How to Design Efficient Product Flow into a New Food Plant

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How to Design Efficient Product Flow into a New Food Plant

Product flow inefficiencies can create a detrimental domino effect within your food and beverage business. When your processing “chain” has breaks and delays, it can cost money, waste time, jeopardize food quality and introduce safety hazards on the production floor.

In last week’s post, we discussed how to detect product flow problems in an existing facility and how to improve them. Now, we’ll focus on how to ensure a new facility is set up for success from receiving to shipping and everything in between.

The ultimate key to success is designing a plant that is linear so that product moves seamlessly downstream through each of the below steps without interruption.

Let’s take a look at those individual steps and how to optimize each for efficient product flow.

Receiving

Of course, the receiving area should be located on the perimeter of the building to allow easy access for delivery trucks. Every site is different, but consider factors such as the turning radius of trucks and available access roads. Having a road that loops around the site will ease traffic and get trucks to the receiving area quickly and easily.

It’s ideal to receive raw product and store it automatically — straight from the truck onto a conveyor and into storage — to limit handling. (If you can feed raw product straight from receiving to production, that’s even better.)

Raw storage

If your product isn’t going directly into production from receiving, it will move into a raw storage area. This area should be located as close to receiving as possible and so that product delivery to production can be automated. The goal is to limit (or eliminate) interaction between employees and the product during the transfer process.

Production

The production space is the heart of your plant. Raw storage should feed directly into this area and the production area should flow seamlessly into your packaging area. There should also be direct, convenient access from operations and maintenance departments to the production area.

Also, keep in mind that the flow of your plant doesn’t have to be literally linear (as in a geographic straight line). For example, you could have raw storage to the north, have product travel south into production and then move west to get to packaging. The point is to not have product pass through another area to get to its next step.

Packaging and palletizing

These two processes should take place in one area. You don’t want to package your product and then have to manually palletize it somewhere else in the plant.

Ideally, this process should be automated: Product should come off the packaging line and go into a box. Then those boxes should be automatically loaded onto a pallet and shrink wrapped together.

Regardless of how automated your process is, however, it’s critical that there be no exposure of the product when it travels from production to packaging. This is the step of the process where product is the most sensitive to contamination.

Finished product storage

In a perfect world, you would design a plant without finished product storage. You should have enough automation and data to produce on an efficient schedule that sends product straight out the door. Good product flow minimizes dependence on finished product storage.

However, if you must have finished product storage, it should be minimal and as close to the shipping area as possible. Finished product storage should also be directly adjacent to the palletizing area so you can grab pallets and put them directly into storage. If possible, it’s even more ideal to have designated rows in front of your shipping area where you can line up product as it gets shipped out.

Shipping

An efficient shipping area looks similar to an efficient receiving area. It should be easily accessible for trucks and there should be a direct link between the shipping area and administrative offices.

Indirect factors: Maintenance, utilities and admin areas

These areas aren’t technically part of your product flow, but they have a major impact on it. When designing a new facility, it’s important to consider where your maintenance and utilities areas will be located — don’t save them for last.

A centrally located maintenance area

Your maintenance department should be centrally located to allow maintenance staff easy, sanitary access to both floor plant operations as well as utilities. You want them to be able to get on the floor and fix any problems as quickly as possible.

I’ve seen some maintenance departments located in the corner of a building, which can create a number of problems. If a technician has to pass through a raw area to get to an issue in the ready-to-eat portion of the plant, they will get slowed down by sanitizing and putting on/removing personal protective equipment (PPE). Plus, frequently traveling through these areas can increase the risk of cross-contamination and threaten food safety.

Consider locating your maintenance department between the raw and ready-to-eat sides of your facility to allow for quick, safe and efficient access to the entire plant.

Externally located utilities

I recommend locating a plant’s utilities on the outside of the building so that you can easily grow in the future. If you expand your production, you’ll need more infrastructure. Having an external utility area will make it easier to feed electricity and water to new buildings or additions to the plant. Some facilities have a separate building to house utilities altogether.

Also, utilities should be accessible without having to travel through the processing area. There is no need for any interaction or connection between people in the utilities area and the plant floor. This is another reason why locating your utilities outside is ideal.

Segregated, accessible administrative offices

Administrative offices should be located front and center, with a single entry point. When there’s a shift change at your facility, you want the transition to be as seamless as possible both to limit costly downtime and to preserve food safety.

Consider the flow between production and admin areas: It’s ideal to ensure that personnel that are coming off shift don’t cross paths with personnel that are sanitized and entering the production floor. You can also design clean bridges and walkways above the plant floor to segregate traffic.

Product flow can make or break a food plant. Have questions about how to achieve efficient product flow in your existing or new facility? Comment below or email me at jpetoskey@stellar.net

 

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