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.