Water Distribution Strategy

An energy assessment was previously done for a fruit farm in the Western Cape. It was found that 78% of all the electricity consumed was for pumping irrigation water from the water sources to the orchards. This case study is about the follow-on project to optimize the cost of water distribution on the farm.

All the water used for irrigation is from rainfall. The water is collected in 8 buffer dams/reservoirs which is also topped up from 10 boreholes. A network of pumping systems distributes the water from these sources to the orchards, as shown in the diagram below.

 

The cost of water distribution was obtained from the cost of electricity, the energy intensity (kWh/m3) and the flow rate per pumping system. This cost per cubic meter from primary sources to reservoir is given in the graph below. It shows a variation between 50c/m3 and R2.00/m3, with the higher cost water sources clearly indicated.

The same analysis was done for the secondary distribution of water (from reservoir to orchard). In this case the results were normalised to take into effect the differences in pumping heights and pumping distances. The results are shown in the graph below. The variation in cost is between 20c/m3 and 80c/m3.

The final step was to link the primary and secondary chains to obtain the total cost for water distribution to the orchards. This analysis also included the volume of water pumped from each primary and secondary source. The results in the graph below show the total cost per cubic meter for the orchards serviced from the secondary sources. It is clear that there is a huge variation in water distribution cost between the different applications.

These results were then used to develop a water distribution strategy to minimize the total energy cost for water distribution on the farm. The strategy included aspects such as:

  • Using the “correct” amount of water per orchard. Too much water is a waste of energy cost and water, and too little water may reduce the production output of the orchard.
  • Give preference to the lower cost pumping systems for water distribution.
  • Improve the efficiency of higher cost pumping systems and distribution lines.
  • Utilize the lower cost storage dams/reservoirs more than others.
  • Combine electricity supply points to lower the unit cost of electricity.
  • Use solar power solutions to replace the more expensive electricity supply points.

Improved Water Management

REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS ON FARMS WITH IMPROVED WATER MANAGEMENT

Previous CCC industry trend reports have indicated that electricity consumption for the pumping of water is the largest source of farm-level carbon emissions. Irrigation of crops is a necessity in a water-scarce country and predominantly coal based electricity is used as an energy source for pumps. Improved water management has the purpose of saving water, cost and reducing carbon emissions. The following opportunities for savings have been obtained during irrigation pumping system assessments on fruit farms.

The starting point is to determine the “correct amount of water” for each tree or hectare. Too little water may reduce the production output and fruit quality, while too much water is a waste of water and energy cost. A study of water flow rates on one farm has shown that some orchards receive only 50% of the intended water supply while other orchards have received 50% more than target. A system to monitor the soil moisture contents is a necessity for good water management on farms.

A lot of water is wasted by evaporation during the irrigation process, mainly due to wind and heat on the ground surface. Improvement in irrigation technology to reduce evaporation losses can save up to 40% of water and related pumping energy.

The irrigation pipe diameters, piping network and geographical height determines the head and flow rates that the pumps are operating on. Higher water pressures require more energy and the irrigation design should attempt to maximize flow and minimize the pressure required. Many cases were identified where the pump head could be reduced significantly with improved piping and irrigation system, while still providing the required water flow rate.

The operation (pressure and flow) of the pump is determined by the irrigation network design. The selection of the pump and the condition of the pump determine the ability to convert electrical energy into the pressure and flow. The efficiency of a sample of pumps were tested and the results show that the pumps use on average around 30% more energy than needed for the required head and flow.

Pumping of water from boreholes has also shown significant losses due to inefficient borehole pumping systems. A sample of 11 boreholes on one farm consumes an average 0.35kWh per cubic meter. The average consumption of 28 other boreholes at similar borehole depths was 0.62kWh per cubic meter. This shows that the potential energy (and carbon emission) savings in improved borehole pumping systems can be as high as 50%.

Larger farms have water distribution networks where water is pumped from rivers, boreholes and dams to other dams or orchards. Sometimes water is pumped 3 times before it reaches the orchard, while each pumping operation adds to the total energy consumed. The sizes and locations of the dams and the relevant position between the dams and the orchards all have an impact on the total energy requirements for the water distribution network. The water distribution network should be optimized by selecting the lower energy boreholes and pumps to do most of the work where possible. This is a more complex and strategic approach towards energy optimization and can also be used to determine the position and sizing of future dams in the network.

