Environmental and lifestyle changes within the drinks industry have brought fresh challenges and increased business to Preston-based beer pump and cooler specialists K Coolers. The company was founded in 1979 to refurbish electric beer motors (pumps), working as second tier suppliers to the brewing industry. It’s success, which saw it deliver an 85 per cent repair yield on pumps, saw it being approached directly by the big brewers to look at providing a similar level of service for beer coolers located in pub cellars, as the repair yield on those from competitors was as low as 50 per cent.
Applying the same processes to refurbishing beer coolers as it used on the pumps, K Coolers raised the repair yield up to 85 per cent and the result was a significant increase in business that facilitated its relocation to its current 24 000 ft2 premises in 2006. Now established as a tier one supplier for refurbished products, K Coolers had to manage two major changes within the drinks industry, the first being environmental with the phasing out of certain refrigerants; along with the rise in popularity of ‘ice-cold’ beers and lagers. Both these required changes to the stainless steel coils that sit within the cooler, which in turn placed greater demands on K Coolers’ existing tube bending capacity. “The new R290 refrigerant required different tubes so all of these required replacing as a smaller bore was needed for the new gas to be effective,” says Lee Worden, Managing Director, K Coolers. “The standard 3.8 to 4.8 metre long coils used for standard beers and lagers also needed to increase to 10 metres in length to create ice-cold beer delivery, the knock on benefit being the elimination of under-counter chillers in pubs.”
To meet demand, and with K Coolers’, the decision was taken to invest in a BLM 4-Runner tube bending system fitted with a motorised coil feed. “Without investing in the BLM 4-Runner we would struggle to maintain throughput. The assistance we got, and continue to receive, from BLM both in the UK and in Italy, has been superb which meant that we were bending tube within a couple of days of the machine being put on the floor. The BLM 4-Runner will be used to produce the evaporator coils and other pipework for the refrigeration system on the new coolers, handling the increased demand with ease.” Capable of bending tube up to 12.7 mm diameter the 4-Runner initially straightens tube prior to it being processed, then it can achieve fixed and variable left- and right-hand radii to form three-dimensional serpentines, making it ideal for parts such as coils found in the refrigeration, air conditioning and household appliance sectors. These complex forms are easily created thanks to BLM’s VGP3D programming software, which enables all bends to be optimised in real time with full 3D simulation allowing production feasibility and potential collisions to be checked prior to parts being produced. It also assists in calculating production costs, especially useful in a sub-contract environment.
The 4-Runner has been designed with environmental considerations in mind, and is part of BLM’s All Electric range, which typically delivers 80 per cent energy savings over conventional hydraulic-based machines. It is also quieter and with no hydraulics, and therefore much cleaner operation of up to 11 axes is achieved. If required, the 4-Runner can be specified with end-forming modules.
“The changes in legislation and lifestyle brought new challenges in terms of a greater demand for coils and the arrival of the BLM 4-Runner has made a significant difference to our efficiency. Every element of the machine is an improvement on our previous bender, particularly programming which is much more straightforward,” says Lee Wordon. “While before its arrival we were struggling to keep pace, we now find ourselves with extra capacity, which will be used in part for the manufacture of new, rather than refurbished coolers, and in time, we may also offer it locally as a sub-contract capability.”
The high yield of K Coolers on its pumps and cooler refurbishment didn’t go un-noticed by the brewing industry, which is renowned for ‘sweating’ its assets and making items such as coolers last as long as possible. However, even with K Coolers’ expertise there is still a requirement to replace around 15- 20 per cent of coolers when they fail. This raised the question from its brewery customers. ‘can you produce new coolers?’. “This request came during the period of change in terms of refrigerants, but once the industry had standardised on R290 as the refrigerant for beer coolers, we produced a batch of 50 brand new coolers for test at one major brewer. These ran without problem and we have now been appointed as their preferred supplier for refurbished and new coolers.
“It was this change in legislation around refrigerants that made the development of the new coolers viable and with our 30 year’s of experience in refurbishment and the systems of checks and balances we have in place when testing old systems, along with the consistency of repairs; customers are reassured that they will get the optimum solution to their beer cooling requirements. With our four tiers of service for old coolers, ranging from a simple clean, through re-gassing, to complete re-build we offer major savings, and now with the new coolers a one-stop-shop for refurbish and new,” says Lee Worden.