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Bangers and less trash

Sausage manufacturer Blakemans has reduced waste and downtime with preventative maintenance.

James T Blakeman & Co, founded in 1953 in Staffordshire, UK, is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of meat products. For more than 60 years, the company has supplied the domestic, export, catering and fast food markets with chilled, cooked and frozen sausages and meats. The company operates from its 40,000 square foot facility in Newcastle-under-Lyme, UK.

The company’s founder James T Blakeman began his career in the meat processing industry after the second world war, as a manufacturing supervisor at a pork butchers in Leek, Staffordshire. Blakeman’s experience at the butchers inspired him to become a freelance sausage meat manufacturer and simultaneously open a small business, selling foods on a mobile refreshment bar.

The bar was a success and, in 1955, Blakeman and his wife opened a farm near Stoke-on-Trent and converted stables into a small meat and sausage manufacturing unit. Now, the company’s factory in Newcastle-under-Lyme, distributes 12,000 tonnes of product per year and has a current annual turnover of around £12 million.

Drop in quality

Blakemans has two main manufacturing principles — quality and efficiency. The company’s first key principle emphasises the importance of quality, not just in the ingredients used to manufacture, but in every aspect of the business. The company also invests in technology and implements processes in the business to maximise efficiency to follow its second principle.

Blakemans uses heat transfer to process its quality produce to the highest health, safety and hygiene standards. Heat transfer is a common process in the food manufacturing industry for cooking, frying and other processes in industrial kitchens. The fluid has to work at specific temperatures for prolonged periods to ensure products are identical in appearance and quality.

However, in 2010, Blakemans’ maintenance manager noticed a drop in product quality. The cooking temperatures were inconsistent, meaning that a high percentage of products were below standard. The thermal oil also required frequent top ups to function correctly. These issues increased product waste in the factory and caused expensive, unplanned downtime.

The company decided to look for a heat transfer expert to help them solve the issue and came across heat transfer fluid manufacturer Global Heat Transfer.

Heat transfer

For more than 25 years, Global Heat Transfer has offered advice, services and heat transfer media to manufacturers across several sectors, including food and beverage manufacturing, industrial products and pharmaceuticals. Heat transfer is an important process in food manufacturing and any issues with the system can impact the quality of the food.

Thermal fluids will degrade over time, a process that often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Oxidation can increase the flash point of the fluid and carbon build up can block the system. In food manufacturing this may be visible when cooking temperatures are inconsistent, but these problems can worsen, increasing the risk of health and safety breaches in the factory.

Oxidation causes acid (TAN) which goes on to form carbon deposits. This can then lead to poor heat transfer and eventually start clogging the system. General degradation of the oil will create both light and heavy ends. The light ends cause the flash points to drop. This creates health and safety issues if there were to be a failure of the system. At temperature and pressure, the oil would auto ignite when in contact with atmosphere.

Improving efficiency

After a thorough system inspection, Global Heat Transfer discovered that the system at Blakemans required frequent fluid dilutions and top up because there was a buildup of light ends in the fluid. Thermal fluid with excessive light ends can build an explosive atmosphere when it comes into contact with the air in the expansion tank and in the drain tank. Replacing the oil continuously will solve this problem but can be expensive, as Blakemans discovered. Global Heat Transfer advised that the company should install a light ends removal kit (LERK) to help this issue. LERKs are designed to safely remove volatile light ends from the system to improve efficiency and safety in the facility.

“While we had been aware of LERKs for a number of years, for one reason or another we hadn’t yet invested in one,” comments Stephen Carefull, engineering manager at Blakemans. “Since installing the LERK, there has been a reduction in downtime and we have reduced costs by replacing the fluid less frequently, thanks to improved system efficiency.

“Installing the LERK equipment has revolutionised the heating on our cooking plant. Global Heat Transfer provided excellent response services to every enquiry, request or problem and the process has helped enormously with our overall compliance procedures. The same thermal oil is in the system now, nearly eight years down the line, with a flash point still well over 175 degrees Celsius.”

Preventative maintenance plan

As well as the LERK, Global Heat Transfer consulted with Blakemans to implement a preventative maintenance plan. Global Heat Transfer’s fluid lifecycle maintenance programme Thermocare ensures that systems are always running at maximum efficiency. Blakemans’ plan consists of two main types of maintenance checks: a visual check of the system and fluid sampling.

Every month, Global Heat Transfer visits the site in Newcastle-under-Lyme to assess the system. During these checks, it looks for anything amiss with the system, including leaks, damaged insulation or any abnormalities. The Global Heat Transfer representative drains the light ends from the LERK and could organise cooling the system and topping up the system if necessary. The company will also check daily and weekly safety procedures in the plant and advise the maintenance manager on any changes that must be made.

As well as attending every month to check the system, Global Heat Transfer also carries out a quarterly maintenance check focusing on the condition of the fluid. In these quarterly checks, it takes a live, hot representative sample of the fluid as it travels through the system. The sample then goes through an 11-point test to determine the condition of the fluid and detect any potential issues.

Results from every check are recorded on Blakemans’ file for both the manufacturer and Global Heat Transfer to see. Both companies can then make changes to reduce the risk of unplanned downtime caused by any issues found.

“Blakemans’ Thermocare plan has proven to be successful in better managing its heat transfer system,” explains Martyn Tinsley, engineering support at Global Heat Transfer. “Frequent visual checks and sampling has given the company insight into how the system works. With this knowledge, we have been able to schedule any maintenance work to avoid expensive downtime. Now, the business practices proactive, rather than reactive maintenance.”

Implementing changes has decreased site downtime, reduced produce waste and improved services in the factory. Blakemans can continue to efficiently manufacture high quality products and continue its legacy with help from Global Heat Transfer.

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