Major US Taco Shell Producer Solves Oil Separation and Removal Challenge

TAKO™ Tank Oil Water Separator at Food Production Facility

One of the largest producers of taco shells, tortillas, and tortilla chips in the United States faced an oil removal challenge in their production process. Located in the Midwest, it is a subsidiary of one of the world’s most successful corporations in the food industry.

Oil Water Separator - TAKO Tank On more than a dozen production lines at one particular facility, employees produce nearly one million tortilla-based products daily and deliver their high quality products to restaurant chains and other retailers across the country.

As part of their cooking process, taco shells are fried in vegetable oil. To adhere to stringent health and safety requirements, the facility completes a thorough, daily cleaning process which includes washdown of the fryers, heat presses, vats, and conveyors. During this washing process, cooking oil mixes with wash water and condensation, flows into a network of floor drains, and accumulates in a sump. Before the wastewater can be discharged, the cooking oil needs to be separated and removed from the wash water. For many years, when this oily water reached a certain level in the sump, it was pumped to an oil water separator, but the plant’s separator was not effective, leading to time-consuming challenges for the facilities’ operations and maintenance team.

Why the old oil water separator did not work effectively

The plant’s oily water separator did not work properly because the wastewater stream periodically consisted of more oil than the system could handle, and the separator would get overwhelmed by the volume of oil. Typical oil water separators are designed to operate effectively when the “entrained” waste oil mixed with the water is a minor part of the total volume of the oil/water mix. But at this facility, the oil content could range from 10 to 25% of the mix to as much 90% of the mix, depending on the wash cycle. As a result, their separator (and really any typical separator) was not able to provide consistently effective oil separation. Oil would overwhelm and clog the separation media and end up in the effluent where only “clean” water was supposed to flow.

Meanwhile, keeping the separator operating created chronic headaches for the maintenance staff. They had to spend too much time monitoring, cleaning, and maintaining the separator to achieve even a basic level of functionality. They unclogged hoses and valves that fed the separator. They unclogged and cleaned the coalescing media. And all too frequently they had to manually remove oil from the surface of the water in the separation chamber to prevent oil build-up. Despite this labor-intensive process too much oil still found its way out with the “clean” water.

In addition to time and labor costs, the separator’s poor performance had other negative effects. When too much oil builds on the surface of wastewater, it effectively acts like a “seal” on the surface, preventing oxygen from reaching the water resulting in the formation and growth of anaerobic bacteria, which emits foul odors and can be a skin irritant.

The plant operations manager, and particularly the taco shell production line team, knew they needed a more capable system that wouldn’t clog or require extensive maintenance. They decided to seek a more efficient and effective oil water separator design.

Choosing to partner with Oil Skimmers, Inc.

In searching for a better solution, the taco shell manufacturer contacted Oil Skimmers, Inc. because they had provided oil skimming systems for several of the corporation’s other facilities, as well as one in operation at this particular facility. After wastewater leaves the plant’s production lines, it travels to a central, outdoor drainage area. Several years prior, Oil Skimmers, Inc. supplied a Model 6V Brill® oil skimmer, which features a Free Floating Collector Tube™, to remove residual oil from water before the water is discharged to the local sewage system. The operations team was extremely satisfied with the performance, effectiveness and reliability of the Model 6V tube type oil skimmer and they were confident the team at Oil Skimmers, Inc. could assess their current problems and design an effective solution.

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and founded in 1968, Oil Skimmers, Inc., specializes in the toughest oil separation and removal challenges. With the help of factory-trained sales and service representatives across the United States and international dealers across the globe, the Oil Skimmers, Inc. team of applications experts and engineers have used their expertise to design and implement a wide variety of standard and custom-engineered oil separation and removal solutions for more than 35,000 applications across over 100 countries. This breadth of experience has also enabled the forward-looking company to develop a customer-centered, process-oriented approach when addressing the unique challenges their customers face.

Oil Skimmers, Inc.’s expertise in oil removal solutions made it the ideal partner for the taco shell production plant for two reasons. First, Oil Skimmers, Inc. has a comprehensive line of standard oil separation and removal products and systems that are designed to require very little supervision and maintenance and last for decades. Their systems operate efficiently and reliably to separate and remove oil from water, 24 hours a day, year after year. Second, they have custom-design and engineering capabilities that allow them to meet the most unique and challenging oily water applications where standard equipment options are not applicable.

Designing an optimal solution

The Oil Skimmers, Inc. team evaluated the taco shell production line process in detail. The goal was to learn as much as possible about the plant’s processes, operating requirements and constraints. Following careful investigation, the Oil Skimmers, Inc. engineering team designed an innovative concept to address the unique challenges the application presented. The objective was to develop an oil and water separator capable of accommodating the periodic spikes oil, as well as the generally high volume of oil in the mix.

