Maximizing Production Space: Going Up to Go with the Flow

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I recently read an article on “the big trend” for food production facilities. The trend is what you might expect, facilities need to be built faster… and bigger.

Now, the first piece of that statement … (faster) is absolutely true in the industry. The faster a building is built = product sooner to consumers, providing a faster ROI. It’s Business 101 and no one can argue that point. Technology, design approaches, and construction methods are constantly improving to impact schedule and meet the clients’ goals. However, these are topics for another discussion.

I want to focus on the second part of the statement … (bigger). We’ve all heard over the years, from many clients, that floor space is at a premium in manufacturing facilities. Square footage is required whether it is office space, staff amenities, warehouse storage, production, or consolidation of existing facilities…and bigger is better.

When I first read that article, my mind went directly to mega-production/distribution facilities. Specifically, the ones requiring large amounts of square footage for production lines. These often have multiple adjacent process lines, laid out on the floor with raw product entering at one end and final product out the other.

I saw a building matching this description sitting on vast areas of land, including paved areas for all the truck traffic on site. That’s when I stopped to challenge my thinking, considering sites with sprawling buildings:

Sprawling buildings may not fit the overall operations of a production facility or the available site conditions. The reality is, most of the time,
clients are restricted on space.

Going up

Possible solution - A vertical process flow could provide a solution for operations, equipment selection, and process reliability on several of these projects. 

Here’s why:

First, let’s consider just a few of the simple design and maintenance items for a smaller footprint building, made possible with a vertical process flow.

When it comes to footprint, we know two things:

  1. The amount of requirements for storm water management continues to rise across the country.

  2. Smaller building footprint results in less disturbed acreage and potentially less material.

Knowing this, we can determine that a vertical process flow leads to lower upfront investment costs for storm water management systems. If a vertical process can be achieved in the building, there is also the potential for the site to be optimized - allowing for future growth and expansion. 

Let’s look at just the building itself. A multi-story building does have a potential higher initial construction cost. (Due to increased structural requirements and complexity). However, benefits to the process reliability, operations, and long-term maintenance needs to be considered. One example is roof leaks, one of a facility manager’s biggest headaches. A vertical process flows’ smaller footprint results in less roof area. Hence, limiting these problems.

Now let’s look at the internal. Consider the processes in the building and flow of materials. Sir Isaac Newton stated “what goes up must come down.” making gravity one of the most consistent ways to move materials. A vertical process during design phases may be a logical solution. That is, If you’re a manufacturer that requires moving materials to create your final product.

I can think of two projects implemented for clients where a vertical process model made sense for their facility and production:



Case studies

1. One client was looking to squeeze a new process line into an unused section of their warehouse. The building had height limitations and the client desired the smallest footprint possible as floor space was still a premium. Through early collaboration meetings with this client, they were able to identify their equipment needs for the project. We were then able to break down the process line into vertical sections. (This provided the smallest possible footprint). What resulted was a limited need for powered conveying equipment to move materials.

Here’s how it works: Raw granular product is delivered in dump totes by fork trucks to start the process. Gravity takes over from there to move the product. The product moves (aka. falls) through a hopper, storage bin, mixer and a chute to have a final product ready for packaging. 

At this point, a bucket elevator delivers the completed material to the top of elevated silos. A series of chutes, coming from the silos, then delivers the product to bagging equipment and gravity roller conveyors for palletization.

The simplicity of breaking the process into vertical sections allowed the client to achieve their results.

2. Another client was developing a brand new addition on the site, which had constraints to accommodate a horizontal process. A multi-level production tower was designed, incorporating a pneumatic conveyance system to deliver various raw products to silos at the top of the structure. 

Here’s how it works: Again, gravity takes over from there (thank you Isaac) to move the materials through a number of other pieces of equipment and valves. This project however, utilizes small, short sections of screw conveyors to assist moving product between a few pieces of equipment. 

These conveyors are installed on slight inclines. The reason for this method - when motors fail, the conveyor covers can be removed. This allows a product flow that can be assisted by manual labor; keeping the plant in production. At the base of the tower the final product is packaged and ready for shipment. 