The results obtained from the case studies discussed above are not visible to most farm managers and a technical analysis of the pumping systems are required to identify saving opportunities. It is however clear that an average cumulative saving of 30% to 50% on carbon emissions is possible with improved water management techniques on farms.

Value Chain Optimization

Each business organization has its own challenges, weak points and risk areas. The managers of such an organization are sometimes very frustrated by the symptoms of these shortcomings and they lack the time to solve the root causes of these problems because they are too busy dealing with the effects thereof. Sometimes it is good to have an independent eye to “see the woods from the trees”, or vice versa.

This case study contains some of our experiences in dealing with these issues, the way that we have handled it and some of the outcomes. In most cases the client will approach us with a certain problem, such as: “We need a new factory lay-out because we are running out of space”, or “we are consistently running out of stock”, or “Our deliveries are always late, and we do not have control over it”. These are all examples of symptoms experienced by managers, and usually the root cause of the problems is at another place currently unknown to them.

A good operational process is built on three concepts (picture a 3-legged stool) aligned to each other for complete balance:

  • A clearly defined business process, starting at the client and ending at the client (this is our method with all our clients)
  • Human resources empowered and capable to perform the work (organizational structure, responsibilities, job descriptions, performance measurement)
  • Technology to support the above (production planning system, stock control system, accounting system)

We make sure that all three of these aspects are reviewed and balanced all the time. This balance is achieved from inputs by interaction with key personnel. The strategic vision of the business, the business values and the skills levels of the personnel are important inputs in the development of solutions. We do not have a standard product for sale and we do not follow standardized (commercialized) methodologies. As engineers we have the skills and knowledge to evaluate business processes and to develop concept solutions with the best fit and value add for the client’s business circumstances. We can also develop bespoke software as part of the solution if needed.

The Functional components of a typical small/medium manufacturing concern are as follows:

The Sales function: Determine the client requirements and specify product details. Negotiate price and delivery time. Provide feedback on specification changes and quality problems.

The Planning Function: Obtain production orders from Sales. Do production planning to achieve requirements (e.g. delivery date) and to optimize production processes (e.g. capacity constraints, overtime, material availability).

The Material Purchasing function: Order material as required by the production plan. Provide feedback for rescheduling if material shortages are envisaged.

The Production function: Produce according to product specification, allocated resources and production schedule. Provide feedback on progress against plan and actual resources used.

The Production Control function: Obtain feedback on production progress and compare with production schedule. Adapt the schedule if necessary. Report on progress against plan, potential deviations (red flags) and utilization of resources.

The Quality function: Quality problems are grouped in two sections: Design quality problems are caused by insufficient interpretation of customer requirements or incomplete/wrong specifications. Production quality problems are caused by deviating to specification. Assure that procedures are in place to avoid/reduce both these quality problems.

The Costing function: Feedback to the financial system on material cost, scrap, reworks, labour hours and other consumables as required.

Value chain optimization ensures a seamless operation where all the above functions are working optimally as a whole. The results will show increased profits due to higher turnovers (shorter turnaround times), better utilization of resources (labour and machines), improved quality with savings on scrap and rework. Customer satisfaction and brand building are additional spin-offs.

Pumping System Optimization

Two Oceans Aquarium is located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The purpose of the aquarium is to display marine life to the public. It is important that the water in the tanks are clear for display purposes to enhance the experience of the visitor. Animal health is also a major concern and the condition of the water influences the animal health. Filtration systems are used to clean the water, and the circulation through the filters are enabled by pumping systems for each display tank.

The focus of the assessment was to closely examine the pump system at Two Oceans Aquarium, make a series of measurements and refer to the on-site personnel for information regarding the specifications of the system as well as the methods of control. This information gathered would then be analysed to determine the potential for optimisation as well as quantifying any financial benefits that could be achieved in terms of cost of implementation and ROI (return on investment)

The pumping system at the predator tank has three 15kW pumps running in parallel. Each pump is circulating water through two banks of filters, 7 filters on each bank. Each pump is equipped with VSD control and the contents of the 2 million litre tank is circulated through the filters every 5 hours

The purpose of the filtration system is to provide clean water which is important for animal health and visitor experience. The clarity of the water is determined by the bio load in the tank, feeding of animals, top-up seawater, the effectiveness of the filter and the flow rate of water through the filter.

