When specialty foods creator Stonewall Kitchen decided it was time to expand its processing operations, it took full advantage of the opportunity - creating a showcase facility from floor to ceiling. An award-winning producer of gourmet foods, Stonewall Kitchen is a company that prides itself on superior quality in everything it does. That means having a top-notch facility that is both aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, safe and sanitary. With this in mind, Stonewall Kitchen sought out the most seasoned team and highest quality materials they could find for its flooring application in its new headquarters in York, Maine.
A Food Industry Benchmark
"Stonewall Kitchen's new facility is exemplary within the food processing industry," says Sam Sacks, northeastern manager for Dur-A-Flex, Inc. of East Hartford, Connecticut, the company that was selected to provide the quartz flooring for the project. "They went far beyond what the USDA requires when they built this plant, and the result is that they are not just manufacturing product - they are presenting themselves and their brand in a way that says 'we stand for the very best'. The design and appearance of Stonewall's headquarters is now an important business asset. It's their identity."
Some of the features that set Stonewall Kitchen apart from other facilities is the floor's seamless cove base which transitions to stainless L-shaped steel floor-to-wall panels, stainless steel mandrills for utility cables and special designs for the floor drains. These features, and the overall design, were recognized and appreciated by the state health inspector who gave Stonewall Kitchen the first-ever-perfect score in the department's history. State officials have also asked Stonewall for permission to bring other regulators and food processors to the facility to see examples of best practices in food processing facility design and construction.
Stonewall Kitchen got its start when chefs and owners Jonathan King and Jim Stott, began selling hand-made preserves at the local farmer's market. Before long, they occupied a remodeled barn, and, a few years later, the company moved into a re-modeled A& P grocery with 9,000 square feet of space. Now in its 10th year of business, the company has five retail stores and thriving online and catalog businesses. "We thought about renovating, but it would have actually cost more than building new and wouldn't have adequately met our long term needs," Stott observed.
The company that helped Stonewall Kitchen arrive at this decision was The Dennis Group of Springfield, Massachusetts, which specializes in planning, engineering and construction management solutions exclusively for the food service industry. No stranger to major construction and renovation projects, The Dennis Group has completed jobs for companies like Dole, Tropicana, Kraft, Campbell Soup, Perrier, Nestle and Web Van.
The Dennis Group selected Dur-A-Flex, Inc., the leading domestic provider of epoxy, MMA and urethane resins and specialty quartz aggregates to provide flooring materials for the Stonewall project. Previously, the two companies had worked together on a bottling plant for Poland Spring Water in Maine as well as a 36,000-square-foot facility for Pillsbury. The clincher for the deal was when Stonewall Kitchen indicated that it wanted the same Dur-A-Flex quartz floor that The Dennis Group had specified for H.J. Heinz Co. in Ireland.
Quality Flooring Is a Foundation for Success
According to Dennis Group Project Manager Dan McCreary, the goal of the work at Stonewall's new plant was to optimize the way material and people move throughout the facility and to share the building with visitors without disrupting employees in the course of their work. "We'd say that flooring is one of the biggest concerns in a food processing plant," McCreary added. "It's important to have a floor that's durable, non-skid, sanitary and easy to maintain. During the course of a typical day, it will be wet down numerous times with cold water and sometimes subject to very hot temperatures that can cause thermal shocking. These floors also have to be monolithic (without joints) and impact resistant to withstand dropped objects and vibrating machinery. Concrete alone is not enough, because it cracks under stress."
Conflicting Objectives, Realistic Solutions
Occasionally, the performance objectives of a flooring system can seem at odds with one another. For example, while a highly aggressive grit surface can be conducive to safety, it can also be harder to keep clean and less sanitary because it can snag small pieces of mop or sponge material, and harbor germs. An overly gritty texture can also cause extra wear on forklift tires. Conversely, a floor that's too smooth, while very easy to clean, may be hazardous when wet.
A floor that is light or monochrome in color may make it easier to spot dirt and stains for cleaning, but it will also show signs of wear or aging more readily. In Stonewall's case, the ideal solution was an orange peel finish for moderate skid resistance and easy cleaning coupled with a light gray Q-28 multicolored quartz aggregate for the best combination of light reflection and overall appearance. The lighter color was important in order to create an attractive working environment, because there are no outside windows in Stonewall's process area.
