New construction projects are at their highest level since 2002, as processors demand energy-efficient, environmentally friendly plants.

Wayne Farms’ Decatur West further processing facility’s plant production equipment, like these automated marination tanks, is fully integrated into the HMI network, reducing manpower costs and increasing production efficiencies. Source: Wayne Farms.

While total food and beverage plant projects are down a tad (3.8%) compared to last year, the good news is that new projects are up are by 28%, according to Food Engineering’s 30th Annual Plant Construction Survey. FE’s editorial team uncovered a total of 506 projects of $1 million or more underway, completed or in the planning stages during 2006, including 203 new projects and 303 expansions and renovations. While expansions and renovation projects dropped by 16.5% compared to last year, it may be easier and sometimes less expensive for food manufacturers to start from scratch rather than update or expand old facilities. New process control systems, more energy-efficient equipment and better designs can make a big difference in how a new plant fits its environment, saves energy, reduces waste and meets sustainability initiatives. Today, being “green” makes good business sense.

What concerns food processors the most in the construction of new facilities or the renovation of existing plants? Several responses result but can be summed up in one word: sustainability. Though it has many definitions, any sustainable development project should be environmentally, economically, socially and politically viable to be successful. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need.

Forrest McNabb, senior vice president of Big-D Construction, says the site selection process for new plants is more comprehensive than ever with location being the most important factor along with long-term planning and sustainability of the plant. “The key factors of security, safety, flexibility and GMP (good manufacturing practices) continue to be at the top of every food project’s top attributes,” he adds.

According to Darryl Wernimont, director at The Haskell Company, the site selection process goes hand-in-hand with green design/construction, known most commonly as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). He believes that food processors today are looking for LEED-certified contractors.

According to Bill Sander, senior vice president and project manager of Hixson Inc., while every processor has its own definition of sustainability, a vital part of it is reducing energy usage and, therefore, reducing energy costs. Alyssa Boudreau, marketing administrator with The Dennis Group, says processors are willing to pay a little more for higher efficiency machinery when they see a two- to three-year payback. She says privately held processors see the real benefit of energy-efficient building and processes and implement them to get real paybacks.

Additional energy savings, according to Wernimont, come from energy-efficient roof systems, mechanical and electrical devices and lighting systems; constructed wetlands; Xeriscape and recycled materials (building materials, carpets and wall structures); water-efficient equipment and devices (e.g., waterless urinals, new irrigation technologies, etc.) and sustainable site development.

Another key issue in sustainability is sanitation, and Boudreau says an additional CIP system or a central sanitizer can increase a plant’s overall level of sanitation for a small incremental cost. Adding slopes to floors keeps wastewater flowing to the drainage system. Brian Kappele, vice president of process construction at Stellar, says his customers are placing a greater emphasis on sanitary design in new structures. For example, there has been a trend to use stainless steel tapped couplings as standoffs to wall-mounted equipment. In addition, he reports there is a focus on providing hygienic airflow and sanitation stations at critical points, segregating them from non-process areas with knee- and/or sensor-operated equipment. Processors have also been spending more money to solve condensation, microbial and allergen problems.

Fieldale Farms RTE chicken plant in Gainesville, GA, features designed-in bio security, food safety and security functions with customer needs and in-house management beginning at the front entrance.  Source: Vaughn, Coltrane, Pharr & Associates.

Getting a grip on energy

Energy conservation begins with the plant’s interior environment. David Dixson, Middough project director, says energy costs can be lowered in new designs by increased use of building management systems, better HVAC controls to accommodate daily and weekly shifts and motion sensors to turn on lighting when needed. Building orientation, construction materials, mechanical system design, alternate energy sources (wind, solar, etc.), exterior windows, building insulation and roofing, electrical system design, utilities, process system design, CIP system design, waste minimization and heat recovery are also factors that can lead to energy savings when executed properly.

CIP systems use water and energy. But James Larva, Hendon & Redmond project manager, points out there is more to saving energy in CIP than in heating and pumping the clean-up water. A big part of the cost is the energy consumed in removing the water and moisture from the room after cleanup is over.

Unfortunately, process energy costs are frequently much greater in food plants than many other manufacturing environments. The problem, according to Webber/Smith Associates Chairman Gary Smith, is from a return on investment (ROI) standpoint, energy costs would have to double for paybacks on energy-saving solutions to be realized in two to three years. Therefore, processors tend not to act. But those who do, says Smith, can find opportunities to save energy with conversion to ammonia refrigeration, heat recovery systems and cogeneration. Most processors, however, opt for the low hanging fruit of lighting, building management systems and economizing measures.