A schematic diagram of the system is given below. The suction side has two lines. A strainer is installed before each pump to avoid large rocks or stones to enter the pump. A pressure gauge is available before and after the pump. The pumps are heavily throttled to avoid cavitation. Cavitation should be avoided because it causes bubble sickness at the animals. Pressure gauges are also installed before and after the filter banks. The return flow is combined into a header and filtered water return to the tank via one line.

Figure 1 Schematic diagram of predator tank system

Discussion of Pump Efficiency Results

It should be noted again that the filtration media has been changed a few months ago, from sand to the OC-1 media. The OC-1 media has less resistance to water flow through the filters. The reduction of back pressure has caused cavitation, and this is avoided by heavy throttling of the pumps. There are currently two levels of inefficiency in the pumping system:

  • At the current operating point, the pump is running at 43,7% efficiency. The 15kW pump motor is consuming 8,6kW of power while the optimum is 4,6kW for the same flow and head conditions.
  • The system requires a head of 4,2m from each pump to operate under current conditions. In order to avoid cavitation, the pump is throttled to provide a head of 10,5m. This is another inefficient condition and a waste of energy.

The energy waste is graphically shown in the graph below. Energy is represented by a Constant x Head x Flow, which can be represented by various areas on the graph. The energy use at the current condition A is shown by the outer rectangle. The middle rectangle B indicates the optimum energy use at the current condition, which is 47% less than the actual consumption. The bottom rectangle C indicates the energy that the system requires to work under current conditions. This is only 22% of the actual consumption.

Figure 2 Energy Waste

 

The alternative solution shows that a higher flow rate can be obtained with a lower pump speed combined with less throttling. The maximum flow rate at 45Hz was 116m3/hr before cavitation sets in. By reducing the pump speed to 39 Hz a flow rate of 136m3/hr could be reached before cavitation sets in.

The results show that the change in filtration media from sand filter to OC-1 filtration media had a severe impact on pumping system efficiency. The pumps and motors are oversized for the new filtration media and must be throttled to avoid cavitation. The effect is that 25,8kW is consumed by the pumps for a total flow rate of 316 m3/hr through the filters. The same flow rate can be achieved with only 5,7kW consumption if more suitable pumps are installed.
A summary of the estimated saving of 78% and recommendations are contained below:

 

Pump System Analysis

Background

KBC possesses the expertise to test and consult on pumping systems energy efficiency. The pumping systems in question are mainly used for water in agricultural applications, usually for irrigation.

With the aim of providing useful insight and statistics to potential clients, an analysis was performed on pump systems audited in the past.

Issue

Pumping systems are the most significant electricity users at the production side of an agricultural application.  Most owners are happy when they see the water flowing at the intended supply pressure.  A pumping system converts electrical energy into flow and pressure.  The efficiency of this conversion is not visible to the average operator.  The obvious consequence is a pump system not operating at its optimum, and the owner paying the price for it, literally.

The results of the analysis will serve the purpose of indicating how inefficient pump systems can be when not designed properly.

Audit Methodology

The analysis involved 140 pumps, with rated powers ranging from 7.5 kW to 95 kW. These pumps have all been audited by KBC.  The approach was to check the “vitals” of the system in relation to energy efficiency.

The analysis focused on some key characteristics which can provide the most useful insights. These attributes include:

  • Operating power of motor versus optimal motor power
  • A measure of potential savings
  • Energy used to deliver water

Major Findings

  • The optimal motor power is on average 28% below the operation motor power
  • The operation motor power is on average 15% below rated power.

This means that an average of 28% energy saving is possible if all these pumps should run at their optimum condition.

motorpowergraph

These measurements compared the actual power consumed by the pump, compared to the design power according to the pump specification.  The flow and head were measured at the pump supply point and the efficiency of the irrigation distribution system was not attended to.

A useful attribute to look at is the optimization rating of a pump. The optimization rating is a measure of how well a pump is performing relative to its optimum performance. The pump systems analyzed, were found to operate with an average optimization rating of 57.8%. This is a clear indication of the improvement potential available for the average pump system in practice.

The study revealed an average specific energy value of 0.262 kWh/m3 of water delivered. Taking into account above-mentioned savings potential, the financial benefits of installing an energy efficient pumping system is apparent.

KBC specializes in identifying and consulting on energy efficiency improvement opportunities.

