Four Steps to Smooth Sailing on Food Facility Construction

Plan for the unexpected.

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Amid ongoing labor and supply chain issues, food companies continue to see increased sales and the need for new or remodeled facilities. That’s positive news for food manufacturing construction with capital projects up 51% in Q1 of 2023 compared to the last three years.    

As food manufacturers aim to meet consumer demand, they know that the faster a building can be built or remodeled – the sooner it can bring a return on investment. That’s why they depend on contractors to complete food facility projects on time and on budget.  

Here are four steps to help ensure smooth sailing on your next food facility project.

Plan for the Unexpected

Benjamin Franklin’s adage “time is money” has never been truer than when a delay hits a construction site. Whether the issue is equipment lead times, weather, or labor shortages, the consequences can be a heavy cost to a food manufacturer’s bottom line. For a $50 million construction project experiencing an average delay of 30%, the estimated budget overrun is nearly $15 million. 

Contractors should be brought in early to ensure everything goes to plan once a project is underway. Pre-construction planning ensures that the owners and contractors prepare for all possible contingencies. Use a pull planning approach to schedule and track milestones but be prepared for adjustments as the project unfolds. For example, Riley Construction uses the InSTEP planning system that identifies ordering timelines and manages deadlines.

Managers should order major project materials and equipment immediately and make sure everything aligns with the overall budget. If you want to be in your facility on time, managing lead times and requirements for the following is essential: dock equipment, roofing systems, flooring finishes, storage racks, fire sprinkler, electrical distribution equipment, refrigeration/freezer system, temperature, and lighting. 

It is also key to put in place a knowledgeable team to design and execute. You need to have the right skilled labor to manage different aspects of the project from mechanical to piping to refrigeration system installation. In any speed-to-market scenario, it becomes a collaborative effort where these processes must be coordinated on the fly.

Understand Your Building

When determining your construction game plan, you will face different challenges based on whether you are remodeling an existing structure vs. constructing a new building. In an existing building addition or renovation, there are many moving parts to manage. Sticking to production schedules without disruption and working around existing utilities is crucial. Keeping people and processes safe requires managing timed shutdowns and temporary barriers that separate construction from food production.

Building a new facility may provide more functionality without as many limitations. You can also design a space that perfectly fits your needs from layout and location to energy efficiency and parking. A new facility allows flexibility in the design of the structure. That design will support the facility operations from refrigeration system components to efficient workflow through the space. In the design phase, maximize cost-efficiency by considering your future potential growth needs early. 

Whether building or remodeling, conduct a thorough validation process that confirms temperature and humidity set points are met.

Manage Risk 

The last thing that food manufacturers need to add to their worry list when building a new facility is the risk of injury or food contamination. Construction in the food industry, especially in an operational facility, is complicated and requires training beyond OSHA 30.

Specific food safety training and PPE requirements need to be top of mind. Architects and contractors will work closely with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) to ensure that requirements for the safe construction are achieved from the design phase through final inspections.

Compliance must be achieved in various aspects of the project including:

  • Selection of building components such as flooring, floor drains, equipment, and mechanical systems. 
  • Temporary barriers and sealing to separate current operations from construction areas.
  • Dust mitigation/ventilation including measuring and managing particle counts.
  • Sanitization of personnel, equipment and tools.

Adapt Clear Communications

When deadlines are tight, the potential for miscommunication increases which can lead to project delays, errors, and even injuries. Instead, develop a collaborative approach from the early planning stages through project completion. Make sure you are part of weekly meetings with the team to understand what needs to be updated and the constraints to address them. 

Having early and transparent conversations about budget expectations is also crucial so that issues don’t arise later. This is another way for food manufacturers to grow trust and relationships with their construction partners.

Working with an experienced team to ensure that food processing construction projects are well-planned and safely executed will lead to projects that are completed on time and on budget.

Garrick Palay is a project manager and Erik Dillon is a vice president at Riley Construction.

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