I had the opportunity to attend Pack Expo 2017 in Las Vegas this fall with a team from Stellar. We met leaders from various segments of the food and beverage industry and enjoyed showing off our virtual design construction (VDC) technology.
These shows are always a great opportunity to network with food industry leaders and to see the very latest technologies and trends. This year was no exception. These were my big takeaways:
1. Using Virtual Reality To Interact With Equipment
Our design teams at Stellar use virtual reality (VR) technology to bring a building to life before it’s even constructed. A virtual model allows an owner to “walk through” their facility prior to breaking ground and to plan for equipment layout, office space and other details.
However, some equipment manufacturers are now taking VR another step further by giving the owner the ability to interact with virtual models of certain equipment. For example, we saw an equipment manufacturer that allowed you to put on a headset and VR gloves and interact with a simulated end product as it was coming off the line. That means an owner can see the equipment in action, view details like piping and verify it will meet their needs before purchase.
Of course, this is huge for clients who are planning a new facility or who may be renovating an existing space. This level of VR technology is really the future of quality checking and process validation.
2. Consumers Want Convenient, Pre-Prepared Products
We all know that meal kit companies and online grocery shopping are turning the food industry on its head, and buzz around this trend was evident at Pack Expo as well. Today’s consumer is looking for high-quality and convenient product options: pre-prepared, pre-seasoned, pre-flavored foods. They’re not flipping through Mom’s recipe books; they want pre-sliced, antibiotic-free teriyaki chicken that can be cooked quickly.
When it comes to adapting food manufacturing to this demand, that means:
- High change-over for a variety of specialized products
- Building in long-term flexibility to be prepared for future changes in product offerings
This demand is also a driving factor behind the third trend I took away from Pack Expo 2017.
3. Designing Buildings Around Processing
Retrofitting existing buildings has long been popular, but there is an increasing trend toward prioritizing processing needs first and then constructing a building around those needs. A brand new facility can be more costly up front, but it is often a smarter long-term investment. (Plus, renovating an existing space to meet the unique requirements of a food processing facility can sometimes be just as expensive as building from scratch — if not more!)
Granted, a retrofit usually comes with a shorter timeline if speed-to-market is a priority, we’ve noticed that more owners are increasingly interested in the long game of process optimization. In these cases, companies:
- Aren’t sure what future processing needs may be
- Anticipate big growth in future processing
- Have unique processing lines to keep up with consumer demand (see point #2 above)
This is often when a custom build makes more sense. Instead of slapping a bandage on old growing pains, many clients today want a long-term solution: a facility they can grow into over a longer period of time.
Stellar is a fully integrated firm focused on planning, design, pre-construction, construction, refrigeration, mechanical & utility, building envelope, and total operations & maintenance services worldwide. Visit the company's blog at www.stellarfoodforthought.net or learn about its projects at stellar.net.