Retail Distribution Centre

Background

The client is a large retail group and operates a few distribution centres (DC) throughout the country which serve a large quantity of retail outlets. Due to confidentiality purposes the name of the client cannot be revealed.

The client is in the process of transitioning the supply chain and wanted to use this opportunity to review what has historically worked well and to ensure the principles related to this are incorporated in the future solution to maximize the investment made in systems and infrastructure.

The Issue

The refrigeration facility at the DC forms a major part of the cold chain and can be very costly if not managed efficiently.  The cost of electricity as an energy source is the biggest input cost for maintaining the cold chain.  More efficient use of electricity will also reduce the carbon footprint of the cold chain.  The purpose was to conduct an energy audit to test the energy efficiency of the refrigeration equipment to provide an adequate cold storage environment.

Energy Audit Methodology

The energy audit was done by recording and analysing the energy consumption and product throughput during the sample period over 12 months.  The space utilization and energy consumption were measured in terms of product throughput and benchmarked against similar South African cold storage facilities.

In this assessment the energy consumption was measured and then compared to the benefit obtained by that electricity consumed.  This benefit was measured in the amount of electricity used to cool a unit volume (in cubic meters) and also the amount of product that received this benefit in the cold chain.  The business purpose of a retailer is to sell product to customers, the cold chain is there to prolong the quality of perishables, and therefore it just make sense to analyse the energy efficiency in comparison with the product throughput.

Data in the form of electricity consumed at the DC was collected by energy consumption meters fitted at appropriate positions on the distribution boards. The data collected by the latter was then converted into KWh. The unit of measure of kWh/m² (kWh per square meter floor area) is an acceptable measure for office space and general store areas.  The measurement of refrigeration energy efficiency requires that the measure be adapted to kWh/m³ (kWh per cubic meter cooling space) for the volume of space to be cooled, e.g. the cold rooms and cabinets.  A more refined measure is the amount of kWh electricity used per ton of product kept under cooling per day (kWh/ton-day).  The latter two measurements were used in this cold chain assessment to determine the energy efficiency of the DC  by benchmarking these values against other similar refrigeration facilities in South Africa.

Major Findings

The facility used in the order of 4.8m kWh electricity per year at a cost of R2.85m in 2012. The electricity consumption for the non-refrigeration portion is 66% of the total.  This is very high compared to other similar facilities and should be investigated further (outside the scope of the client request).

  1. The benchmarking results show that the DC is buying electricity at a very low unit cost.
  2. The refrigeration equipment is very efficient and well maintained.
  3. The refrigeration plant has the capacity for the current levels of product throughput.
  4. The cold storage space utilization is very low and result in wasted cold volume.
  5. The average temperature in the cold stores was higher than the specified maximum.
  6. The temperature analysis has shown hotter temperatures at the cold room doors which is an indication of heat ingress through the doors leading to energy waste.

Proposed Action Plan

Action 1: Decrease the refrigeration setting to bring the temperature in specification.

(This will increase the energy consumption but need to be done to maintain product quality. The DC cold stores temperature were too high while they have more than enough refrigeration capacity.)

Action 2:  Improve the utilization of the cold stores by increasing the product throughput or reducing the cold room size.

(The latter option would require capital spend for partitioning – costing handled by DC)

Action 3:  Improve the door seals to prevent heat ingress at doors.

(Capital required:  R50 000)

The table below shows that electricity savings of up to 62% is possible when operations are benchmarked against other similar cold storage facilities. This can be achieved by better utilization of cold storage space and the alterations to reduce heat ingress through the doors.

rdc table

Actions taken by DC:

  1. The operating personnel responsible for cold store temperature were trained in the correct procedures for temperature setting and management control was introduced to assure that the product is stored within specified temperature regimes. This was done on the first day after receiving the audit findings.
  2. The utilization of cold storage space will be handled in the bigger supply chain project and the outcome is still unknown.
  3. The door seals have been repaired and the client has requested a repeat of the temperature analysis at the same period next year to test temperature ingress.

Energy Assessment on fruit & vegetable farm

Fruit and Vegetable Farm

Background

The client is a large farming operation in the Eastern Cape where citrus fruit and vegetables are produced.   Due to confidentiality purposes the name of the client cannot be revealed.

Energy sources used for the farming operations include electricity for irrigation pumping systems and housing, and diesel fuel for farming equipment, such as tractors and trucks, for the transport of produce.

