Sausage maker beats downtime with thermal oil knowledge

When James T. Blakeman suffered production downtime as a result of inconsistent cooking temperatures, it decided to call in thermal oil specialist Global Heat Transfer. Today the company has the benefit of significantly improved cooking efficiency and reduced downtime.

Founded in 1953, James T. Blakeman manufactures sausage and meat products with a strong focus on quality. It produces cooked product for the catering and ready meal markets and provides a contract cooking service for meat, fish and poultry.

The company has two 40,000 square foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Newcastle Under Lyme, approved to the highest health, safety and hygiene standards. Blakeman distributes 12,000 tonnes of product per year and holds both Higher Level EFSIS (European Food Safety Inspection Service) and EEC-approved accreditations. The company’s product range includes fifty varieties including Cumberland, Lincolnshire, pork and coriander sausages.

Despite its current position, the company had humble beginnings; growing from a mobile refreshment bar, and later a market stall founded by James Blakemen in1954, to reach its current annual turnover of around £12m.

Similarly, the foundations of Blakeman’s work with Global Heat Transfer can be found in these early days, when the entrepreneur decided the company’s first key principle would be quality, not just in the ingredients used to manufacture, but in every aspect of the business.

The second key principle relates to investing in the most efficient manufacturing processes, including plant, machinery, recruitment, training and quality assurance systems. This has been demonstrated throughout the company’s history, from investment in a new manufacturing and cold storage plant, completed in 1988, to the decision to invest in a new company wide IT system in 2004, which links all of Blakemen’s operations. The roots of the company’s work with Global Heat Transfer can be found in this progressive philosophy.

In 2010, Christopher Austin, the company’s health and safety advisor, was faced with inconsistent temperatures in some of the company’s ovens. This meant that thermal oilhad to be replaced far more often than necessary, with the attendant production downtime that this incurred.

The use of thermal oils as a heat transfer media is common in the food processing industry, particularly in large scale baking and frying in industrial kitchens, where the even temperatures it provides are useful in retaining taste. Fundamentally, thermal oils are heat transfer fluids that convey the heat from one hot source to another point in the process. A heat transfer medium is required where direct heating of a process is not practically possible.

James T. Blakeman decided to call in Global Heat Transfer, who provides a range of services for the thermal fluid industry including sampling, analysis and fluid delivery as well as system drain down, cleaning and waste management. It also specialises in onsite maintenance, system design and installation. The solution was to supply and fit a Light Ends Removal Kit (LERK) and provide a contract to maintain the system, including removing the light ends from site and replacing old oil.

Light ends are the lower-boiling components of a mixture of hydrocarbons, such as those evaporated or distilled off easily in comparison to the bulk of the mixture. Examples include low molecular weight organic compounds such as methane, ethane and propane which can be included as components in the oil. They are a common result of thermal cracking.

Thermal oil with excessive light ends can build an explosive atmosphere with air in the expansion tank and in the drain tank. Replacing the oil continuously will solve this problem but can be expensive, as Blakeman discovered. A LERK is a much more cost effective and elegant solution.

Global Heat Transfer’s LERK is a distillation loop modification designed to remove light ends and manage flash points, fire points and auto ignition temperatures. It is a totally automated system for draining off light ends and can also be used as a batch vent or regenerator. Installation of a LERK completely removes any future need to hire in a costly regeneration rig or replace the thermal fluid on a regular basis. Monitoring of flash points is a continuous process and the Global Heat Transfer LERK ensures safety at all times.

Hiring a remote regeneration rig only monitors the risk for the period when the rig is hired. However, flash points are guaranteed to fall over time, which creates risk and an unsafe system, so the need to re-hire equipment at a high on-going cost will always be there. Furthermore, the LERK is proven to be more effective at the batch venting and regeneration.

“The impact was evident,” says Chris Austin.  “There has been a reduction in downtime, and we have saved cost by replacing the oil less frequently, thanks to improved system efficiency. While we had been aware of the LERK for a number of years, for one reason or another we hadn’t yet invested in one.“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.”

In fact, quality control processes have always been complete and rigorous. Blakemans communicates regularly with the relevant official bodies to ensure its factories adopt the latest standards as they are introduced. The fully-integrated ‘Tropos’ computer system provides real-time, full traceability that allows the quality team to track ingredients from order to warehouse, from production to finished product. The quality control team inspects all meat on arrival at the factory, whilst an independent laboratory carries out additional weekly quality testing. Temperature control and metal detector checks complete the series of tests.

The picture of the modern Blakemen’s factory, complete with state of the art technology and a philosophy focussed on quality, is a long way removed from the young James Blakeman and his market stall. However, the philosophy remains the same – an approach that has seen the company decrease downtime, advance its compliance standards and improve efficiency as a result of its work with Global Heat Transfer.