The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C., estimates there are more than 21,000 food and beverage manufacturing companies in the United States, generating a combined revenue of about $760 billion. But, those thousands of companies likely have at least one thing in common—the need for more space.
Nearly all facets of food and beverage supply chain require storage space – and a lot of it. The trick is where to find it. In most cases, these companies have ample space right underneath their roof. That’s because mezzanine platforms and vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) offer a newfound wealth of space without the need to expand their building’s footprint.
Look up to find your space
The food and beverage industry is undergoing a transformation to becoming leaner and operate at a higher level of efficiency. This review is not only limited to the manufacturing floor, but also to all aspects of production, including storage space.
Often the initial response in trying to find more space is to shuffle things around or relocate products and materials to other areas of a facility. This accomplishes very little, as it likely results in poor organization and product flow that is anything but efficient. The answer, however, is to find new space that works toward improving production efficiency, as well as providing order and reason to your storage needs.
Mezzanine platforms are a great solution toward providing that new space by fully utilizing the existing overhead area. When compared to the time and cost of expanding an existing facility to gain new space, adding a platform is more advantageous for a number of reasons. First, a mezzanine platform can be custom designed and installed in a matter of weeks at a fraction of the cost of new construction. Second, platforms meet stringent industry standards for local, state and national building codes. Third, platforms are custom built to a customer’s exact specifications for optimal performance and functionality.
Some major food distribution centers specify their equipment to be installed without concrete footings, and mezzanines can be engineered, so that the amount of weight on each baseplate is low enough to avoid pouring footings.
Another example of the adaptability of mezzanines is the integration of conveyor systems. Mezzanines and conveyors work well together and are an ideal strategy for helping companies increase efficiency. If the mezzanine and conveyor are involved in sorting and scanning packages, the mezzanine can be built to different tolerances to minimize any sort of deflection that may affect scanners reading barcodes. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mezzanine design, as they can be engineered to accommodate a variety of specifications and applications.
Need a lift?
Items such as ingredients, raw materials, finished product, packaging materials or anything else that needs to be stored up on a mezzanine can be easily moved using a VRC.
VRCs act much like an elevator, as product and materials are loaded onto an enclosed platform, secured, then transported from ground level up to the mezzanine. However, people are not allowed to ride on a VRC. They are safer than using manpower or a forklift to move product because anytime a moving vehicle is involved, the chance of an accident is present. You could have a very safety conscious person driving the forklift, but there’s still a chance of the vehicle striking something or someone. With a VRC, the forklift is removed from the equation, eliminating the chance of a vehicle accident.
VRCs comply with ANSI/ASME B20.1 safety standards for conveyors. They can lift several thousand pounds of materials in an enclosed platform, greatly enhance warehouse safety and productivity and come with safeguards to prevent jams, product spillage or equipment malfunction. They also make operation virtually fool-proof with their intuitive controls.
From a financial standpoint, the total cost of VRC ownership is said to be three times or more less than an elevator and can be installed in a fraction of the time.
If you’re looking for added efficiency in your operation, another solution are rideable material lifts (RMLs), which allows people to safely ride along with their material between levels. RMLs offer the convenience of an elevator, and permits an authorized person to ride with their cargo to a second level, thus avoiding having to climb stairs or rely on a co-worker to off-load material when it reaches its destination.
RMLs are designed and manufactured to meet the Type B Material Lift section of ANSI/ASME A17.1 Safety Standard for Elevators.
Communication is a key starting point
There’s no question that purchasing a mezzanine platform and lift and integrating it with other equipment as part of a larger expansion project is a major purchase that can take months to accurately specify, quote, build and deliver. The process can become easier by improving communication early in the design stages between yourself, the mezzanine supplier and/or your local material handling dealer or integrator.
To get started, you, the equipment supplier and/or local service dealer need to share basic information with each other, including:
- Describe your application. How do you do things today (current state) and how do you want to do it differently (future state)?
- What is the purpose of the mezzanine or lift?
- How will the mezzanine support other company functions to increase efficiency or improve safety?
- Will it require a VRC or RML?
- When does the project need to be completed?
- How long will the installation take?
- What kind of disruption, if any, will there be when installing the mezzanine or lift?
- Who will be doing the installation?
- Is there enough room for support columns?
- Will there be concrete footings?
- Are there any engineering standards specific to your company that need to be considered?
- What’s the projected load for the mezzanine to support?
- Will there be any supporting equipment, i.e. conveyor system, integrated with the mezzanine or lift?
Each question influences the others. That’s why if one of the answers to a question is unknown, it can change the scope of the project.
Knowing this information upfront helps the mezzanine/lift supplier and/or local dealer determine the scope of the project and recommend a mezzanine system that’s best suited to your needs, while also supporting your company’s production goals. These answers can also spur questions on employee access. As new equipment is installed, obstacles can form, hindering employee access between parts of a plant. Access ladders and bridges are a good way to provide safe passage for employees around obstacles. Suppliers and material handling dealers are experts in mezzanine design, application and employee access, and sharing information ensures all aspects of the integration move along in a smooth and efficient manner.
The winning combination
With thousands of new products being introduced annually, the demand for ingredients, packaging, equipment and infrastructure to support these ever-changing SKUs is challenging for the food and beverage industry. To remain ahead of the curve, your facility needs to be well organized and have the necessary available space.
Fortunately, most companies can expand their space without expanding their footprint. Together, mezzanine platforms, VRCs and RMLs are the gateway to opening up new space in food and beverage companies.