Utilities efficiency: a vital ingredient to the food & beverage industry

MarkCoyne-11Mark Coyne highlights the importance of utility performance to the Food and Beverage Industry

In July 2012, the Central Statistics Office reported that the agriculture sector was alone in recording growth over the year to Q1 2012, underscoring the 12 per cent rise in the food and drinks industry exports observed in 2011.   Demand for food and beverage exports is expected to continue to increase, driven by increased consumption in emerging economies, our increased competitiveness and structural reforms, such as the removal of milk quotas from 2015 onwards.  However, a weaker euro (14 per cent devaluation against the dollar over the last 12 months), rising fuel costs (30 per cent rise in Brent oil over the last two months) and more stringent environmental demands (tightening of the EU emissions trading scheme post 2013) mean an intense focus around input costs to processors and producers in the food and beverage industry.

The supply of utilities (steam, refrigeration, compressed air, electricity and water) are typically at the sharp end of that focus for two reasons: high quality and availability of  utilities are essential to the operation of the production plants, and the impact of their cost.  While these utilities represent less than 4 per cent direct costs for a typical processing plant, it is an area where costs have been volatile and growing.

Particularly for small to mid size processing plants whose key management and engineering resources have multiple areas of responsibility, effective management of utilities is a major headache.  Having attacked the area of optimising energy procurement, plant operators want to improve utility performance and reduce costs; but often don’t know how.

One area that Dalkia have delivered significant utility benefits to customers in the food and beverage industry is in the area of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) installation and upgrades.  Typical sites in this industry have highly volatile steam demands (dryers and CIP for example), which means that poorly designed control systems struggle to maintain boiler outputs and avoid process shutdowns.  An automation system designed with a thorough knowledge of the utility process can not only increase plant reliability (by a factor of up to 30), but also reduce operational manpower and allow customers focus on the real prize, maximising output of the plant production.  Optimisation of the utilities through automation doesn’t stop there though. A common feature in production plants is that the sequencing and optimisation of the demand itself has been given little focus, leading to overly peaky demand. A major benefit lies in smoothening and optimising the sequencing of process demand, using slow acting steam valves for example.  Once the benefits of this type of integrated automation are understood by the site management team, in most cases it is accompanied by a targeted metering and measurement improvement plan, enabling production managers to see, in real time and through a traffic light system, exactly what the utility consumption per unit of output is.

A last area for plant operators to be aware of is in integrating water and waste water into the utilities improvement plant.  Examples of this would be examining borehole water extraction as an alternative to mains supply, or examining the feasibility of anaerobic digestion in the waste streams, or through the integration of the operation and automation of the waste water treatment plants.

To find out more, contact Mark Coyne, Technical Director, at, and see also for information on utilities expertise and details of White Papers on Saving Energy; Increasing Reliability and Operating Safe Utilities.


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