Plant Renovations: Tales from the Trenches

March 30, 2003
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With plant expansions and renovations on the rise, operators face the task of implementing major floor changes without disrupting operations.

Food plant renovations and expansions are occurring at a near record rate in the United States, as companies find that the answer to their increasing production needs lies not in greenfield construction, but in renovating or expanding their plants. This direction is a result of product line expansions, consolidations, new safety initiatives and technological advances, but plant managers, contractors, and designers are crossing a line they didn't encounter with greenfield projects -- the production line.

While schedules need to be met, nothing is as important as maintaining production during a renovation or expansion project.

The planning stage is critical to the success of any renovation project. During that period, companies lay out the groundwork of what will be done, when, and by whom. Everything from complying with sanitary standards to meeting schedule begins in the planning stage, but Scott Pribula, vice president of architect/engineer Stahlman Engineering, New London, N.H., takes it a step further. "You have to involve operations personnel in the preliminary planning stage," said Pribula. "They understand the business better than the engineers do." When the dust settles, he explains, it's the plant operations people that are left to put the puzzle back together. "When you start dismantling things, they know what will be shut down." Pribula was part of an expansion for a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colchester, Vt., that involved tearing down part of an existing building and constructing a new facility.

"Everything has to be coordinated if you want to minimize downtime." --Robert G. Hendon, Redmond & Hendon, Inc.
Engineer/contractor Shambaugh & Son, L.P., Fort Wayne, Ind., completed a renovation and modernization to a Favorite Brands International (FBI) plant in Chicago. The company modernized its production lines from manual to automated while adding processes from a recently consolidated plant. It was the involvement of the operations personnel in pre-planning, according to Shambaugh president Mark Shambaugh, that contributed to the project's success. "There was extensive planning with plant operations personnel to identify windows of planned downtime during their normal production runs. Those periods allowed us time to perform tie-ins and the requisite start-up procedures for the new equipment being installed," said Shambaugh.

Con Blake, project manager for architect/engineer Agra Simons, Greenville, S.C., agrees. "Involving operations personnel allows them to plan from a production standpoint," said Blake. "If they have the opportunity to pre-build inventories, it provides a little bit more flexibility with construction schedules. The biggest problem area we have is people doing something without realizing how it impacts the plant operations," said Blake.

During planning, plant people should consider how the project will impact future operations. "You have to anticipate future growth so you don't paint yourself into a corner with any additional expansions," said Guy Giordano, president of Vincent Giordano Corporation, Philadelphia. The roast beef and pastrami manufacturer added 25,000 square feet to its plant last year, doubling its size. It has undergone five such expansions since its original start-up in 1976. "Every time, we always kept in mind that we'd continue growing, and we anticipated how we would maintain product flow," commented Giordano.

"Before you touch any part of a facility, you have to get approval from the quality control department." --Mark Redmond, Redmond & Hendon, Inc.
The addition of more production lines often means constructing an addition. Ron Delperdeng, director of ice cream manufacturing and warehousing at Wells' Dairy, Le Mars, Iowa, recently orchestrated such a project. Learning from the past, "We decided to build far enough into the future so that we wouldn't have to be adding onto this plant every year or two, like it's been going," Delperdeng said. "We projected out several years and considered what equipment we would have to add down the road." The most recent addition encompassed 150,000 square feet -- the largest expansion for this facility -- and seven production lines.

Terry Kennedy, project manager for architect/engineer Mead & Hunt, Madison, Wis., agrees companies should keep an eye out for the future, but acknowledges there are times when predicting it is an impossibility. Mead & Hunt performed an expansion for a cheese manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. At the time, the company was producing Gouda and mozzarella cheese. After receiving many inquiries about shredded mozzarella, the company decided to add a shred line. "That wasn't part of the master plan," said Kennedy. "You've got to be aware that all of the good planning may go astray if the company finds a new market they want to enter."

Product Integrity

Many construction projects are governed by new safety initiatives as a result of concerns about E. coli, listeria, and other potential food contaminants. Mark Redmond, president of architect/engineer Redmond & Hendon, Inc., Cincinnati, remembers the old days when companies would simply put up a curtain along a plastic shield to isolate a product line. "Now, before you touch any part of a facility, you have to get approval from the QC (quality control) department so they know what you're doing," said Redmond. "There may be a HACCP coordinator you have to go through to get approval before performing any activities."

Redmond & Hendon is very familiar with this type of procedure, since most of its projects are for meat and poultry plants, where an inspector has to be involved. Many such plants, according to Bill Vaughn, a principal with architect/engineer Vaughn, Coltrane & Associates, Tucker, Ga., are renovating to conform to current USDA and HACCP requirements. "A lot of the facilities we deal with were built in the 50's and 60's, and require primarily sanitary upgrades," he said.

Architect/engineer Hixson, Cincinnati, recently completed an expansion of a plant in Wisconsin, where it expanded the facility, moved all existing operations into the addition, and then added additional operations into the old area -- all while maintaining operations. Project manager Chris Harmon recalls that the biggest issue he encountered was product integrity. "We were doing construction all around the production area. You can have dust, dirt, a whole variety of possible contaminants that just aren't normally introduced." He attributes the success of the project to the contractor. "There has to be a team on-site full time that is experienced with these issues."

"There are so many gotcha's that will occur that you have to have the flexibility to deal with it on a rapid basis." --David Estes, Fisher & Sons Construction

Known vs. Unknown

In expansions and renovations, certain things are expected to happen. It's dealing with the unknown factors that can ultimately determine the success or failure of a project. "Have known players," suggests David Estes, project architect for Fisher FSI Architects, an entity of Fisher & Sons Construction, Burlington, Wash. Estes and Fisher completed a project that involved demolishing a 15,000-sq.-ft. plant and constructing a new one around it. The principle of known players was so important to Fisher that the company brought its own crews in on the out-of-state project.

Food manufacturers love known players, especially when it comes to contractors. Often, companies will use the same contractors on different projects for one simple reason - they know the plant. "They know the people, know the sanitation requirements," said Blake. "It's just easier to deal with."

Wells' Dairy is involved in one contractor-plant relationship that has stood the test of time. "We've used the same building contractor for all the years I've been here -- 37 years," said Delperdeng.

Change is inevitable, and can be a good thing if met properly. "Accept that there is going to be change in the process," Estes continued. "There's so many gotcha's that will occur that you have to have the flexibility to deal with it on a rapid basis." During the demolition project, Estes said the project team was making changes on an hourly basis, modifying drawings and rerunning calculations.

The Quarterback

Organization is essential. Without the "quarterback," someone to lead the project, the margin of error may increase. "There has to be someone in charge, someone quarterbacking the process," said Estes. In a larger company, he continued, that line of authority tends to get lost.

Pat McEvoy, former head of engineering for FBI, agrees, noting that plants sometimes try to absolve themselves from that kind of responsibility. "Many times, customers expect the engineering firm or the contractor to come in and tell them everything they need to know."

"You can't manage people," said Dave Rocheville, independent project consultant to fluid milk manufacturer Parmalat Dairies, Atlanta, Ga. "You have to lead them." Rocheville headed up a project that was both a renovation and expansion to consolidate operations at its Atlanta facilities. The project increased capacity from 400,000 gallons of fluid milk to 800,000 gallons per week.

"Ninety percent of the issues that come up on a project still involve communication," said Blake. Blake believes that if a project has the decision-maker there to lead the planning effort, communication is going to be a lot better. "I've had a contractors crew show up ready to do work, and the production staff didn't even know that was going to happen on that particular day. That leads to a lot of wasted time and effort."

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