Preparation Is Key
The flooring installation was completed by Dennis Gelinas of New England Epoxy Flooring in Rhode Island, a partner on both the Pillsbury and Poland Spring projects, and a specialist in decorative quartz flooring.
According to Dennis, the key to any successful flooring installation is careful preparation. First the concrete substrate was swept clean, shot blasted with tiny steel beads and then cleaned again. The flooring system itself consisted of a 30 mil. application of Dur-A-Flex Elast-O-Coat, a waterproof abrasion resistant, elastomeric coating with shock absorbing qualities, followed by two applications (nominal 1/8) of Dur-A-Quartz Kitchen Formula which features premium, multi-colored quartz aggregate fused with clear, very high solids, thermal shock resistant epoxy with Bio-Pruf® antimicrobial treatment. Finally, the floor was sealed with two topcoats of Dur-A-Glaze Kitchen Formula to achieve the desired orange peel finish. On properly prepared surfaces, Kitchen Formula withstands continuous thermal cycling between 32°F and 225F.
Details Make the Difference
Normally the floor drains are the weakest points in a flooring installation, so The Dennis Group specified a stronger design. New England Epoxy Flooring chipped out a keyway around each drain and filled it with a solid 1-inch bight of epoxy for extra strength and integrity and a flawless fit. This is precisely the kind of detail and extra effort that so impressed local health inspectors during their review. Combined with the overall strength of Dur-A-Flex resurfacers, which are five times stronger than concrete, this made for one tough floor.
A Lasting Investment
Day in and day out, Stonewall's Dur-A-Quartz floor is one of the company's hardest working assets. "Our floor gets heavy-duty use," Jim Stott, observed. "There's a lot of forklift and foot traffic, and our palette loads weigh 2,500 pounds each, so the abrasion and scratch resistance is a real plus. Everyday, we wash down the floor using a walk-behind Tennant machine and citrus-based cleaner. On our machinery, we use an Eco-Lab iodine-based foaming cleaner. The best part about working with high performance flooring materials is that our floor looks as nice today as it did a year ago."
Repairs on the Fly
One of the few problems Stonewall Kitchen encountered along the way was when the lock-down rods of one of its machines, the wheeled four-head piston filler, effectively punched holes in the floor due to continuous impact and vibration, sort of like a mini jack hammer. This machine wheels out of the way for easy cleaning, and when it operates, steel support rods rest directly on the floor. When New England Epoxy completed the repair, Dennis Gelinas simply saw-cut out the damaged section and installed the new material. The repair is undetectable and was accomplished within 20 hours of Stonewall's phone call. Now, the lock down rods sit in nylon footings, similar to what you put your furniture on to protect carpeting, whenever the machine operates.
A Full Menu of Flooring Choices
Today, there are more choices and industry-specific products for food processing than ever before. There's an ideal solution for every area in a plant: industrial kitchens, production areas, freezers and coolers, packaging lines, warehouse and storage areas. Sam Sacks of Dur-A-Flex suggests looking at all the variables - budget, potential downtime, temperature, traffic loads and degree of slip resistance required. For large storage areas with moderate traffic, a thin film system may be adequate. Other areas may have very high requirements for thermal shock and stain resistance. Another popular flooring choice for food processors is Methyl Methacrylate (MMA). This strong acrylic resin is temperature insensitive down to -20°F and cures in less than one hour. Whatever flooring system a processor chooses, there's no substitute for an experienced team of specialists that truly understands the business.
A Glimpse of the Future
Looking ahead Dan McCreary of The Dennis Group foresees several trends in food processing. First, increasing adoption of HAACP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) measures, a voluntary set of process analyses and improvements that promote safer food production. Dur-A-Flex floors with Kitchen Formula help create a safer and healthier work environment by reducing slips and falls and providing a surface that actively works to fight germs and bacteria.
Second, McCreary predicts a move to more flexible and modular designs in food processing facilities, coupled with long-term planning that will enable expansion within a company's own walls. Finally, one of the fastest growing trends is the production of food items that are "not quite ready to eat", for example stirfry products with seasonings and frozen vegetables as well as soup and cookie mixes. Based on Stonewall Kitchen's experience, some food processors may also choose to emphasize the quality and appearance of their processing operations and their floors. Stonewall Kitchen has realized material gains from its investments in quality flooring, effective architecture and design, and building materials. With a dependable partner like Dur-A-Flex, Stonewall Kitchen continues to grow and diversify. Their new construction project has all the right ingredients and success has never tasted so sweet.