puts a halt to how a company generates sales.
If EJM had overrun their plan in any way, Quorn's business would have been interrupted with potential implications on their sales, but EJM's team delivered their promises. That's how you build trust with your customers when you work on their mission critical processes.