Adapting to change

Temperature control and energy savings are critical whenever materials handling has anything to do with food. It's also why decision-makers must constantly reconfigure warehouse, cooler and freezer space. But adapting space to better suit an operation's needs no longer requires a costly and time-consuming construction project involving permanent walls, or rigid panelized systems.

Eleven ways flexible fabric walls add value to your food operation

Temperature control and energy savings are critical whenever materials handling has anything to do with food. It's also why decision-makers must constantly reconfigure warehouse, cooler and freezer space. But adapting space to better suit an operation's needs no longer requires a costly and time-consuming construction project involving permanent walls, or rigid panelized systems. Instead, there's another option: flexible fabric curtain walls. Here are 11 ways to use these highly adaptable systems and realize significant value in the process:

1) Create temperature-controlled rooms: Flexible insulated fabric walls can be mounted to existing ceiling structures, or built with an affordable framework. As such, they provide a cost-effective and relatively fast way to create temperature-controlled rooms for separating raw ingredients and any number of end-products and storing them at proper environmental levels.

2) Subdivide freezer and cooler space: Install insulated fabric walls to isolate and keep products stored at the proper temperature in walk-in coolers and freezers. For example, one section of a freezer can be partitioned off to keep ice cream at -20o F and other frozen products at higher temperatures. In so doing, the walls contribute to quality assurance goals and extend product life. Additionally, the freezer doesn't have to work overtime to keep only one product at an ultra-low temperature, which results in significant energy savings. Some flexible fabric wall systems offer temperature separation up to 40°F. As an example, store items at 45°F on one side of the wall and frozen products at 5°F on the other side.

3) Make an entryway: Cold-storage facilities often struggle with frost buildup at door openings. Eliminate the problem by using insulated fabric walls to create entryways from one side of any door opening to the other. The vestibule allows for gradual temperature changes versus drastic fluctuations in temperatures that create frost.

4) Contain odors: Quickly install flexible fabric walls to prevent unwanted odors from one ingredient or finished product from penetrating the other, or both. The practice also adds to employee comfort since the walls keep harsh odors from reaching people working in production and/or storage areas.

5) Gain control over food dust: Effectively seal off processes that involve food dust, whether it's flours, cocoas, cereal ingredients, or the like. Flexible fabric curtain walls limit the potential for food dust to travel, which is beneficial for a host of reasons, including safety, quality assurance, and production machinery maintenance, to name a few.

6) Control the environment at the loading dock: Flexible fabric walls are ideal for improvements at the dock. Enclose a standard dock area to stop the rapid, uncomfortable influx of cold or hot air, as well as humidity, from entering the rest of the facility every time a dock door is opened. Doing so also helps keep unwanted vermin out, which makes for happy inspectors. Or, set apart an inside dock from the rest of the warehouse for energy savings and employee comfort. Another idea is to use heavy-duty flexible sliding curtain walls to turn an open-air loading dock into an interior dock to achieve the same advantages.

7) Isolate wash downs: There's no need to halt production in one area due to a wash-down on another production line, or process area. Instead, use movable, sliding fabric curtain walls to easily isolate the production line/area for cleaning and wash down while other areas remain fully operational. Flexible fabric curtains can be constructed to USDA requirements and/or withstand detergent or chemical wash downs.

8) Free up valuable space: Flexible fabric walls take up considerably less floor space than permanent walls or insulated metal panel (IPM) systems. Here's how it works: It's not uncommon for a permanent wall or IPM system to be as wide as 24 inches because of the need for a concrete curb on both sides of the structure to protect against forklift impacts. Flexible fabric walls, however, are able to withstand most forklift impacts without the kind of catastrophic damage that occurs with permanent structures. A much smaller footprint equates to more usable floor space, increased rack slots, and a smaller building envelope - all of which contribute to the bottom line.

9) Better manage seasonal products: The food industry is heavily influenced by seasons, whether it's availability of raw ingredients or end-products produced only on occasion. That's where flexible fabric walls come in. They can be quickly removed and stored, or moved and reconfigured, as needed. That means it's easy to alter an existing space in virtually any way for a short period and change it back again to match seasonal fluctuations.

10) Blanket door openings: Sometimes, door openings remain open when they shouldn't. Examples include power outages and door maintenance. It's a major problem for temperature- and humidity-sensitive operations. The direct and indirect costs are often astronomical in the food industry. The problem is easily solved with flexible fabric walls, which can quickly cover an opening to maintain critical environmental controls.

11) Keep trade secrets: And yes, flexible fabric walls can keep proprietary products or processes under wraps. It's often better to reveal them to inquisitive employees and visitors when the time is right.

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