Separate And Skim – SAS Tank™ Oil Water Separators with Active Oil Removal

SAS Tank Oil Water SeparatorFirst, the team recommended that the most efficient and cost-effective option is to install a “separate and skim” SAS Tank™ oil water separator with Active Oil Removal™. This type of oil water separator tank features an integrated tube type oil skimmer that provides continuous, active oil removal. Implementing an oil water separator with active oil removal would be a major step up from the plant’s current system that utilized a passive slotted pipe to remove oil from the separator.

Removing oil from oil water separator The problem with passive oil removal methods is they require regular monitoring, manual adjustment and maintenance to perform as desired. If they are not maintained and adjusted to meet the flow of oil, they can either take in too much water along with the waste oil, or they don’t capture enough of the oil, permitting an oil layer to build up on the surface of the water. Oil layers lead to bacteria growth, odors and health risks, and ultimately bog down the oil water separation process. A slotted pipe is a passive skimming method and was one of the primary causes of excessive maintenance requirements at the food plant and passive oil removal in general is responsible for performance issues in many typical oil water separators.

The most efficient and effective way to remove oil from an oil water separator is with an integrated oil skimmer that uses a Free-Floating Collector Tube.™ These tube skimmers actively and continuously remove the oil and grease as it rises to the surface of the water. As the tube moves across the surface, oil adheres to the outside of the tube, then the tube travels through a series of ceramic scrapers that constantly remove the oil, which then drains by gravity into a collection vessel. Tube skimmers are not affected by water level fluctuation or floating debris and solids, remove very little water in the process, and operate continuously with minimal attention or maintenance.

Second, the team at Oil Skimmers, Inc. concluded that the other major challenge was periodic spikes of oil in the wash water. High and fluctuating concentrations of oil are major challenges for typical oil water separators because they have relatively low limits on the amount of oil they can effectively separate from water in the flow, and those capacity limits are static. So substantial oil concentration fluctuations coming from the taco shell cooking line played havoc on the capacity limits of the traditional oil water separator that was in place.

TAKO Tank Oil Water Separator In response, the Oil Skimmers, Inc. team custom-designed a flexible oil water separation system to meet the plant’s variable operating conditions. Oil Skimmers, Inc’s SAS Tank oil water separator was equipped with the capability to separate oil from the water in multiple process stages, “knocking out” heavy oil flows at their peak, then scrubbing the residual oily water flow to separate even more oil from the mix. An integrated Brill® oil skimmer with a Free Floating Collector Tube™ provided continuous, active oil removal from the water’s surface, completing the final “knock out” of oil from the flow. The oil recovered by the oil skimmer flowed to the SAS Tank’s oil collection chamber, then drained into a 55-gallon drum. Oil-free water left the separation chamber and moved on to the facility’s central drainage area.

The system operated with minimal supervision and maintenance, was compact in size, and easily fit into the space allotted on the plant floor. Finally, the economics of the system more than met management’s expectations.

The SAS Tank designed for these challenging conditions delivered three levels, or stages of oil removal and came to be known as the “Triple Action Knock-Out (TAKO)” Tank. It has become Oil Skimmers, Inc’s standard for tough oil water separator applications.


During installation of the TAKO Tank, the Oil Skimmers, Inc. team provided operational instruction and training to employees and continues to provide support if/as needed through the life of the equipment.

After being in operation for years now, the TAKO Tank is performing as designed and the wastewater treatment and maintenance teams at the food processing plant are delighted. Each of their challenges were eliminated by the implementation of the TAKO Tank and there were a number of noteworthy benefits of the oil water separator design that affected the overall performance and success of its production line and facility.

TAKO Tank benefits:

  • Improved operations and productivity: The TAKO Tank operates continuously with little to no supervision, monitoring, or maintenance. The production line’s employees can easily monitor flow into the TAKO Tank for optimal performance. As a result, employees can spend less time on messy remedial maintenance chores and more time on tasks related to food production.
  • Reduced costs and increased revenue: Besides saving the cost of time and labor once spent monitoring the troubleshooting the previous, ineffective oil water separator, the plant can now sell the recovered waste oil or a profit.
  • Support of the corporation’s stated values: The TAKO Tank’s high quality and efficient knock-out, separation and removal process supports a healthy and productive work environment for the employees as well as sustainability of the environment. The facility sells the oil and other industries can reuse it for a variety of purposes, such as to produce biodiesel fuel.

Additional TAKO Tank applications and uses

Many other industries and applications experience high and/or fluctuating volumes of oil in their wash water or wastewater. In any oily water application where there is either an initial surge of oil or inconsistent volumes and concentrations of oil, Oil Skimmers, Inc. has the applications experience, products and engineering expertise to provide cost effective solutions that meet the challenge.

To learn more about the SAS Tank, TAKO Tank, or other oil water separators and oil skimmers, contact The Oil Removal Solution Experts® at Oil Skimmers, Inc. to discuss the best solution for oil and water separation and oil skimming in your application.

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