© Timo Müller

The largest cold chamber in Africa: Distri­b­u­tion center pick n pay

The new distri­b­u­tion center for the Pick n Pay super­market chain near Johan­nes­burg is the largest in Africa. Thanks to the exper­tise of Cape Town-based engi­neering firm AMC and appli­ances manu­fac­tured by HC Heat-Exchangers, the merchan­dise stays fresh with minimal energy consump­tion.

Visible from the windows of planes approaching O.R. Tambo Inter­na­tional Airport from the north is what is likely the largest roof in the southern hemi­sphere. 279 meters wide and 411 meters long, it spans the main hall of the distri­b­u­tion center, which was completed in 2023 in the East­port Logis­tics Park on the outskirts of Johan­nes­burg. If you add up all the sections of the building, the mega struc­ture covers an area of 165,000 square meters.

For fans of South Africa’s national sport, that’s enough space for 16 rugby pitches. However, the elegantly curved roof conceals merchan­dise for the Pick n Pay super­market chain, which is stored and distrib­uted to stores from here. Founded in 1966, the company oper­ates a total of 2,204 stores in eight African coun­tries and employs 90,000 people. To ensure that the food doesn’t spoil and customers only receive fresh prod­ucts, a 46,000 square meter area of the distri­b­u­tion center is refrig­er­ated. The area is divided into two climate zones. One zone has a constant temper­a­ture of 14 degrees Celsius, the other is at 2 degrees Celsius. It is impor­tant that the temper­a­ture is constant and evenly distrib­uted throughout.

Large area, big chal­lenge

Total surface area:

165.000 m2

Actual cooling area:

46.000 m2

Engi­neering achieve­ment from South Africa

AMC Engi­neers was commis­sioned to design the cooling system. The engi­neering firm from Cape Town special­izes in cooling systems for food processing compa­nies and is very familiar with the very high hygiene stan­dards and require­ments that apply with regard to fresh air, filtra­tion, humidity and temper­a­ture. Reflecting on the project’s scale, Andrew Minnaar, the director at AMC respon­sible for the project, says: “The cooling prin­ciple itself is nothing new for us, but what was special were the huge dimen­sions of the facility.”

AMC was not only entrusted with the design of the system, but was also respon­sible for selecting the manu­fac­turer and suppliers. For Minnaar, it was clear early on that EC fans should be used in the refrig­er­ated blower coils. “The cooling runs day and night, so low energy consump­tion is crucial.”

The AxiCool fans impress with their high air perfor­mance and large throw range. (Image | ebm-papst)

ebm-papst in refrig­er­a­tion tech­nology

With its wide range of prod­ucts, ebm-papst offers the ideal solu­tion for every perfor­mance range and every refrig­er­a­tion appli­ca­tion.

Leading the pack in cooling tech­nology

So Minnaar turned to Fran­cois Schoombie, Tech­nical Manager, and Stephen Fried­mann, Sales Director at ebm-papst South Africa who often handled appli­ca­tions like this – albeit on a smaller scale. They quickly real­ized that AxiCool fans could be the right solu­tion: “Our engi­neers devel­oped these specif­i­cally for cooling in the food sector. The surfaces are designed to prevent dirt from settling on them so that hygiene stan­dards can be main­tained.”

The low noise level is an addi­tional plus point, as one of the require­ments was that employees should still be able to talk while the system was running. Since the cooling units are attached to the ceiling, weight was also a key crite­rion. This is another area where AxiCool scores highly thanks to its plastic construc­tion and the asso­ci­ated low weight. But the clinching factor was the fans’ air throw because the dimen­sions of the hall meant that very long distances had to be covered.

“Orig­i­nally, we planned three rows of blower coil units each, mounted evenly on the ceiling across the entire width of the hall. But as the AxiCool fans are so powerful, two rows were suffi­cient. Of course, this also meant that we saved on cable runs and a whole lot of cable,” says Minnaar. Thanks to inte­grated guide vanes, the ebm-papst fans can easily cover a distance of 43 to 45 meters. A total of 86 cooling units were installed on the ceiling, each with four AxiCool fans – making 344 fans alto­gether.

Easy instal­la­tion and moni­toring

The inte­grated MODBUS inter­face enables numerous moni­toring and control func­tions to be carried out in real time via the epCloud. (Image | ebm-papst)

HC Heat Exchangers built the systems itself, based on the appro­priate refrig­erant combi­na­tions and selec­tions by AMC, glycol, as an envi­ron­men­tally friendly secondary refrig­erant was selected for various reasons. HC, the leading provider of heating, venti­lation, air condi­tioning and refrig­er­a­tion solu­tions in Africa has also been working with ebm-papst for many years. Gert van Rooyen, Lead Appli­ca­tions Engi­neer at HC, explains: “We really like the prod­ucts. We are always looking to make things better and more effi­cient, because that is part of what we want to be as a company: solving prob­lems for the future, not just for the present.” Besides effi­ciency, the manu­fac­turer partic­u­larly appre­ci­ates the built-in MODBUS commu­ni­ca­tions inter­faces combined with the EC motors, which make it possible to conve­niently monitor every single fan and control it as required.

“With such a large number of fans, it’s not imme­di­ately obvious if one is faulty. Espe­cially when they are hanging at a height of up to 18 meters and are diffi­cult to reach. It’s a big advan­tage if you can monitor their status in real time on a computer,” says Van Rooyen. Minnaar from AMC is also happy with the overall result: “The end customer is very satis­fied with the system and the system works reli­ably.”

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Axial fan AxiCool

AxiCool fans for evaporators and cooling units