Mistakes to avoid when building your meat processing business: Design

This is the second in a series of posts about mistakes to avoid and tips to remember when designing your plant.  This entry focuses on a few DESIGN issues.

Rail Height

When you are thinking about your rails (aka track system) you should be thinking about the size of the animals you will be processing.  Are you processing mainly beef or lamb?  There is a slight size difference there.  A low rail and ceiling height will greatly reduce the cubic footage you will need to cool on a regular basis. But if you are planning on processing a significant amount of larger animals you may want taller rails that can hold whole sides of beef, which take up less floor space than if you need to store them as halves or quarters on a shorter rail.

Space 

Let’s focus on cooler and freezer space; some of the most important rooms in your building.  There is little in the way of equipment and layout involved, but your square footage here will dictate your capacity and therefore how much volume you can handle.  You may think you have plenty of room, but inevitably, five years down the road, you will kick yourself for not adding another 100 sq. feet to the holding cooler, or at least designing the building so that an extra freezer can be easily added on.  That one extra rail can mean the difference between breaking even for the year or making a healthy profit.  Same with the freezer - if you are holding product, or if you are doing any type of wholesale or distribution you will want to consider how much product you can hold in your freezer.  You can’t always rely on moving the product out the door on time to make more room.  Likewise, jamming too much into small spaces can bring the temperature up and mean slower cooling times for the carcasses and product, which could comprimise the quality of the meat.

Flow 

Space for movement, space for product, doors, hallways, offices, etc.  The flow of the building is essential for an efficient operation.  The fewer steps (literally) from one space to the next will keep things moving and help you get more done in the day.  However, you need to be sure that these spaces will be able to accommodate the equipment needed and products you are intending to process.  Be careful that you are not creating costly inefficiencies in operation as you look to save on construction. 

For instance, hallways, offices, and break-rooms are spaces that are often overlooked or thought of as places to cut back on square footage.  It may not seem like an issue now, but your employees need a place to keep their lunch in a fridge, heat their lunch up, and sit down to eat it.  If there is no break room, where will that be?  In your office?

Design equipment around your space or vice versa?  

Should you design your equipment around the space you have laid out, or should you design your space around the necessary equipment?  One place to start could be to find out what equipment can be custom built at an affordable price for your building and what equipment is not able to be customized.  This will help you determine where you can and can’t be flexible.  The best money we spent at Alleghany Meats was on a custom made stun pen.  The pen has a split gate that lifts so that we can access smaller animals and don't need a smaller pen or additional infrastructure to reach them.

Design Team

It is very important to know when to listen to the professional and when the professional’s best guess isn’t good enough.  On many teams who are building a new processing plant, or renovating an existing plant, the people doing the design work, construction, and project management have little experience with this type of project.  However, the basics of design and construction are still there and these people could have a great wealth of knowledge to share.  Just make sure that you know what their limitations are and when to call outside experts and seek advice.