Renovate Today to Shorten Downtime Tomorrow

Thorough planning, modern design tools and an instinct for the unexpected are key ingredients in your recipe for fast and efficient plant renovation and expansion.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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When it comes to food plant projects, "fast-track" is becoming the only track. But haste makes waste, and, in this 24/7 era, wasted production time has become the cardinal sin of food manufacturing.

With the overwhelming emphasis on renovations and expansion in a capital-conscious industry, major disruption of production flow is rarely an option. "Get 'er done!" may be the cry that prods modern design engineers and construction crews. But getting it done right and with the least interruption in plant production is what a successful renovation is really all about.

So how do you do it?

"Strategic planning by internal and external teams is essential," says Alan Burrows, corporate operations engineering manager for Safeway Inc. (www. safeway.com), Pleasanton, Calif., the country's fourth largest grocery chain and a manufacturer of many of its own food products. "It may seem basic, but planning is the key."

A Recco engineer holds a piece of litmus paper to a corroded ammonia hot gas line with urethane insulation. The litmus paper turns pink when it comes in contact with ammonia, indicating leakage. Recco claims this type of corrosion is common on hot gas lines with urethane insulation, so the company discourages the practice.
A Recco engineer holds a piece of litmus paper to a corroded ammonia hot gas line with urethane insulation. The litmus paper turns pink when it comes in contact with ammonia, indicating leakage. Recco claims this type of corrosion is common on hot gas lines with urethane insulation, so the company discourages the practice.

It all starts with a careful and detailed pre-planning meeting with contractors and internal personnel to acknowledge a game plan. Burrows and Safeway personnel teamed with design-build firm Shambaugh and Son in an exhaustive renovation of a 120,000-sq.-ft. ice cream facility in Phoenix. The team completed engineering and construction in six months and in time for the warm-weather spike in ice cream consumption. Today that plant produces a wide variety of bulk packaged ice cream products and frozen novelties for Safeway stores.

"Renovations take more communication than a new plant and more coordination, too," says Mark Shambaugh, president of Shambaugh and Son (www.shambaugh.com), the Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based subsidiary of Emcor Group Inc. The design-build firm today counts roughly two-thirds of its projects as renovations. "Pre-planning forces you to find the ways to get a project done with the least interruption of production flow, whether that means during a (two-week) plant shutdown or over a weekend."

Best laid plans

The more detailed the plan, the better. "But there are always unknowns, and you must plan for them," notes Mark Redmond, principal of the Cincinnati-based engineering and design firm Hendon and Redmond (www.hendonredmond.com). "You will design and produce very detailed drawings for each step. But plan for the unexpected at each stage."

Many renovations today are the result of plant rationalization. Often they require creative strategies and logistics to bring significant production capacity into an already well-utilized facility. "At a Ukrop's facility consolidation, we had to bring an entire 25,000-sq.-ft. plant into the center of an existing 80,000-sq.-ft. plant," recalls Redmond.

Separation walls sometimes have to be constructed to accommodate interior renovation in an operating food plant, to control environmental conditions as well as movement of materials, equipment and construction staff.
Separation walls sometimes have to be constructed to accommodate interior renovation in an operating food plant, to control environmental conditions as well as movement of materials, equipment and construction staff.

Shambaugh insists that "Plan B" flexibility is much greater with the design-build project delivery method, which puts single-point responsibility on both design and construction, than with design-bid-spec or plan-spec approaches. Change orders, he says, can be radically reduced when a unified team is in place as opposed to the coordination of separate contractors and engineers.

Safeway had established tough quality and production goals wrapped within a tight capital budget. But through a comprehensive team plan, the project was able to commence with procurement and design while field crews began preparatory efforts at the plant, including demolition and extensive infrastructure repairs to water, electrical, wastewater, steam, air and fire protection systems. The project also called for replacement of process controls, CIP systems, and ammonia refrigeration systems.

One key to downtime reduction is making a void of the target renovation area. Again, planning is critical. A line may need to be moved out entirely. You may need to build inventory to make up for lost production or have other lines carry the extra work load as each area undergoes renovation.

Erect barriers ... or do it offsite

One of the biggest challenges in a plant renovation is to keep dust, microbes and foreign matter stirred up during construction from entering a process or packaging area.

Barriers should be erected to protect production areas from contaminants set in motion in the construction areas. Isolating the area with an effective barrier material, such as insulated metal panels, and ensuring negative air flow from the work area is critical.

Much of the plumbing and wiring was completed in advance on this Safeway processing system. Fully functional operator interface panels also were available for training well in advance of start-up.
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