Expert Advice On Improving The Viability Of Existing Food And Beverage Plants

Flooring is a good place to start, but there are a number of renovation projects worth considering to upgrade facility performance.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Many of today’s improvements and renovations to food and beverage facilities are driven by higher sanitary standards under the Food Safety Modernization Act and third-party certified audits that are designed to support FSMA compliance. But many other desirable outcomes can come into play, from improved product flow to creating a work environment that matches employee expectations.

Each facility is unique, of course, and processes vary considerably depending on the food being manufactured. But there are some common threads that apply to many or even most food plants.

“If you have only one dollar to spend, spend it on the floor” is a maxim that David Dixon shares with any food executive who cares to ask. Dairy tile and acid brick are his materials of choice, although many owners have to swallow hard when it comes to cost.

The jury has returned a verdict on epoxy resins, and it isn’t good: Unless workers are the only traffic, seamless epoxy is unlikely to stand up to the rolling stock and thermal shocks that food floors are subjected to. Cementitious urethane is a better choice, although it doesn’t afford a long-term solution.

“When you’re putting in a floor, you’re putting in an asset that should be good for 30 years,” says Dixon, who heads the food & beverage business unit at O’Neal Inc. (www.onealinc.com), an architectural engineering firm in Atlanta. “Maintenance of a bad floor contributes significantly to the cost of goods sold.

“If you just have rolling carts and people in boots, you can use urethane,” he continues. “But it’s a short-term solution, and once it starts to delaminate, you have to replace the entire floor. With brick, you can isolate an area for repair.”

The owners of Brooklyn Brewery took a pass on dairy brick and opted for urethane cement for a recent upgrade. The fast-growing craft beer company is building a $70 million brewery in nearby Staten Island, N.Y., but it also jumped recently at the chance to renew the lease on the former matzo plant where it has operated since 1996 in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

The installation was done on seven consecutive weekends, relates Chris McDermott, vice president of Seamless Flooring Systems Inc. in Somerdale, N.J. “A lot of labor was involved,” with crews applying a degreaser prior to pressure washing, followed by treatment with a diamond grinder to remove contaminants in the cement, much of it worn down to expose aggregate. Urethane cement from Flowcrete was applied.

“There are a lot of urethane cements out there, but they’re not all the same,” McDermott maintains. An antimicrobial additive is standard in the Flowcrete floor covering, which his crews have applied to more than 40 breweries. “I won’t put epoxy down,” he warns.

“With the forklift traffic and dropping kegs, brewing is one of the most abusive industries we deal with,” he continues. Cementitious urethane isn’t a permanent fix, but it may be serviceable for 15 years. Quick curing is a plus. “They gave tours in the afternoon after we completed the work in the morning,” McDermott says.

Soft benefits

Hiring the right floor installer is at least as important as the materials of use, notes Gregg Carr, project planner-baking & snack with Cleveland-based Austin Co. (www.theaustin.com). It's a point few experts would dispute.

As with most facility upgrades, flooring projects defy ROI calculations, although the paybacks are real. Food safety and easier cleaning and sanitizing are obvious benefits, but product quality also can be positively impacted. Uneven floors not only make it difficult to roll materials and equipment around, they can disrupt dough development due to product jolting.

Employee welfare upgrades are another category of improvements that are difficult to tie to financial return, but both Carr and Dixon believe the benefits far outweigh the costs, particularly in older facilities.

Twenty years ago, air conditioning was a rarity in food plants, Dixon observes. Today, personnel comfort is a priority, particularly in facilities that rely on skilled workers to keep automated equipment humming. The European manufacturing model of fewer, better trained workers is being grafted on U.S. production. An example is Haribo, a German confectioner building a plant on the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. Salaries will average $80,000, according to Dixon, making a comfortable work environment a key to employee retention.

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