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.

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.

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.


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.


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


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.