The Issue

The client had grown its farming operations very rapidly over the past 5 years by using a very scientific farming approach.  New farms were developed and pumping stations were built at very remote locations. The steep increases of electricity costs during recent years and the responsibility towards greenhouse gas emissions were the main reasons for the owners to request an energy audit.

Energy Audit Methodology

Electricity is supplied at 19 Eskom points.  A cost analysis was done to determine whether the most suitable tariff structures were being used.  The costs were benchmarked against a sample of similar supply points to determine cost saving opportunities.

The electricity consumption was analyzed and split into major consumption groups, as given in the graph below.   It shows that 82% of the electricity was used for irrigation pumping systems – the most significant energy user.

Farm_Pie

The electricity consumption was split between citrus and vegetables and benchmarked against other similar farming operations.  The fuel consumption was also benchmarked against other citrus producers.  The fuel storage and supply procedures were audited to assure that all fuel purchases were accounted for and that control procedures were in place.  Maintenance procedures of the equipment using fuel were also audited.

Major Findings

The energy analysis was done for the period March 2012 to February 2013.  A total of 1,173,213 kWh of electricity was used at a cost of R1,25m.  During the same period 302,118 litres of diesel was used at a cost of R2,9m.

The control procedures for fuel were found to be very good.  The benchmarking results show that the electricity use was higher than the average of the sample of farms that was used for comparison.  The rest of the findings are explained in the summary of the action plan below.

Proposed Action Plan

  • Pumps
    • Optimize on pumping curve
    • Plotting values for each block
    • Take action where necessary
  • Housing, Offices, Stores, Packhouses
    • Replace lights with efficient alternatives when due
    • Install solar water geysers
  • Fuel
    • Consider packhouse at Addo to reduce logistic distance
  • Electricity Cost
    • Reduce Peak time on Ruraflex (pumps, timer for cold store)
    • Change large points to Ruraflex
    • Investigate Landrate cost/kWh exceptions
    • Combine small Landrate points
  • Renewable Energy
    • Measure benefits of the Solar and Wind solution at SR561
    • Consider Solar PV solutions for Badlands, Loftus or Falcon Gat
  • Energy Management
    • Centralize energy management (“Energy Manager”)
    • Improve Energy Information System
      • Update monthly for early warning
      • Review annually for updated action plan
    • Sub metering
      • Isolate houses, pumps, cold store and other facilities
    • Determine Energy Performance Indicators (EnPI)
    • Measure Improvement against baseline
    • Follow principles of ISO50001

 Actions taken by the Farm:

  1. A pumping system optimization exercise was done as a follow-up audit by using a portable flow meter and comparing results on the pumping curves and the PSAT optimisation software. A sample of 18 pumping systems was evaluated out of the total of 39 pumps.  The efficiency ratings of the pumps were found to be from 39% to 78% with the average around 60%. Recommendations were made to improve the efficiency by altering the application sizes, changing pumping impellors or installing VSD’s.  The changes will increase the total efficiency rating to 80% and save R200 000 in electricity cost per year.  The investment cost is estimated to be R90 000.
  2. The client changed one electricity point to a Ruraflex tariff structure which will save 15% of electricity cost with no investment costs. Other cost saving initiatives are still being investigated.
  3. A solar PV analysis was done for the client at one of the locations. Over the next 25 years the PV solar will cost an equivalent of 42c/kWh, compared to the current Eskom fee of R1.05/kWh and still rising each year. This would, however, require a high capital investment and the client is still evaluating the funding options.
  4. An energy management information model was developed and implemented at a cost of R25 000. This model will absorb the electricity and fuel consumption and cost, the production of crops and the rainfall variables and provide reports on the energy performance of the business on a monthly basis. This information can then be used to revise the action plan, motivate improvements and monitor the future energy performance against the 2012 baseline.

Energy well spent

Energy well spent

EnergyWellSpent_5aAlthough it is impossible to arrive at a single figure, one can safely say that energy is a major input cost for the fruit export industry. It is also the cornerstone of the cold chain. The combination of keeping costs down and production up is reason enough to invest energy into energy efficiency.

IN 2008, South Africans were shocked into a new appreciation of electricity. For the first time we could remember, load shedding was a part of our lives. As the national electricity utility struggled to keep the lights on, both households and industry had a taste of life without power.

