For more than a century, food manufacturers have relied on ammonia for cooling in production areas, particularly within meat processing facilities. While effective, it carries a unique set of risks. How can plant operators ensure safety in an environment susceptible to unforeseen gas release and/or system failures?
While ammonia has long provided an effective solution for cooling products within food processing, other industries such as wastewater treatment, rubber and paper production and the pharmaceutical industry rely on ammonia as well and can benefit from a robust alarm system to optimize plant safety.
For the compelling question of plant safety regarding ammonia use, Spiroflow Automation Solutions offers an equally compelling answer.
A Historical Challenge
Ammonia has been the go-to cooling agent in food production and meat processing facilities for more than 100 years. Though generally considered safe, leaks can and do occur, posing a significant threat. Potential repercussions span from immediate health risks to long-term environmental damage.
Exposure to high concentrations can result in severe respiratory distress, burns, blindness or even fatalities, while even low-level exposure can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. Concurrently, ammonia emissions contribute to air pollution, leading to environmental harm and exacerbating health conditions in the broader community.
Given these imminent dangers, a robust monitoring system is not just beneficial but crucial, serving as the first line of defense to detect, alert and initiate timely responses to any potential leaks, contributing to the protection of both human and environmental safety. For safety purposes, plant managers and operators should focus on installing a professionally designed system combined with vigilant monitoring to ensure optimal system performance. Even with safeguards in place, for worker and first responder safety, secondary detection and alarm systems provide an indispensable addition to any original detection system.
Large food manufacturing plants in particular face the challenge of quickly locating and assessing a discharge. While most OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and facilities have incorporated leak detection and shutdown systems within utility rooms, for primary monitoring, there is often a gap between production areas and remote cold storage units.
Ammonia has natural cooling properties and as such, is a popular refrigerant. Most meat packing plants, poultry processing facilities and other food manufacturing operations rely on refrigeration systems that can contain hundreds of thousands of pounds of ammonia within the pipes and vessels. And these interconnected piping systems can stretch dozens of meters from production to cold storage, circulating ammonia to various sectors of the plant to perform its required function to cool, chill or freeze products. As processing plants increase in size, the distance stretches, increasing the risk of leaks or failure.
Rising to the Occasion: Spiroflow’s Solution
A leading food manufacturer approached Spiroflow Automation Solutions to fill this gap. They aimed to create a standard solution for trace ammonia and major leak detection. The goal was clear: provide off-site display and alarm functions for first responders, enabling them to pinpoint system failures swiftly.
Spiroflow’s solution? A secondary monitoring and alarm system that stood apart from the OEM compressor control and SCADA systems. After six reliable years of operation across North America, it is evident that we addressed the pressing need effectively.
The Design Philosophy
Spiroflow engineers and our client collaborated to establish a design criterion:
- Hardware Platform: Rockwell Automation was selected for its proven reliability in plant automation.
- Distributed I/O: The monitoring points, being in production areas, were integrated with existing Manufacturing Ethernet-based networks.
- Sensors: Draeger, Inc. ammonia detection sensors were employed, providing real-time information.
- Alarm States: A two-tiered approach was adopted, distinguishing between minor leaks and major system failures.
- Control Interlock: Spiroflow collaborated with multiple teams to integrate third-party control programs for system interlocks.
- Scalability: Recognizing the unique nature of each facility, a modular system was devised, ensuring cost-effective scaling.
Functionality at its Finest
Our solution incorporated:
- Continuous Monitoring—Ammonia sensors continuously scanned to implement a two-level alarm strategy.
- Manual Control—Features like shunt trip relays and test/auto control offered enhanced system maintenance without compromising safety.
- Automatic Control—Communication with discrete equipment ensured an immediate response in alarm situations, stopping the flow of ammonia.
- Compressor Room Fan Control—Monitoring supply and exhaust fans for evacuation during emergencies.
- Visual & Audio Alarms—Implemented across the production, maintenance and security areas for immediate awareness.
A Tested and Trusted Solution
The system has operated smoothly within the facility since 2006. Our solution illustrates its seamless blend of technology and future-proof planning and implementation for a long service life. It incorporated UL/NEMA panels for centralized control, while remote panels throughout the plant enabled easy sensor connections. Using a Rockwell PanelView 1250 display, we devised an integrated network of plant layouts with alarms, delivering a reliable system with minimal support needed from client teams.
The solution offered to this client speaks to our innovative business practices and solutions., demonstrating that with the right tools and mindset, even age-old challenges can be met head-on, ensuring safety and efficiency for food manufacturers throughout the processing segment. The team’s use of the Rockwell Automation ControlLogix platform combined with a modular design strategy led to reduced costs, easier system upgrades, and consistent logic throughout multiple sites.
Sites that rely on ammonia or other potentially noxious gases can rely on Spiroflow Automation for reliable systems that can aid with rapid and reliable detection. Looking for automated solutions? Call Spiroflow today.