Rhodes Abell – Refrigeration Specialists

A new standard for blueberry refrigeration

Refrigeration Specialists are based in the Mpumalanga Lowveld, from where they have done significant refrigeration and postharvest design and consulting work in Southern Africa including banana rooms in Mozambique and forced cooling and storage of various products including avocado, litchi, citrus and meat products. 

“Every product presents a different requirement and design, both structural and refrigeration, is critical for optimal results. Although airflow is one of the most important aspects of efficient cooling it is often largely overlooked.” says Rhodes Abell, owner of Refrigeration Specialists.

Refrigeration equipment outside Madikwe Berry blueberry packhouse in a hot & dry climate (photos supplied by Rhodes Abell)

The projects include facilities across Mpumalanga, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Eswatini and more recently a lot of specialised work with blueberry facilities.

“I’ve taken a specific interest in blueberries,” says Rhodes. He has visited most of the blueberry packhouses of one of South Africa’s dominant blueberry producers in the Western and Eastern Cape.

“Having lots of experience in the subtropical sector I could see ways of improving what they were doing. Our designs have now become the standard for blueberry refrigeration in South Africa and Zimbabwe.”

Individual pallet cooling
The demanding requirements of blueberry production – fruit has to be refrigerated and packed on the same day as harvesting – have been a steep learning curve for the South African industry. Where a packhouse has up to 24 hours to bring some other categories of fruit down to temperature, with blueberries that has to be done within an hour.

Blueberries should be in the packhouse and in a force-cooler  (pictured right) within an hour of harvest and down to temperature within another hour. This is a very energy-intensive process depending partly on the fruit’s field temperature. Terminal temperatures are typically 3°C to 5°C depending on the client’s specification and the fruit variety. Thereafter it is packed at this temperature and then stored in a holding cold room from where it is dispatched.

“The fundamental shift is to have individual pallet cooling as opposed to broadcast refrigeration. You put the pallets in a room, you apply air flow specific to each pallet, even if it’s stacked. Each pallet has its own airflow tunnel.”

Madikwe Berry
“One of our latest projects was a full design and management contract for Madikwe Berry’s prestigious new packhouse. This is a state-of-the-art facility designed and constructed to the highest standards for the demanding export market. The management team at Madikwe Berry are really professional and a pleasure to work with. The refrigerated are consists of a total of 1500m2 including receiving, 10 forced cooler bays, processing, packing and dispatch areas. The entire system is driven by 2 multiplex units from Cubicool with Bock compressors and hybrid condensers."

"We did the full design, issued specifications and appointed suitable contractors and suppliers. We also handled all the payment certificates and ongoing negotiations with the suppliers. With a contract of this size there will always be changes and hitches but with tight control and attention to detail most issues were resolved before the client needed to be involved.”

He is, he says, sometimes called in - after the fact - to new packhouses to rectify refrigeration problems caused by errors in the design. “It is such a pity when this is the case as additional costs could so easily have been avoided by better initial design work. The earlier I can get involved the greater the potential savings.”

Refrigeration Specialists prefer bespoke projects and provide a full specification, appoint various specialist contractors for the supply and installation of the various equipment required. These include manufacture of the refrigeration equipment, supply and installation of panelling, docking equipment, electric doors and monitoring equipment. Rhodes likes to maintain full oversight over all aspects of a project.

Koeltehof Packers
One of his long-standing clients, and highly respected player in the avocado industry is Koeltehof Packers who operate a first class facility in Kiepersol, Mpumalanga.

“The client gave me pretty much a blank canvass for the refrigerated areas and the results are excellent. We have three 14 pallet forced coolers which we can easily cycle every 12 hours, two large holding cold rooms, a gassing room and a fully refrigerated loading and dispatch area."

"The entire system is refrigerated with 2 Cubicool Multiplex units and evaporator coils for each specific application. The full design incorporates various electric doors, dock levellers, dock shelters, and on and off-site monitoring and recording."

He continues: "I place a lot of emphasis on energy saving and encourage clients to invest in the most up to date equipment available. The system is excellent and the results speak for themselves. They have far exceeded the original design capacity without a problem and their fruit is top quality.”

Refrigeration experience under extremely hot conditions
Rhodes has worked under challenging conditions including in the Tet Province of northeastern Mozambique where he has installed cold rooms for the meat industry. There ambient temperatures can reach 50°C, necessitating bigger condensers to discharge the heat.

A multiplex unit

“In a dry environment, we use a hybrid condenser that runs water across the radiator to bring the condensing temperature down to assist the cooling process and keep refrigeration gear cool, but you can only use it in a dry climate. It won’t work in the Lowveld or Mozambique with the higher humidity.”

“Once we work for a client, we tend to get repeat business. There aren’t a lot of really experienced people in the industry. If you know what you’re doing and you’re ethical, people come to you. I aim to get the client the best project for the best price, always expecting savings to far outweigh my costs.”

For more information:
Rhodes Abell
Refrigeration Specialists
Tel: +27 82 900 7378
Email: refrigerationspecialists@mweb.co.za


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