Although load shedding did not cause significant fruit losses, the export industry wisely decided to heed the warning. Further motivated by substantial electricity tariff increases and global pressure to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, an energy benchmarking project was launched under PHI-1 in 2008.

EnergyWellSpent_6aThe aim was to develop and implement a benchmarking system for energy consumption on farms and at pack houses and cold stores to improve electricity and fuel efficiency. Koos Bouwer, from KBC Industrial Engineers, was appointed to oversee and coordinate the project.

“The benchmarking results showed that it was virtually impossible to make generalisations about energy use in the industry,” says Koos. Not only did the different facilities’ energy use vary widely, they also paid vastly different tariffs – from less than R0.40 per kilowatt hour (kWh) to more than R1.40 per kWh. The best performing pack houses used around 15kWh of electricity per ton of fruit packed, while others used three times as much.

It was also clear that the different methods of cold storage had different energy implications. Storage of apples in a controlled atmosphere was extremely efficient at less than 1kWh per ton of fruit per day, whereas fruit packed in cartons on pallets used almost 8kWh of electricity per ton per day. “The important conclusion drawn from these varying results was that there were many opportunities for energy efficiency improvements,” says Koos. “If one pack house could be more efficient, there was no reason why others couldn’t.”EnergyWellSpent_1a

FROM “WHERE ARE WE” TO “WHAT CAN BE DONE”

EnergyWellSpent_3aIn 2012, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) approached the South African government to take part in its Industrial Energy Efficiency (IEE) improvement project. Funded by the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the UK Department for International Development, the local IEE project is hosted by the South African National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC-SA) at the CSIR. The IEE project focuses on five industry sectors, including agro-processing. Under the project’s auspices, the NCPC-SA agreed with PHI-2 to conduct fully subsidised energy audits at interested pack houses and cold stores in the fresh fruit industry. The coordination task was again entrusted to Koos. “The process we followed was more an assessment than an audit,” says Koos. “Instead of looking at how facilities adhered to standards and specifications, the consultants assessed energy use and trends.” The difference between audit and assessment is also clear from the stated purposes of the project:

  • Assist to quantify energy consumption at a facility and identify the significant energy users.
  • Identify opportunities for the reduction and more efficient use of energy in the plant as part of an energy management plan.

The energy efficiency audits initiative was rolled out in January 2012 when Koos embarked on a campaign to raise awareness in the industry. He arranged several regional workshops where NCPC-SA representatives explained the nature and process of the project and recruited participants. Companies that wanted to participate signed a memorandum of agreement with the NCPC-SA. A total of 29 pack houses and cold stores agreed to take part. The NCPC-SA assigned trained energy consultants to spend three to four days at each of the participating facilities. The audit was fully subsidised by the NCPCSA. All the participants had to contribute was their cooperation. Once the audits were completed, the energy consultants discussed their detailed reports with the owners of each individual pack house and cold store. The reports highlighted, among others, savings options, results on feasibility, quantification of behavioural changes and the expected payback periods for energy saving investments.EnergyWellSpent_2a

THE FINDINGS

The 29 participating facilities had a combined energy use of 101.1 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity at a cost of R77 million for the year 2011. The energy audits revealed that they could save a combined 27MWh per year, putting R20.7 million back into their collective pocket. This 26.8% saving would require an investment of R26 million that will, on average, pay for itself in only 1.26 years. The potential electricity saving equals a reduction in CO2 emissions of 27 000 tons per year.  Some of the areas in which considerable efficiencies can be gained are energy efficient lighting, variable speed drives and energy management systems. The single biggest opportunity, however, is to improve the efficiency of cooling equipment.

THE WAY FORWARD

Koos points out that it is important to understand that the facilities are all unique and that the same change will have different impacts at different facilities. “It is literally impossible to generalise because one size does not fit all. The only way to improve facilities’ energy efficiency is to use individual energy audits or assessments as the starting point.” A number of the facilities who took part in the audits are doing just that. Using their site-specific recommendations, they have started to implement the suggested energy efficiency measures and are reaping the benefits. “The project seems to have acted as a catalyst,” says Koos. “It made the saving opportunities visible and facility owners are acting on it.”

© Koos Bouwer Consulting 2014

Pallet tester

When standards stack up

An innovative pallet testing device can save the South African fresh fruit industry millions of Rands and spur the development of stronger, cheaper pallets.

