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A sustainability roadmap is key in food manufacturing facility scale-up projects

April 02, 2024

By David Ziskind

The evolution of manufacturing food demands sustainable, efficient facilities. Engineering partners can help pave the way for future food technology.

Food is changing. How we grow, process, and manufacture it needs to change too. The future food technology is improving, and we are focusing more on the sustainability roadmap in our food production. This means that there are opportunities—and market pressure—to make facilities more efficient and sustainable. However, building the future of manufacturing food is easier said than done.

It is easy to picture the finish line of a food facility. We do this by using a sustainability roadmap with modern technology and efficient design to make enough food for everyone. The high-level steps can seem easy, too, from cost and planning to construction and operations. However, the details can be a challenge without collaboration with your design partner. We often face limited budgets and unpredictable construction risks. Our solution? A commitment to strong initial planning using the front-end loading (FEL) method to help protect your project and your wallet.

Leafy green produce grows under lamps in a food manufacturing facility. Future food technology is rapidly changing. 

When building or renovating a facility, a lot can go wrong. Thorough planning at the first stage of development is key to avoiding surprises and keeping costs down. A well-laid sustainability roadmap needs to think about technology, where it will be, who will work there, when each step will happen, and how much it will all cost. A properly established plan considers future food technology, location, labor, transportation, phases, and expenses.

What a sustainability roadmap offers you  

I’ve learned the phrase, “better safe than sorry” can save a lot of trouble, maybe nowhere more than in facility construction. However, with limited time and budget, and the practical realities of a project, why bother planning so much? Well, it is more than just insurance against unpredictability. In a report by Rockwell Automation, they noted that a sustainability roadmap can save up to 30 percent while taking only 2 to 3 percent of a project’s total cost. And that doesn’t even look at time saved later down the line.  

Another reason to plan well and use a sustainability roadmap is to make sure the project succeeds in the long run. The top priority for a facility is do its job to a high standard and as far into the future as possible (futureproofing), even as future food technology evolves. Spending time planning upfront increases the chance of success. This is true even after the facility is in day-to-day operations.

A look at low and high influences for small to large expenditures on building projects. A sustainability roadmap focused on the front-end loading method can help protect projects and reduce costs.

Front-end loading applied to your facility project

The front-end loading process mentioned earlier is an important early stage of facility planning. While timelines can vary, our team establishes things like modeling, layout planning, deciding on equipment and materials, and setting schedules. We establish project delivery methods and contract structures. And we look at check-ins regularly throughout the process. So, what does FEL look like?

  • FEL-1 is also called the feasibility stage. Over two to four months, this stage builds out the early schedule and cost estimate, though it will be refined later. At this stage of the process, cost estimates can be broad but accurate enough to determine the practicality of advancing to the next stage.
  • FEL-2 advances and refines the foundation set by FEL-1, entering the conceptual stage. Over three to six months, the scope and basis of the design begins to form. You may see 3D models and sustainability assessments, as well as risk mitigation plans and a constructability review. You can expect cost estimates to become narrower.
  • FEL-3 is the final phase, focused on front-end engineering design, which takes place over six months to a year. Although you will not end this stage with construction-ready drawings, you can expect a clear scope, schedule, and cost for your project.

The reality of risk when manufacturing food

For each facility, “risk” presents itself in several areas: technological, financial, schedule, and more. While proper design and construction practices can lower the chance of these problems, ignoring them can lead to big trouble if they happen. The question is how do we prepare for risks to avoid project delays or going over budget? 

Optimal design planning means looking at a wide range of risks and allocating resources to mitigate them.

Risk mitigation comes down to identifying, analyzing, prioritizing, treating, and monitoring hazards. Identifying and analyzing potential risks can prevent delays and improve response time on the job. Knowing the probability and severity of risks before they come up can help us create a proper plan of action. In a best-case scenario, it also increases efficiency, even if the risk doesn’t come up, by improving the construction process.

Optimal design planning means looking at a wide range of risks and allocating resources to mitigate them. At the same time, we must keep an eye on and prioritize the budget and try to increase efficiency.

How to plan for future food technology

With all the benefits of early planning, why doesn’t everyone do it? The truth is that even with all the knowledge in hand, it is hard to plan perfectly. An evaluation of 975 light and heavy industrial projects by the Construction Industry Institute found that only 5.4 percent met “best in class” predictability in terms of cost and schedule.

Why is planning such a challenge? Every project is different. Yes, past projects and experiences can help when thinking about challenges and opportunities. But it’s vital to identify your goals early with your design partner so that the final product matches your needs. When projects create new processes, as is often the case in the rapidly developing food manufacturing space, collaborating throughout the project’s entire span and sustainability roadmap is key. 

When looking at food-production facilities, optimal design planning means looking at a wide range of risks and allocating resources to mitigate them.

Prepping the future of food

We are looking to save time, save money, and create an excellent final product, but things can always go awry. A strong plan is not just about avoiding problems, it is about creating flexibility and confidence when dealing with obstacles. The earlier you are in a project, the more influence you have to save costs. A solid foundation allows helps us manage unexpected challenges more easily once we start procurement and construction.

When undertaking a facility construction or expansion, the final product of a facility that is manufacturing food at full capacity can seem distant and overwhelming. There is a tremendous amount of care and expertise, across a long list of steps, from a broad list of contributors. Sometimes, this pressure makes us want to skip steps to give as much time as possible to face the challenge. However, I encourage you to resist that urge. The process can be long, and complicated, with unexpected obstacles, but proper planning, a sustainability roadmap in place, with the right partner by your side, can pave the road before you begin driving.

  • David Ziskind

    David brings engineering, project management, and strategic leadership with cross-functional teams to food innovation capital projects—working with precision fermentation, cultivated meat, other food tech, and alternative protein solutions.

    Contact David
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