Mezzanine Platforms, VRCs Help Create New Space for the Food and Beverage Industry
By Dave Milner
VP – Sales & Marketing, Wildeck, Inc.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics 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. Mezzanine platforms and vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) offer a newfound wealth of space without the need to expand their building’s footprint.
Many food and beverage companies have already taken a more creative approach to finding new space. The first step is to identify a need…then look up.
Look up to find your space
The food and beverage industry, like most other industrial market segments, is undergoing a transformation to become leaner and operate at a higher level of efficiency. This review is not only limited to the manufacturing floor, but 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 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 bar codes. 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.
The right choice for Baker Distributing
Baker Distributing learned firsthand of all the benefits a mezzanine platform can bring.
The Vermont-based distributor of alcoholic and non-alcoholic products was running out of space in trying to properly service more than 1,200 retailers throughout the state. The ongoing trend within the beverage industry of expanding product lines, resulting in more SKUs, only compounded the issue of needing more space. Furthermore, the facility had a limited footprint to work with, so the logical and cost-advantageous solution was to utilize the open overhead space – an ideal solution for an industrial steel mezzanine platform.
Working with a local material handling service dealer, Baker selected two Wildeck mezzanine platforms, along with vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs), safety gates and guard rail. One platform is long and narrow, 14 x 127 feet, and was built to fit alongside the building wall; the second platform measures 97 x 80 feet, and is located in the pallet staging area in the back corner. The top of the narrow platform is used to house point-of-sale goods and displays. Baker relocated the small order picking operation on the second platform, freeing up valuable ground level space for other functions.
“Our industry is continually increasing with SKUs and line extensions. You need more space for all those SKUs, so these platforms allow us to better accommodate the trends in our industry,” said Gerry Couture, general manager, Baker Distributing. “The mezzanine platforms gave us a lot more space to pick the line, which is huge for us.”
Mezzanines are flexible and can be engineered to work in a cooler or freezer, and are adaptable to conform to a company’s strict guidelines and specifications for equipment.
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, that’s 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 completely 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.
“Having a VRC works great for us because we needed an apparatus to bring wine product down from the second level without disturbing the built pallet. Coming down on a forklift wasn’t the answer, otherwise we’d lose product,” Couture said. “The thing I love about the VRCs is that we’re building pallets for customers, and the pallets can be very unstable due to their different shapes and sizes. The VRCs allow us to bring the pallets down to the first level without any breakage. VRCs made the best sense for us.”
From a financial standpoint, the total cost of VRC ownership can be up to three times less than an elevator and can be installed in a fraction of the time. Together, mezzanine platforms and VRCs are the gateway to opening up new space in food and beverage companies – all while reducing long-term costs.
Communication is a key starting point
There’s no question that purchasing a mezzanine platform and VRC, 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. This will make that process a much quicker and smoother experience for everyone involved – and deliver an integrated mezzanine/VRC system that’s ready for action the first day it’s installed.
To get started, you, the mezzanine supplier and/or local service dealer need to share basic information with each other, including:
- What is the purpose of the mezzanine?
- How will the mezzanine support other company functions to increase efficiency?
- Will it require a VRC?
- 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?
- 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?
The reason to have answers to the questions in the early stages is that each one influences the others; 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 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. Suppliers and material handling dealers are experts in mezzanine design and application, 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 everchanging 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. Mezzanine platforms and VRCs provide the industry with greatly improved efficiency. The best way to make this happen is to establish communication with the mezzanine supplier and/or local material handling dealer to discuss performance goals and share information early on in the design process. This will help streamline the project for a smooth installation.
Most people have space that they don’t even realize. Simply look up to find yours.
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