Ready Foods keeps its cool with viscous cooling solution
Based in Denver, Colorado, Ready Foods is a cook and chill company that manufactures soups and sauces for restaurants and the meat industry. After receiving a large order for one of its meat marinades from a leading chain of quick-service Mexican restaurants, the company needed to increase capacity. The existing process of kettle cooking and steaming the marinade, then chilling it in 2.25 kg pouches in a water cooling system for three hours, would not allow Ready Foods to meet the customer’s increased demand for 900 kg totes.
Marco Antonio Abarca, President and Owner of Ready Foods, and Greg Hefter, Plant Engineer, set out to find an alternative solution that would enable them to decrease the length of time it took to cool the marinade from 93°C to 3°C and thereby increase production levels.
However, they soon discovered that finding the right cooling system was no easy task. “We are a medium-sized company but it became clear that most of the equipment suppliers were accustomed to dealing with much larger firms than ours; their proposals were totally unsuitable for our size of operation,” Abarca admitted.
“Some recommended systems which required a large footprint or a 6 m ceiling height; others could only supply one or two parts of the solution and expected us to source the rest and integrate it ourselves; while some showed us systems which were far too complex and sophisticated for our operatives to use,” Hefter added. “We don’t have the luxury of a team of engineers on call 24/7, so any system we chose had to be simple to operate and straightforward enough for our mechanics to take care of.”
HRS Heat Exchangers, however, was able to meet every one of Ready Foods’ requirements, so Marco and Greg sent them two versions of their marinade for testing. One was very thin while the other was a concentrated form of the product.
“At first, Ready Foods proposed cooling the thinner product using R-404 refrigerant,” said Cameron Creech, US Sales & Engineering Manager at HRS. “As that’s an aggressive cooling medium, we considered a two-stage cooling system: the first phase would cool the product with chilled water, a much-less aggressive medium; the second stage would involve chilling with ammonia.”
HRS’s turnkey solution for Ready Foods comprised a transfer pump to move the product from the cook kettles into the balance tank; a balance tank to receive and mix both recycled and new incoming product; a BP-6 hydraulic pump to push product through the system; a pre-cooler, consisting of 10 AS Series triple-tubes as the pre-cooling exchanger, which cools the product using chilled water; the final cooler, comprising two Unicus scraped surface heat exchangers; and finally, a three-way valve that sends product into the filler tank or back to the balance tank, depending on whether the temperature requirement is met or the filler tank is too full to receive product.
HRS also supplied auxiliary equipment, including a cleaning-in-place (CIP) system and a steam-powered hot water set to prevent freezing in the event of a production halt (also used to heat the solution during the automated CIP program).
The cooling system was commissioned in September 2018 and has been operating successfully ever since. The difference in the volume of product Ready Foods is now able to produce is considerable.
“It used to take us three hours to chill the marinade, but we are now able to cool it in just one hour. We’ve been able to keep up with our client’s new, increased demand, even at peak times. On a five-day-a-week basis, we can hit 90,000 kg,” Abarca said.
From an operational standpoint, it has proved itself to be an integrated system that is not too complex and boasts a small footprint. In addition, due to the fact that a large percentage of Ready Foods’ employees are Spanish-speaking, HRS incorporated a feature on the main page of the program that allows the controls to be switched between English and Spanish.
“I’m surprised by how smoothly this project has gone,” Abarca enthused. “It normally takes a long time to integrate a system into a factory and that’s what I was expecting here, but that has not been the case. The cooling system has evened out the playing field by allowing a medium-sized company such as ourselves to compete with the larger firms. Not only that, but it’s the type of technology which suits a lot of applications. We are using it to make a meat marinade, but the reality is that we can do anything with it. For us, this is 21st-century, advanced technology and is the standard we now expect for everything we do. The HRS cooling system has set the bar for us.”
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