Take-away

Design with the advantages of gravity in mind. This can assist in limiting the potential of plant operational shutdowns. Particularly, shutdowns due to maintenance issues with equipment. Ultimately this provides the manufacturer an opportunity to continually supply the market demands. 

As you’ve seen with these two examples, it’s important to approach your projects with an open mind. Sometimes bigger is not always better and a well thought out plan can use basic natural principals to achieve results.

Each project, site, product, and client has unique needs and values that are important for success. By listening to the needs and understanding the manufacturing process, professionals must be willing to consider alternate methods during the design process. Identify and take advantage of opportunities to optimize the manufacturing process. This will challenge your thinking, and helps you realize - the manufacturing process controls the design of a building, not just the creation of more space.

Looking to integrate a vertical process design into your facility? Contact me at datkins@nutecgroup.com or 717-434-1505 and we’ll find the solution that’s right for you.

Expedited Building Project Delivery: The Immovable End Date - Part 2

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Imagine you were a facilities director (if not one already). In Part 1, you faced the decision upper management made to consolidate engineering and manufacturing at a single site, and you were given 12 months to accomplish the task.

A year can be an eternity in many manufacturing companies (two product cycles for this one), but to achieve that schedule would be a more herculean task than senior management would anticipate, so you hired a facilities consultant to help make that deadline.

Notably, there were four things you found to be true about the site: (1) The manufacturing facility was the larger of the operations. (2) It had enough available space on site to construct the expansion for its engineering counterpart. (3) No land purchase was needed in the high demand industrial park in which it resided. (4) It would be easier to move engineering than manufacturing.

As a facilities consultant, when presented with this project opportunity and the proposed more-leisurely-than-usual schedule, I presented you with the following concerns:

  1. Municipal and State Approvals: Land development approvals could require 6-12 months for approvals before any earth was moved. The size of the undertaking would likely trigger a traffic study, which might require offsite improvements (road widening, turn lanes, traffic lights), expenses not included in the proforma for this project.

  2. Disruption:  At a minimum, the manufacturing facility would lose building access on the site of the addition. There would also be the disruption of the dust of construction and occasional utility stoppages as systems were switched. Also likely were the renovations needed to the existing building to create circulation with the addition, and to relocate functions along the common wall. The truck access road would need to be relocated to bypass around the addition. This lost productivity and downtime would be a cost added to the proforma.

  3. Employee Retention:  While the two facilities were within a 30-minute driving time, engineering employees who lived in the opposite direction would be adding 30 minutes to their commute. Many would decide to look elsewhere. Of course, the ones who would move on would be the ones with the skills most in demand and the ones hardest to replace. Cost to find and train replacements and lost productivity would be another expense.

These are the unintended consequences of what appeared to be the fastest way to accomplish this consolidation.

Although building a new plant elsewhere at a point between the two plants would have eliminated the latter two concerns, it may have amplified the first concern. Another site could have offered zoning, storm water management, utility, and unhappy neighbors that expanding at the current site avoided.

My suggestion of acquiring an existing facility was first met by you with derision. When I likened it to buying a late model used car, you began to nod. Retrofitting a generic facility to meet needs would be less costly, and quicker, than buying new. And given the desirability of the present sites, the proceeds from their sale might just have covered the purchase of the new facility and much of its renovations. Yes, there would be the downtime of the move, to be done in phases, but this would ultimately be less disruptive than manufacturing on an ongoing construction site. 

Intensive due diligence would be key. Within two weeks you found and began negotiating the acquisition of an acceptable and affordable facility about midway between the two plants.

The schedule was beginning to look more doable. As we planned the phased move, you determined the hardest and most critical function to move was the test facility. Aside from the sensitivity of the equipment to be moved, re-certifying the facility always seemed to require more time than anyone programmed. For testing, and a few other areas, you decided to buy all new equipment and have the vendor handle the installation and certification, as well as selling off your existing equipment once the move was completed. Having a state-of-the-art testing facility helped the manufacturing team more positively embrace the move.

