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Killer chillers for banana ripeners

The Banana Ripening Centre provides a critical service to farmers, acting as a staging facility and platform for banana sales.



The Tshwane Fresh Produce Market sells on average about R15 million in produce every day. Banana sales account for 11% of this figure. About 1.3 million kilograms of bananas are processed weekly by the state of the art banana ripening facility at the market. This facility is responsible for distribution of bananas to sales outlets nationally and in Africa. To drive this process reliably, the Centre selected Johnson Controls’ YORK YVWA chillers.

Says Francois Knowles, Deputy Director: Commercial Services at the Centre: “The Banana Ripening Centre provides a critical service to farmers, acting as a staging facility and platform for banana sales. Our highest priority is ensuring 24×7 uninterrupted service. Maintaining a constantly chilled environment to ensure staged ripening of the fruit is crucial. With growing volumes of produce moving through the market—turnover reached R3 billion in the 2016/17 financial year—this contributed to the need to upgrade our aging banana cooling equipment.

“We chose the Johnson Controls York YVWA chillers for their reliability, ease of control, as well as their potential to drive operational savings.”

The ripening process

The Banana Ripening Centre is performance driven. Acquired from the Banana Board in 1994 by the Tshwane Municipality, it contributes 11 percent of the total output of the Tshwane Market, playing an important role in the agricultural value chain.

Explains Knowles: “We source bananas from across South Africa and Africa, reaching as far as Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The bananas arrive green, are palletised and stored in one of our 55 ripening chambers. Market agents at the market act on behalf of the farmers, securing sales from wholesalers and retailers. Collection and distribution of the bananas are synchronised with our six-day ripening process, ensuring the produce reaches its destination at the right level of ripeness for optimal retail sales.”

The ripening process relies on three factors:

  • Keeping the temperature at 13 to 14 degrees C.
  • Ensuring the correct air flow or circulation through the ripening chambers.
  • The release of ethylene gas at the right time to initiate the ripening process.

Each ripening chamber can accommodate thirty pallets to be ripened. Sensors in the chambers constantly measure environmental temperature and communicate with the chillers, driving outputs to keep the chambers at the right temperature. A fan coil unit at the back of the facility circulates cool air through the chamber. The ripening process takes place over six days.

The chillers

Two York water-cooled screw type YVWA chillers with variable speed drives (VSDs) were selected to replace the four chillers at the Centre that have reached end of life. “These chillers will help meet the Centre’s strategic goals of reliability and enhancing control of the environment to drive service excellence. The VSDs will also help lower energy costs, driving down operating costs,” notes Russell Hattingh, Engineering Manager at Johnson Controls Systems and Service.

The use of VSDs on chiller compressors can cut energy use by up to 30 percent per annum while maintaining operating reliably over a wide range of conditions. “This is accomplished in two ways,” explains Hattingh. “At part load when cooling capacity can be reduced, a VSD chiller inherently uses less energy than a constant speed chiller as the compressor speed can be reduced to more closely match the load. At low-lift conditions, when ambient temperature conditions are cooler than design, even greater energy savings can be realised if a VSD is employed.”

The chillers were installed and commissioned in June 2017 by the Johnson Controls team. “The team was familiar with the Centre’s operational needs, having serviced its previous equipment, notes Hattingh, “so the implementation, which included a parallel upgrade to the Centre’s reticulation system, went smoothly. We are pleased to be able to continue providing support at the Centre.”

Future perfect

“I believe our investment in the York chillers will help gear the Centre to maintain its high level of service into the future,” says Knowles. “The Centre is closely aligned with the University of Pretoria, providing a training ground for students, but is also very focussed in setting higher standards in terms of agricultural best practices. Excellence in control and automation at the facility is an important part of achieving that.”

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.



It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.



Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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