A general receptiveness to technological innovation has long been a trademark to the Imperial Sugar Company (ISC). ISC has consistently welcomed advances in production technologies designed to maximize efficiency and quality, setting it apart from other members of the sugar industry. In December of 2010, ISC Savannah Sugar Refinery in Port Wethworth, GA integrated yet another leading production technology into their sugar boiling process: the K-Patents Process Refractometer.
The K-Patents refractometer measures the angle at which light is refracted as it passes through various mediums. This measurement in turn, gives an indication of the concentration of sucrose in solution. The concentration, purity, and temperature can then be used to calculate the supersaturation ratio.
Here, supersaturation is the state in which a sucrose solution is concentrated beyond its saturation point. Chris Gordon, a Senior Process Engineer for Imperial Sugar Company, notes that "supersaturation is the driving force for crystal growth" and as such, monitoring the supersaturation ratio is a primary concern in the boiling and crystallization process.
Prior to adopting the K-Patents refractometer, ISC used various technologies from nuclear density gauges to microwave probes in their pan control systems. These technologies, however, could not gauge the sucrose in solution and therefore, hindered the objective of ISC to optimize crystal growth. In this respect the K-Patents refractometer promises an advantage.
The refractometer installation on vacuum pans allows boilers to boil sugar at a faster rate, producing a higher supersaturation ratio and more rapid crystal growth. With its precise sucrose measurement in solution, the refractometer ensures that under faster boiling conditions the integrity of the crystals is preserved. Also, unlike other devices, the refractometer helps to preclude occurrences which characterize poor quality strikes, including unwanted crystal generation and the fusing of crystals. Put simply, the K-Patents refractometer permits ISC to yield greater production rates without undermining quality.
The advantages of the refractometer are numerous, making it the ideal choice for the boiling process of ISC. ISC did not enter into the decision to change over the pan control mechanism lightly though. Before committing to the installation of the refractometer, ISC employees toured another refinery to see the K-Patents refractometer in action. Once ISC made the decision to implement the refractometer, they held an informative training session on the new technology for the employees involved in the boiling process, further ensuring a smooth transition.
Gordon organized the investigation into a more effective control method and accordingly, oversaw the changeover. He notes that the decision to switch to the K-Patents refractometer reflects a "continuous improvement mindset" characteristic to ISC; specifically, Gordon says, "We are constantly looking to make improvements in quality, through-put and efficiency."