Ultimately, we were able to further reduce the construction duration and meet your goal by focusing on the following construction strategies as part of our Rapid Project Deployment process:

  • Design-Build Project Delivery: PSU/CII study found it to be at least 33% faster than design-bid-build and 23% faster than CM @ Risk, with a 6% cost reduction and 10% increase in quality.

  • Collaboration via integrated project teams employing BIM 360 Technology.

  • Advance ordering of long lead items.

  • Modular construction and prefabrication of partitions and mechanical-electrical systems.

  • Just-In-Time delivery on construction site.

Most of these approaches required greater costs for materials that were more than offset by reduced labor and reduced general conditions (overhead) by reducing the overall construction time.

If you have any questions about our rapid project deployment process, contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com

Expedited Building Project Delivery: The Immovable End Date - Part 1

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Every owner of a building project is in a hurry; not one has directed me to take as much time as I need. Yet I was unprepared for the schedule that I was presented at the kickoff meeting for Project Thrush. Our regular client had agreed to pair our design acumen with the landlord’s preferred general contractor, coincidentally another client of ours. This arrangement was accepted by all in part to minimize any learning curve between the parties.

After quick introductions and a few reminiscences of recent projects together, the contractor rolled out his Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule for how occupancy could be achieved for a requested move-in over Fourth of July week. Once I confirmed that end date, my eyes shot up to the bars representing the end of the design period. The renovation construction had to begin six weeks from today.

Of course, that didn’t mean we had six weeks to complete the drawings. Review and approvals by the building code officials would need to occur, requiring up to 30 working days (6 weeks) per Pennsylvania law. That was the same as the design period length. Construction could not begin until the building permit was in hand;  move-in could not begin until a certificate of occupancy was issued.

I began to layout my proposed approach to the problem to my project team members:

First, there were three (3) sequential steps to a project like this: design, approvals, and construction. We had to both shorten the execution time of each of these and then manage to overlap their durations.

Second, the time needed for code approvals was identified as being the hardest to control but also the greatest opportunity. For years both this client and I diligently stewarded our relationship with the local code official, as diligently as the client maintained regular contact with the local police and fire fighters. With enough advanced notice, I predicted we could schedule time in the code official’s calendar to have the review complete in two weeks or less. The other alternative was to have the code official allow us to line up a third-party reviewer who  could reserve time for a quick turnaround

Next, how to complete the design in four (4) weeks or less was examined. Here, an “end focused” approach was taken. All we needed was for, what could be, reasonably-complete drawings (which would conform to building code) to be sealed. Certainly, these drawings could be revised and resubmitted to update the permit as we refined our approach to meeting the building requirements. If we forewarned the code official of our intent to update the permit monthly, she would likely be more agreeable than if we appeared to be doing a bait-and-switch with the permit drawings. There were risks to this approach: at some point she might reject the proposed design changes, halting construction until we revised the drawings; or an onslaught of building permit applications may require all 6 weeks to receive the updated permit.

Fourth, we agreed to design with materials that the contractor could receive most readily. The contractor had masons available, so the partitions would all be concrete block. 12” deep bar joists were also available on quick ship, so our structural engineer would designate spacing of bearing walls to use those lengths.

Lastly, we would finalize portions of the design as the contractor needed direction. For example, we would need to have the restrooms designed early so the contractor could begin to cut the concrete slab for pipe trenches just as soon as the building permit was received. We would need final locations for the bearing walls next in order to cut in foundations for these.


The project executed pretty close to plan. At 8:00 meetings each morning of the design period, we quickly exchanged questions and answers. The code official was pleased to support our effort and would be swinging by the site weekly  to ensure the construction did not get ahead of the approved updated permit drawings. We delivered sealed drawings to her in 4 weeks, and a permit to start was issued within a week after. For the first two months of construction, addenda were issued weekly and permit updates nearly that often. Very little construction needed to be reworked. Construction was completed on time for the July Fourth move and the company-sponsored cookout.