PalletTester_1aSOUTH AFRICA is a major player in the global fresh fruit market – in 2012, it was the second largest exporter of citrus in the world. The country’s annual fresh fruit exports have averaged about R14 billion over the past five years.

Exporting such a large quantity of quality fresh fruit would not be possible without pallets – flat, usually wooden structures that can be forklifted into trucks and refrigerated containers. Fresh fruit destined for overseas markets are packaged in cartons that are then stacked on pallets.

A pallet’s journey across the globe is a rough and bumpy ride. It must withstand cartons weighing more than a ton, forklifts flying in at different angles, being dragged across pack house floors and thrown around in moving trucks.

“A pallet costs only about R100, but it is entrusted to support thousands of rands worth of fruit,” says Koos Bouwer, an independent engineering consultant. When a pallet breaks, the cartons buckle or collapse, damaging the content. Not only does the damaged fruit have to be sold at half price on the local market, but valuable time is wasted to repack the fruit.PalletTester_2a

Koos estimates that only about 15% of South African fruit pallets are of a poor standard. “But 15% of three million fruit pallets exported each year is a big number.”

Whenever pallets break the pack house and the pallet manufacturer point fingers at each other. The pack house claims poor quality, while the manufacturer blames rough handling in the pack house.

Up to now, this blame game could not be resolved. There were neither standards that a pallet had to conform to nor a practical way to test such standards.

THE NEED FOR A TESTING DEVICE

Prior to October 1997, Outspan regulated the South African citrus export industry and Unifruco the deciduous fruit sector. The two exporters’ packaging design departments coordinated the design and testing of fruit pallets.

Following deregulation, which allowed anyone to register as an export agent, no organisation fulfilled these functions. The design drawings of fruit pallets currently in circulation date back to the period of regulation and don’t specify the forces a functioning pallet must withstand.

Since 1998, the height of the shipping containers in which pallets are transported have increased from 2,1m to 2,4m. As a result, pallets have to support up to 15% more weight than in the past but the design drawings have not been adjusted to accommodate the extra load.

PalletTester_3In 2008, a collaborative study between the Fresh Produce Exporters Forum (FPEF) and the Commonwealth Secretariat (Comsec) made several recommendations for improving the logistics of the South African fresh fruit export industry. One of these recommendations stated that new packaging standards should be set and all packaging formats should be updated, including pallets.

In 2009, the Agricultural Research Council funded a project to develop pallet standards aimed at improving the quality of South African export pallets. With the pallet standards established, the next step was to build a practical testing device to test whether pallets conformed to these standards.

BOUWER TO THE RESCUE

In 2012, the Post-Harvest Innovation Programme tasked Koos Bouwer to design a pallet testing device to be used by pallet manufacturers and pack houses.

The device was designed with practicality in mind – it is compact, economical and easy to operate. Considering the amount of money it could save, it sells at an affordable R38 000. It is also cheap and easy to maintain. “The device only has two components you can’t buy at your local hardware store,” says Koos.

The device is operated manually and uses no electrics, software, hydraulics or pneumatics. No more than two people are required to operate the device, which is easy to calibrate and, therefore, suited for semiskilled workers.

Gert Coetzee, an engineering manager from fruit packaging company Kromco Ltd, says he is happy that a prototype proved that Kromco’s self-made pallets are of exceptional quality. “Pack houses should test the quality of their pallets, because the 15% rubbish that enters the market gives South African fruit exporters a bad name.”PalletTester_8

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Now that the functional requirements of pallets are known and can be tested, pack houses cannot blame manufacturers for broken pallets if those pallets have passed the tests. Pack houses and farmers can also demand that manufacturers test their pallets before they are sold.

The testing device is also breaking new ground in pallet design. There is a growing trend towards plastic pallets, which can be cheaper, lighter and pose fewer health risks than wooden pallets. In 2010, for example, Pfizer had to recall several of its over-the-counter products that had been contaminated by a chemical applied to the wooden pallets.

Despite these advantages, expensive tests slow down the development of new plastic pallet designs. According to Koos, his pallet testing device paves the way for optimal pallet designs, including plastic, which could increase the competitiveness of South African fruit exports.

In 2014 Koos will deliver several presentations at seminars and industry association meetings and train staff at manufacturing facilities, pack houses and logistics depots on how to use the pallet testing device. He will also train industry players on how to use, interpret and update the functional pallet specifications for the five major fruit groups.

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