One way to save energy costs is not to oversize mechanical systems in the design phase, says Darrin McCormies, senior vice president with Epstein. “Too often,” he says, “these systems are oversized to cover risk.” He advises using lower steam and compressed air pressure when possible, limiting exhaust to what is required, looking at water temperature and using ambient when possible and establishing building heating and cooling design temperatures based on product requirements-not personal comfort.

Designed to save energy, Upstate Farms’ West Seneca, NY, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant makes cultured dairy products. The plant, which uses high-efficiency motors and pumps, can handle in excess of 100 million pounds per year. Source: Excel Engineering.

Keeping it clean

There is no question that the pressure is on to reduce effluents and pollution. As McNabb says, “No one wants to be a poster child for a ‘this is not the proper way to regulate your waste.’ These potentially negative events are front-page news.” Therefore, processors need to check what capacity exists for municipal waste treatment and how they will handle their own waste treatment. Processors also need to negotiate long-term deals with municipal waste authorities.

Sander points out, however, many local municipalities are stretching their already overburdened infrastructure to keep up with residential and commercial development. Therefore, processors will pay more for the disposal of waste and will have to reduce biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and solids in their wastewater discharge. With these pressures, flotation separation has seen increased favor for a variety of reasons, including improved BOD and solids removal, compact size, reuse of oils and proteins in the float material and more. In addition, several factors have increased the attractiveness of anaerobic treatment technologies. These use a fraction of the power that aerobic treatments use, offer higher efficiency than ever before and produce bio-gas (60-70% methane) that can be used as fuel for boilers or cogeneration.

Smithfield’s pork processing plant in Kinston, NC, uses new technology to reduce human contact with food and decrease dramatically the amount of water used. Source: Middough.

Hello walls, ceilings

With all due respect to country & western singer Faron Young, walls, ceilings and floors are finally getting the attention they deserve. According to Russ Cudmore, director of engineering at BE&K Building Group Inc., “Owners of most new projects and major renovations are extremely concerned with floors, walls and ceilings and are looking for economical, but durable solutions to an age-old problem-can the facilities stand up to physical abuse of process and sanitation?” Cudmore says 75 to 80% of his customers’ projects are looking at stainless steel (SS), acid brick and chemically-treated coatings.

Tony Lamell, vice president of architecture at Stellar, reports SS finishes are becoming more common in high sanitation areas where cooked food products are exposed and where condensation and temperature control is critical. Monolithic flooring is being used in process areas where hot water wash-down and wheel/cart traffic occurs, and where emulsifying and mixing/blending/combining of ingredients are necessary.  Dairy brick is appropriate for wet process areas, but concern for grout dimension and maintenance is obvious. Glazed tile is also very prevalent in process rooms, but like brick, grouting is problematic. Solutions include minimizing grout thickness and using epoxy grouts that are impervious to moisture and staining.

Robert Graham, vice president, food and beverage at The Austin Company, says his clients try to reduce and isolate wet areas, avoiding the requirement of specialty finishes. Where in the past Graham had seen as much as 50% coverage with these materials, several applications today use less than 25% of these products.

According to McCormies, for a microbiologically sensitive product in a wet wash environment, the default standard has become insulated wall panels with a SS metal skin for walls and ceilings. There isn’t, however, a one-size-fits-all solution. Smith, believing it’s an industry best practice, tries to steer his clients toward walk-on ceilings, all SS platforms/doors/jambs/trim and equipment structures. He says very few processors feel they can afford constructing their plants this way, especially when they’re not sure that their products will catch on. Knowing this, these processors often opt for urethane-modified epoxy floors and insulated metal panel walls to keep up-front costs down. This may be a false economy, because Smith sees many facilities using cheaper materials in need of remodeling after seven to ten years. In addition, these materials may be hard to clean and promote bacteria growth that could infect a product.

The complete listing of the 2006 plant projects begins on page 56.

Click here to view this year's Construction Survey Chart.

The following companies assisted Food Engineering in compiling this survey:

The Austin Company • Robert Graham

BE&K Building Group • Russ Cudmore

Big-D Construction • Forrest McNabb, Sr.

Burns & McDonnell • Mark Swanson

Case, Lowe & Hart • Kevin Lewis

The Dennis Group • Alyssa Boudreau

E.A. Bonelli + Associates, Inc. • Curtis Manns

Epstein  • Darrin McCormies

Excel Engineering • Jim Krizenesky
920-926-9800, ext. 223

The Facility Group • Rebecca Elliot

Faithful & Gould • Jonathan Marshall

Food Tech Structures • Mike Golden

Gleeson Constructors • Ronald Rens

Haskell • Darryl Wernimont