As the move ended and we switched to adult beverages, we started reminiscing about the job. We identified the following components that made this project so successful:

  1. The designer and contractor worked together on many projects beforehand, so there was little learning curve.

  2. The code official was apprised of the plan early on. Having been in regular contact before this project with the project owner, designer, and contractor, she was comfortable that everything would be done by code and by permit, and she would hear about any slips before she noticed them in her weekly site reviews.

  3. The owner, designer, and contractor picked materials to use based on functionality, availability, and budget. Compromises were made.

  4. The focus was on finalizing design features to the schedule required by the contractor, rather than the usual luxury of completing the entire design and permitting before construction started. More compromises were required here too. The final layout may not have been optimum, but the schedule and budget were met, and any reduced functionality was unlikely to affect our client’s overall profitability.


Want to know more about rapid project deployment? Contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com.

If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, check out Part 2

With the New Building Code, It's All About Timing


Ever since signing a contract with a client last summer to construct a new final assembly plant, the design process has proceeded through a series of holds and restarts. The planning and documentation process that should have required four to six months is approaching its ninth month.

This is our third facility with this client since our initial contract almost 10 years ago, and the start/stop pattern is now a familiar one. Our fees are set to cover a protracted schedule, and our client well understands the costs of their own indecision. The client was somewhat surprised that I requested an urgent meeting just after the first of this year to address the design completion schedule.

“New building code in Pennsylvania”…..

…..”March 31, 2019”


My explanation for needing to increase the sense of urgency was due to the imminent enforcement of a new building code in Pennsylvania. When the project began, I cautioned the client that; if we were unable to complete and submit the permit application documents by March 31, 2019, we would be required to redesign the building to the new code. This would in turn increase the building cost due to two changes: 

  1. The increased costs of building systems

  2. The increase in our fees to incorporate the new code requirements.


This redesign would also further extend the project schedule. Responding to the client’s request for more background on these concerns, I offered the following:

For decades, the building code was updated every three years. Typically, these updates included greater safety measures, tougher energy conservation requirements, and defined allowable uses for new products and systems that were being widely adopted. Occasionally, the new code edition would roll back some building requirements to address unintended consequences. The results of these code updates ideally resulted in buildings that were safer, more sustainable, and easier to review for code compliance, but most certainly these buildings were more expensive to build.


For many states outside of Pennsylvania, the new 2018 building code was an update of the 2015 building code, and typically went into effect sometime in 2018. In the case of Maryland however, they hope to start considering the 2018 Edition in January 2019.

What’s different about Pennsylvania?

A consortium of legislators and lobbyists had successfully managed to keep Pennsylvania from updating its 2009 building code for nine years, and the approved update (except in Philadelphia) is only to the 2015 building code. Those involved with the building industry will now experience a building code-induced construction cost jump for the first time in almost a decade.

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As with addressing many business issues, timing is critical to effectively manage this cost increase. For projects which the architect, engineer and/or contractor were under contract prior to October 1, 2018 (like the one we are currently designing for this client), the design can use either the 2009 or 2015 code as long as the permit application is submitted by March 31, 2019. All other permit applications on projects that were not under contract by October 1, and are submitted after October 1, 2018, must conform to the 2015 building code (2018 in Philadelphia). I explained to the client that the building code represents minimum requirements.

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For some building owners, there is a social responsibility to construct buildings that are as safe and energy-efficient as economically feasible;  for those building owners, jumping to the new code as soon as possible may make good business sense. In some cases economic feasibility can be achieved with the 2009 code, but not with 2015 code, so the permit submission timing may affect a go/no go decision.

This timing issue should provide impetus to our fast-tracking permit drawings to assure submission prior to March 31. When my client remained skeptical that he could achieve internal approvals so quickly, I offered the tactic of submitting drawings by March 31 even though the design requirements have not yet been fully blessed, and then amend the permit drawings later while still using the 2009 code.

I await the response from our client’s management!

Questions about the new building code? Contact Josh Millman at 717.434.1570 or email him at jmillman@nutecgroup.com.