Technology developed by Merridale for monitoring diesel fuel usage in the commercial road transport sector, is now being used to measure deliveries from bulk ice production facilities. This new application stems from the fishing industry, which utilises huge quantities of ice to protect the quality of fish products at every stage, from the catch at sea, to the quayside and transportation to the consumers. Ice is used also for packaging, through distribution and of course it is an essential part of the final presentation for sale by supermarkets and other retailers.

“We have issued over 50 ID keys to end user accounts. Apart from reducing the need to man the ice berth for every transaction, the Merridale system has saved a lot of administrative time that would be taken up in keying in manual entries and sorting out the inevitable customer queries resulting from missing records and human error.”

Self service facilities
Ice production facilities have been designed to meet all these requirements. Whilst refrigeration units can be installed on larger fishing boats, many boats are too small to justify the installation of an ice production machine. Quayside facilities, which can provide any amount of ice on demand, offer a more flexible solution. These facilities are usually operated on a cooperative basis or by the local port authority. To do this efficiently, they have been set up as self-service facilities, using automatic billing systems to record the weight of ice dispensed to individual customers.

Ziegra is a world leader in the production of ice machines with products covering diverse requirements from small laboratory machines up to large fully automatic equipment for industry. From its manufacturing base in Germany, the company operates through a number of regional marketing and service support subsidiaries.

Customers in the UK and Republic of Ireland are serviced by Ziegra Ice Machines (UK) Ltd, which is based in Stockport. In addition to the fishing sector, the company supplies machine for other high and low risk ‘food’ applications such as, fresh salad products, meat processing, bakeries and ready meals.  As a specialist in this sector, Ziegra has focussed on the top-end hygiene features.

Ice production machines
Ice Production Machine
“The core technology is intrinsically hygienic,” explains managing director, Patrick Gallagher. “Ziegra machines are designed to use sanitised water and the single pass continuous ice generation cycle minimises the risk of exposure to any potential airborne contamination. Automatic cleaning and other design enhancements have been incorporated to prevent any possibility of water stagnation. These measures ensure that, as far as possible, the ice leaving the machine will be as pure as the water entering the process.”

Growth in the market for these more sophisticated ice generation machines has been driven by the high standards now being set by the leading supermarket chains. Ziegra has made significant investments to position itself at the forefront of this technology. For example, whilst all its competitors rely on UK agencies, Ziegra is the only ice machine manufacturer that has its own UK based sales and service support facilities.

Patrick Gallagher continues. “Customer service is an important differentiator. As a part of the Ziegra network, we provide undivided attention and our dedicated service teams offer far more in-depth knowledge of the machines and customer’s operational requirements.”

Fishing industry requirements
“Over the years we have seen many changes in the needs of different market sectors we serve. None more so than within the fishing industry. Until recently, the traditional approach, particularly for smaller quay-side facilities, would be based on the production of ‘flake ice’ and the users would have to manually scoop out the ice from the bunker. The downside was that the remaining stock tended to accumulate as a solid mass. Typically, maintenance and operating costs were high and customer service was laborious.

“Demand, from the leading supermarket chains for higher food hygiene standards has led also to the development of more sophisticated ‘granular flake’ ice that is now a common sight at food hall and retail outlets.

Ziegra understood these requirements for this technology was being used already, to meet existing food industry requirements.  It was simply a matter of scaling this up to meet the anticipated usage demand requirements of the fishing industry,” said Patrick Gallagher.”

Quayside installations
On receiving its first enquiry for a quayside dispensing unit, Ziegra UK approached Merridale to provide a self-service billing solution. Similarly, this was simply a matter of applying an existing solution. The Merridale Auditor control unit is used widely for multi-product fuel dispensing within the haulage and road transport sector. Customers are issued with an ID fob which enables them to switch on the ice dispenser. All details of the transaction; such as the date and amount of ice delivered, are stored by the control unit. The information can then be downloaded, as required, to the back-office computer for billing.

Out of four systems in use one of these is used to monitor both ice deliveries and diesel. For another more recent installation in Plymouth, the installation of a new Ziegra ice production plant is part of an on-going investment by Sutton Harbour plc, to upgrade and modernise all the quayside hook-up services, covering fuel supplies, fresh water and electricity, as well as ice.

Sutton Harbour, Plymouth
In 2015, Ziegra UK supplied Sutton Harbour with a quayside ice production silo, incorporating four 7.5 tonne ice machines. Together, these allow 12 tonnes storage capacity and replenishment output of up to 30 tonnes per 24 hours. The swept base design strips ice from the underside of the silo – in effect, harvesting the earliest ice stock to the conveyor-weighing system. Here it is metered by the Merridale Auditor control unit before transfer to the output delivery conveyors. These conveyors can be configured for delivery of ice either directly on board a fishing boat or alternatively, into separate containers for transportation to the end user.   

As part of this investment, a second smaller Ziegra machine was also installed within the auction rooms where fresh fish is landed for sale and distribution.

“In preparing our specification, we used the manual records of deliveries from the previous ice production facilities,” explains facilities manager, Mick Carter.

“The introduction of electronic metering means we can be sure that all bulk deliveries are recorded and billed accurately. Whilst our forecast wasn’t so bad, we can see that historically there were some discrepancies, which would have resulted in some shortfall on billing. As for anticipating current usage, fortunately this discrepancy has been counter-balanced by the provision of additional capacity now available on the sale room floor. So we got it about right, thanks more to luck than judgement,” he said.

The main benefit of the new ice production facilities has been the significant reduction in maintenance down-time and operational costs, realised by moving over to new generation ice production process, based on a supply-on-demand model.

With the previous set up, fresh ice deliveries were raked off the top of a scale ice stock that constantly froze into a solid block. Consequently, the plant would become costlier to operate unless it was defrosted regularly. This is a laborious maintenance task in which personnel would have to go in with pneumatic drills to break up the accumulated ice block.

The Sutton Harbour Ice Berth and other harbour services are provided by its subsidiary company, Plymouth Fisheries. Described as the fisheries hub of the region, the harbour supports a network of business operations, moving more than 6,000 tonnes of fish every year. About 75 percent of this arrives by road from fishermen across Wales and the South West, who’ve landed their catch elsewhere but send it to Plymouth to ensure it will sell at the best price.

Mick Carter continues. “We have an on-going programme to modernise the Sutton Harbour facilities and introduce more modern payment systems for all the hook-up facilities. We only have a small accounts team so it is important to integrate systems and wherever possible simplify our customer service billing procedures.

“Managing the provision of ice is a key service provided by Sutton Harbour. All of the major customers have been issued with keys, enabling them to draw ice as and whenever required. Previously we had to provide staff to assist in the delivery of ice and customer billing was based on paperwork transactions. Billing has been fully automated thanks to the Merridale self-service terminal. All transactions from any customer key are recorded and uploaded to the accounts department where they are processed for recharging the end-user accounts.

Mick Carter concludes by saying. “We have issued over 50 ID keys to end user accounts. Apart from reducing the need to man the ice berth for every transaction, the Merridale system has saved a lot of administrative time that would be taken up in keying in manual entries and sorting out the inevitable customer queries resulting from missing records and human error.”